Series introduction: Family worship doesn’t save; only Jesus can do that. But I’m convinced that the practice of coming together as a family to worship God in the home is sorely needed in our homes today. Because there’s no specific to-do list in the Bible about family worship, I’ve struggled this year to work out what it looks like for us when I’m leading my own growing family.
To encourage myself and others about this, I’ve interviewed a few families that Cheryl and I respect and look up to, learning from them what they do, what they don’t, how they struggle, how they persevere with intentionally leading their families to know and love Jesus Christ.
The first time I heard about Joe was we first year we went to Impact Bible Conference, and learned that he was a Lecturer and Church Librarian at the bible college there. He was also our church camp speaker later that year (where we first met Mandy and their three children). By the end of 2010 Joe liked us Howickians so much that he accepted a call to be Associate Pastor at HBC.
If you hang out with Joe for long enough, you’ll soon realise he works in two gears: busy and crazy busy. Yet amidst preaching, discipling, studying, praying, leading bible studies, speaking at events, organising conferences, we’ve noticed him continue to diligently disciple and shepherd his children intentionally.
Three years on from first meeting them, Joe and Mandy remain relentless disciplers (particularly with the young adults at HBC). Cheryl and I have probably looked to them most often for counsel over the last two years.
Joe graciously shares more about what family worship looks like in his home.
1. Tell us a bit more about your family.
We are a family of five with one or more extras living under our roof at any given time. Our immediate family consists of Joe (Dad), Mandy (Mum), Mekaela (12), Gavin (10), and Tabitha (8). We homeschool, love reading, old movies, outdoor activities, music, eating different types of food, and exploring Auckland.
2. For many of us this is not something we’re familiar with. Can you describe what family worship looks like in your home on a typical day?
Since our children were born, really we’ve practised some form of “family worship.” It began simply as the three of us (my wife, myself, and our 1st child) sitting together, singing, and praying each evening before laying her down for bed at the end of the day. Initially she would be awake again in just a couple of hours for another feed, but this bedtime routine was something that provide regularity and rhythm to our day.
As the children grew we added a morning aspect to our “family worship”. So, today we have a morning and evening routine that occurs most days of the week.
Funny enough our routines haven’t really changed much over the years. Our children are now 12, 10, and 8. In the morning after breakfast we either review or start a new catechism question. Now that the children are older we are using Starr Meade’s Training Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Shorter Catechism. This walks us through the shorter catechism, learning one question per week with daily Bible readings related to each question.
Then I pray for the family as we leave the table and enter our day.
This whole process takes no more than 10 minutes, sometimes as little as five.
In the evening, after tea (dinner), once the kitchen is clean, teeth scrubbed and the kids are all ready for bed we gather together in the lounge as a family. During this time the kids will often work on some craft or colour or something while I read a portion of a book to the family (right now, a portion of a Luther biography). After this reading, everyone will pack up what they were working on, I will read a portion of the Scriptures (Psalm 82 this evening) and pray. Then off to bed…
3. Did your parents practise any sort of family training/discipleship when you grew up?
No. I have no memory of family devotions, praying together or reaching the Bible as a family.
My wife’s family attempted to do a few things when she was young, but nothing consistent.
4. So how did you come to find it important? What convinces you to persevere with it today?
Two things convinced me of the importance and gave me a model to follow. 1) The pastor who discipled me in my early 20’s. He modelled for me how to do family worship and shared with me the value and importance. 2) Reading books written by godly men and women from generations gone by.
I am convinced, that this practice is one of the most significant activities we do together as a family. In twelve years we have already spent hundreds of hours together as a family around God’s Word, learning sound doctrine, praying together, and learning from “heroes of the faith” as we have read countless Christian biographies, etc.
To be frank, it’s hard work at times. When our children were younger it was very hard. Not only that, I didn’t see the immediate pay-off. However, I am convinced the cumulative effect on our life as a family and generations to follow is worth it.
5. Others are hesitant to call this sort of intentional discipling of your children “family worship”. Why do you use this term?
I varied for awhile calling it family workshop or family devotions. I’ve rested on worship in that this seems to have more historical meaning, and the emphasis is on family. Yes, everything we do is worship. But just as Sunday worship is distinct and unique from all of life, so is this time as a family. In any case, it’s not the term that’s important, but the practice.
6. Have you done “family worship” the same way since you started?
The general format of our morning and evening routines have been established and haven’t really changed much. But the content of what we cover in these times have changed over the years and I expect that to continue.
In the mornings:
- When the children were very young we used the Big Picture Story Bible (my preferred Children’s Bible) & The Jesus Storybook Bible for our morning reading
- When they were a bit older we began learning catechisms using Small Talks on Big Questions: A Manual to Help Explain Christian Doctrine.
- At times we’ve taken a break from learning catechisms to read other helpful books on doctrine: Grandpa’s Box and Big Truths for Young Hearts.
- We are now back to catechism using Starr Meade’s book mentioned above.
- Prayer has always been a part.
In the evenings:
- When the children we young we just read a simple children’s story, a small portion of the Scriptures, sang, and prayed.
- When they were a bit older I would read longer sections of children stories (always Christian focused), a full chapter of the Scriptures, sing, and pray.
For the last few years the amount of story reading as increased, singing as dropped off and we still read a full chapter or Psalm (expect for 119) and pray.
One big exception to this is holiday times when I read a “fun” book during this time. Generally the fun book is one I will end up reading throughout the day at different times. Last summer I read the whole Lord of the Rings Trilogy to the family.
7. Are there other exception times when you do things differently?
When we have guests around for dinner our schedule becomes very flexible. When the children were younger we would often keep to an “abridged” version of our routine, put the kids to bed and continue visiting with our guests. As our children have grown they stay up later (e.g. during the school holidays) and often our guests will have children as well. As a result we are more focused on serving our guests and will forgo our normal routines.
I should probably say that, at other times our schedule is more flexible as well and often results in “normal” routines “going out the window.” For example, right now it is school holidays. Our children are enjoying sleeping in and starting their day out a bit more relaxed. However, I still need to go to work as it is not holiday for me. Therefore over the past week we have only had breakfast together and practised our “morning routine” probably twice. However, our evening routines have been fairly consistent. Next week school starts back up and all sense of “normalcy” (whatever that means for our home!) will resume.
Finally, a change to both our morning and evening routines occurs each year of Advent. During this time of year we follow an Advent Bible Reading plan in the morning and we read Starr Meade’s Keeping Holiday in the evening (we’ve read through this book four or five times now!).
8. If you could start again what might you do differently?
In the early years I tried to do too much for too long and our time would often end in a battle! I have had to confess my sin of impatience toward my wife and children as a result. Yet, establishing patterns and routines and expecting children to sit still and listen will always take work, it’ll be hard. If you are not persistent you’ll never reach that point where you are enjoying the fruit of those early years of hard work. It is never too late to start, but the younger the children are the better.
I have not always done a good job of working together with my wife on this. I have made decisions on what we are going to go without getting her input and soliciting her help. This stupid and sinful. For this to work harmoniously, it will require both parents to be working for the same goal, together. Our time in family worship has always been its best when we are both working together.
9. Can you give some tips to us parents on how to fit something like family worship into our busy lives?
Firstly, by deciding it is not negotiable. It is a significant priority and we treat it as such. I will work hard not to schedule meetings or anything in the evening until 7:30 at the earliest so our evening time is not interrupted. If we have guests visiting (even unexpectedly) during this time we will invite them to join us. I work hard to not schedule anything too early in the morning so we cannot have breakfast together as a family.
Secondly, by minimising if not completely eliminating the time you watch TV/YouTube/Web surfing, etc. I don’t mean this to be legalistic, but most people don’t really know how much of their time is eaten up by the TV, or YouTube, or web surfing.
In 20 years will you look back on the time you had with your children at home and say: “Man, I wish we would have watched that TV series, I am so distraught that our children missed out”?
Or are you more likely to think, “Oh, how I wish we turned off the TV, shut down the computer, and spent more time together as a family reading the Scriptures, reading good books, praying, and discussing things of the Lord”?
Thirdly, grow in disciplined time management. Many of our homes are undisciplined and characterised more by chaos rather than order. Yet, we serve a God of order not chaos. We have worked hard to establish regularity to our daily family routines. Generally we get up at the same time each day, sit down for breakfast at the same time, eat dinner at the same time, go to bed at the same time.
Don’t let your family be controlled by anyone else’s expectations and schedules; whether it’s school, music, sport, etc. You are the parents. You are the ones God has given to your children for their eternal good and spiritual nourishment. There is nothing wrong with school, part-time jobs, music, sport, etc. However, you cannot allow these things to control your family’s schedule.
10. Do you use the Bible, or other books?
We certainly use the Bible. In addition, we’ve used:
- Big Picture Story Bible
- The Jesus Storybook Bible
- Small Talks on Big Questions: A Manual to Help Explain Christian Doctrine
- Grandpa’s Box
- Big Truths for Young Hearts
- Keeping Holiday
- My Friend Grace: A Child Learns about the Mercy and Sovereignty of God (Amazon, Solid Ground Books)
- Who Will be King?
- R.C. Sproul’s Children’s Series (The King Without A Shadow, The Lightlings, The Priest with Dirty Clothes, The Prince’s Poison Cup)
- Simonetta Carr’s Christian Biographies for Young Readers (John Calvin, Augustine of Hippo, John Owen, Athanasius, Lady Jane Grey, Anselm of Canterbury, Renee of France)
- Weight of a Flame: The Passion of Olympia Morata
- The Princess and the Kiss
- The Squire and the Scroll
- God’s Wisdom for Little Boys
- God’s Wisdom for Little Girls
- Wise Words
- I Believe in Jesus
- Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed The World
- Mortimer’s Christmas Manger
- The Something Wonderful: A Christmas Story
- Conduct for the Crayon Crowd
- Thoughts for Young Men
- Young Lady’s Guide
- Child’s Story Bible
I could go on and on…
11. That’s a lot of books. Where do we start?
You can start simple. Try reading a short portion of the Bible together, singing The Gospel Song, praying and putting your child(ren) to bed.
You need to plan: plan what to do, plan to keep it concise, plan to make it as fun as you are able, plan to be persistent.
12. Any other comments on family worship?
Consider this: what will you want to look back on and remember 20 years from now? The hard, but blessed times of spending time together around God’s Word? Or the time wasted?
Our family worship time has not always been easy or gone smoothly, yet by God’s grace He has enabled us to be persistent and the rewards are wonderful.
This practice has been one of the single greatest blessings in our family.
Note: Joe has written a few bits and pieces on his blog over the years:
- Our family catechism practice
- Our bedtime routine
- A list of gospel books we read to our children
- Fleener family advent readings
- John Bunyan’s “Holy War”: family evening reading
Other posts in this series:
- “Here the reformation begins” – my introduction
- The Richardsons and family worship
- The Davisons and family training