If I asked you who bears the primary responsibility for the spiritual development of children, what would you say? Most of us would probably answer, “The parents.”
But if I asked you what is the primary way parents carry out that responsibility, what would you say? Take them to Sunday school? Look for teachable moments? Try to be a good example?
If you wrestle with how to answer that second question, you aren’t alone. According to a survey of Christian families:
Eighty-five percent of parents with children under age 13 believe they have primary responsibility for teaching their children about religious beliefs and spiritual matters. However, a majority of parents don’t spend any time during a typical week discussing religious matters or studying religious materials with their children.… Parents generally rely upon their church to do all of the religious training their children will receive.*
The reasons for this are many, including the often-frantic pace of life, not feeling qualified or knowing what to do, and fear of failure—especially if your kids are getting older.
In spite of the obstacles, I am convinced that God has designed the family to be a discipleship center. I’m also convinced that the most effective tool for family discipleship is a regular habit of family worship. But that hasn’t always been my perspective.
I first started hearing the term “family worship” a few years ago, and it didn’t sit well with me. It sounded formal, holier-than-thou, and legalistic—not to mention boring. That last one is probably due to my experience of “family devotions” growing up. My dad made numerous attempts at reading devotional books with our family, but my brothers and I were not particularly receptive. Any participation from “us boys” was reluctant at best. Family prayer usually felt awkward. Dad’s attempts to comment on what we read were less than eloquent.
But I’m so thankful he kept at it anyway.
If the term “family worship” prompts negative images or feelings for you—or just sounds out of reach—think of it as simply reading the Bible and praying together as a family. If your kids enjoy off-key singing as much as mine do, a song or two can be a great addition. But to get started, all you need is five minutes and a Bible.
Here are some simple pointers for practicing “family worship” in your home:
- Keep it short: aim for 5-10 minutes. You don’t need to prepare anything in advance.
- Keep it simple: read, pray, and/or sing. All three are great, but they don’t all have to happen every time.
- Keep it flexible: family worship will look different in different families and on different days. There isn’t one “right” way to do it.
- Keep it frequent: daily is great… but start by aiming for weekly. Put it on the calendar so you don’t forget.
If you have school-age kids, one easy way to start this habit in your home is to read the passage of Scripture that will be taught in their connection hour class the next Sunday. (We send out an email each week to help you do this. Contact the church office to be added to the list.) If you don’t have kids, consider reading the upcoming sermon passage with your spouse; or if you’re single, with a roommate or friend. Then talk and pray about what you’ve read.
A few other suggestions:
- With young children, Bible story books are great. We’ve posted some of our favorites here. Sing children’s songs like "Jesus Loves Me" or "My God Is So Big."
- Elementary age kids can take turns reading from the Bible. Consider using a translation appropriate for their grade level. Ask basic questions: What did you notice in these verses? What questions do you have? How should we respond?
- With teenagers, consider using a resource that provides discussion questions, like the simple booklet Short Steps for Long Gains. Or set a goal to read through the entire Bible. Talk and pray about what you read.
For more encouragement in the area of family worship, I love this article by Don Whitney. His email video course offers practical, do-able steps to help you get started.
It’s easy to read something like this and think, “I’m 1,000 miles from being that kind of spiritual leader in my family. I’ll never get there.”
Please don’t leave this blog post thinking you need to go run 1,000 miles. You’ll crash and burn. Instead, identify two or three steps you could take this year. Then, a year from now, you would be “1,000 miles minus 3 steps” from where you want to be.
That’s progress. That’s spiritual growth! That’s becoming the parent—and family—God is calling you to be. So keep at it: someday, your children will thank you.
*Barna Research Group, May 6, 2003, as quoted in Current Thoughts and Trends, July 2003 (vol. 19, no. 7), 21.