This post has been adapted from one that was first posted on the elder blog in April 2016.
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 kids’ devotional books with our family, but any participation from “us boys” was reluctant at best. Dad’s attempts to comment on what we read were less than eloquent. Family prayer usually felt awkward.
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. You don’t have to do all three every time.
- Keep it flexible: this can look different in different families and on different days.
- Keep it frequent: daily is great… but start by aiming for weekly. Put it on the calendar.
One great way to start this habit in your home is to read the sermon passage or The Gospel Project passage for the week. (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.
Here are a few other ideas and suggestions, mostly utilizing the tools Kossuth provides related to The Gospel Project or the sermon series:
For younger children, Bible story books are great. (I’ve got several recommendations if you’re interested.) Sing children’s songs like “Jesus Loves Me” or “My God Is So Big.” Consider establishing a habit of reading together at a regular time, like in the morning before school or at night before bed. Invite them to tell you about the craft or Activity Page they brought home from their class.
Elementary age kids can take turns reading out loud from the Bible. Consider using a translation appropriate for their grade level, like the NIrV. Each week, the “Sermon Notes for Kids” handout supplies questions related to the sermon passage, and the “Connecting Church & Home” email includes an overview of The Gospel Project passage with discussion questions.
If you have teenagers, discuss the reflection questions from the sermon notes (weekly bulletin insert) or the Genesis Bible Reading Guide (available on the information table in the foyer). Or invite them to read through the entire Bible with you using the Three-Year Chronological Reading Plan.
If you feel like you need more encouragement or in the area of family worship, I love this article by Don Whitney, the speaker at the Men’s Summit this weekend. His email video course offers practical, do-able steps to help you get started. Or even better: just ask another mom or dad in our church if they read the Bible with their kids, and how they do it.
It’s easy to hear 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 one step you could take this week and another one or two steps you could take this year. Then, a year from now, you could 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 give it a try, and keep at it: someday, your children will thank you.