When I was a young father I remember reading J.W. Alexander’s Thoughts on Family Worship and being convicted, excited and bewildered. What he described was both attractive and foreign to me. The idea of worshiping daily in my home with my wife and children made perfect sense and seemed to have ample biblical warrant to make me feel compelled to take up the practice. If Noah (Genesis 8:20), the Patriarchs (Genesis 12:7; 26:25; 35:1-2), Joshua (Joshua 24:15) and Cornelius (Acts 10) could lead their families in worship, surely by the help of the Holy Spirit I could, too.
My firstborn was not yet a year old when I began making my first attempts to lead my family in worship. It was disastrous. Those early efforts left my child frustrated, my wife frightened of what the next thirty years might look like, and me feeling deeply disappointed at the carnality of my family. Not only did my wife and infant child not enjoy my 40 minute expositions, 15 minute prayers, and 3 hymns, they acted like I was imposing on them by trying to lead them to worship God!
Needless to say, those early years of attempted family worship were not stellar. Far more nights ended in frustration, disappointment and even despair than in the joy that is supposed to come from worshiping the Lord. I tried my best carefully to plan out our worship times. I thoughtfully selected and prepared a portion of Scripture to exposit, thought about appropriate hymns that would go with the text and, by the time my oldest was two years old, had incorporated catechetical instruction into the mix. Despite my best efforts, however, it just wasn’t working.
As a result for many months our “family worship” looked something like this. I would plan out a service and tell Donna that before bedtime we were going to sit in the living room and worship God according to the service order that I had prepared. Inevitably 20-30 minutes into the service my two-year-old, infant child and often my wife would be in tears. I would end the service (usually early into my exposition) feeling like a failure and having frustrated my family (in the name of worship!) once again. We would usually then go weeks before my guilt would compel me to try again, often with a sense that I had to make up for all the times that we had missed in the interim! The attempt would fail. Feelings would be hurt. And the cycle would begin again.
Then one day a Presbyterian minister friend invited our family to dinner. He had 3 small children who were a few years older than my toddler and infant. At his table, after the meal, he asked if we minded joining them for family worship. Then he pulled out a copy of Leading Little Ones to God, read a chapter, led us in singing the Doxology and prayed briefly for our families. The whole thing took less than 7 minutes. I remember thinking to myself, “Huh. I can do that.” That night marked the beginning of a pattern of family worship that, by God’s grace, has continued since.
I doubt that other parents are as dense as I was when trying to institute a practice that I had not personally experienced, but just in case, here are some lessons I have learned about family worship along the way.
- Be simple. Aim to read the Bible (maybe start with the Gospel of John, or Psalms or Proverbs—when your children get old enough, consider letting them take turns picking which portion of Scripture you will read next), pray and sing (if you are musically challenged use mp3s or CDs and sing along). If you get that done on a regular basis you have accomplished much. I would also strongly encourage incorporating the use of a good catechism on occasion or even regularly. If you are not sure where to start here are some useful tools that can help you.
- Be flexible. Disruptions happen. If at times you cannot read, pray, sing and catechize, then do what you can, even if it is a quick gathering of the family for prayer.
- Be Consistent. Find the best time (or times) that fits in with the rhythm of your family life and then aim to be faithful in using that time for family worship. I recommend aiming for daily practice, but when you find a time that works for your family, do your best to keep that time free of other demands. Many families use the time right after a meal—which has the added bonus of encouraging your family to eat together. If you miss a day, or a week, or more, acknowledge it (and if it is due to laziness or poor planning, simply confess it to the Lord and to your family, ask forgiveness where appropriate), and start over.
- Be hopeful. These regular times of worship are wonderful means of grace that God has been pleased to use to save children (and family guests) as well as to provide a context for healthy, serious conversations. Praying for and with your children is spiritually valuable to them. Spurgeon said it was prayers that he remembered his mother praying for him as a child that were instrumental in his conversion.
- Be resourceful. There are many, wonderful resources available to help with family worship today. Use them. Ask friends show share your convictions and goals for suggestions. Don Whitney’s book, Family Worship, is a great place to start.
Above everything else, pray and ask the Lord to help you. Leading your family to worship God in your home is a good, God-honoring work. The Lord will honor those who honor Him.