Some Practical Guidelines for Family Worship (Part 1)

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Having considered the decline of family worship, as well as some biblical principles and positive benefits to support its practice, I’d now like to offer several basic guidelines that should govern our thinking and practice as we endeavor to implement family worship in our homes.

Be Consistent and Persistent

To achieve consistency, we need to plan a time for family devotions—especially if we have children. We can’t just approach family worship in a completely laissez-faire fashion. It requires that we sit the entire family down, compare each member’s daily routine, and then try to determine a time that would be good for the family as a whole. Depending on the size of your family, that may require some members to readjust and re-prioritize their own daily routine. Do whatever it takes to achieve a good degree of consistency.

Someone may ask, “How frequently should we have family devotions?” Many Puritans believed that family worship should be conducted at least twice a day—once in the morning and once in the evening. They based this (1) on the OT pattern of regular morning and evening temple sacrifices (1 Chron. 16:40), and (2) on those passages that refer to meditating upon God’s law “day and night” (Ps. 1:2; Luke 2:37; 2 Tim. 1:3). Some Puritans practiced family worship three times a day on the basis of David’s prayer in Psalm 55:17: “Evening, morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, and [God] will hear me.”

But some of those references may be literary devices to indicate “at all times” or “regularly.” However we interpret them, I don’t believe we should apply them legalistically to the frequency of family devotions. Of course, they do have something to say about the frequency of our family worship. They do teach us that our worship should be a regular practice. Moreover, the Lord’s Prayer seems to assume some kind of daily corporate prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). Our Confession of Faith uses this verse as a proof-text when it says in xx, 6, “God is everywhere to be worshipped in spirit and in truth; as, for instance, in the daily worship carried on in private families.1

Bottom line: strive for regularity. And if you fail, don’t give up. Remember the apostle Paul’s encouraging words, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

Be Realistic and Flexible

Don’t respond to these studies by attempting to become a Puritan overnight. Don’t require your family to meet two or three times a day for 60 minutes at each sitting–especially if they’re not used to that! It’s not realistic. It’s comparable to a man who has not jogged for 20 years to determine that he will jog 10 miles the next day. What often results is fatigue and burn out after the first few days. Then he’s right back where he started.

It’s better to start off easy. Shoot for once a day, and try to keep within a reasonable time-frame. Perhaps start off at 15 minutes a day, and then work your way up to 30 minutes. Furthermore, be flexible. Don’t feel that you must have it the same time every day. Of course, that is preferable for the sake of consistency. However, there may be one or two days in which the time must be changed to accommodate someone’s schedule. This is also true when you’re on family vacation. Allow for exceptions, but do not allow exceptions to become the rule.

Be Simple and Practical

J. A. Alexander writes, “The greatest simplicity should characterize every word, and every petition. Those who have the great interest [need] in the worship, are often little more than babes.”2Don’t make topics like “supralapsarianism” the regular focus of your family worship. Strive for simplicity as a general rule. This will be better both for you and for your family. Not only will they profit more from the instruction, but also you will have less time needed to prepare.

Not only should your devotions be simple, but they should also be practical. Describing his father’s practice of family devotions, Matthew Henry writes,

What he read in his family he always expounded …. His expositions were not so much critical as plain, and practical, and useful, and such as tended to edification, and to answer the end for which the Scriptures were written, which is to make us wise unto salvation.3

Now we know where Matthew got his practical slant!

Parents, family worship is an excellent time to deal with family issues. If there is a pattern of quarreling among the children, then take up the subject in family devotions and apply it to each member of the family. Or perhaps some current event is preoccupying the attention of the family. Show them how the word of God teaches us to respond to such. I’ve even used family devotions as a time to confess my own sin and struggles by taking a verse of Scripture then applying it to my own behavior.

Be Animated and Engaging

The term “animated” means alive. To be “engaging” means to keep everyone’s attention. I am afraid that the family worship in some homes is conducted like a funeral. The father’s eyes are open and his lips are moving, but there doesn’t seem to be much life. There’s a kind of “deadness” in the atmosphere. But that should not be. Family worship should be a time of worship. Worship should be a time of praise. Praise should be the culmination of our joy and delight in God. And that joy and delight that we feel in God should animate us. It should fill us with life and excitement!

I’m not suggesting that we become clowns and conduct a circus. There should be a degree of sobriety and formality. But let’s not appear like death warmed over. Let’s be animated! And let’s do our best to engage the attention of our family members. Don’t let them lie down and gaze off into space. Get them to participate. Make them look at you. Ask them engaging questions.

  • What does this word mean?
  • Why does the Scripture writer express the thought that way?
  • What does this mean to us today? How does it apply?
  • What are some practical lessons?

Notes

1 A Faith to Confess: 1689 Rewritten in Modern English, en loc.

2 Thoughts on Family Worship, p. 195.

3 Cited in The Life of Philip Henry, pp. 87-88.

Bob Gonzales bio


Dr. Robert Gonzales (BA, MA, PhD, Bob Jones Univ.) has served as a pastor of four Reformed Baptist congregations and has been the Academic Dean and a professor of Reformed Baptist Seminary (Sacramento, CA) since 2005. He is the author of Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and has contributed to the Reformed Baptist Theological ReviewThe Founders Journal, and Westminster Theological Journal. He blogs at It is Written.

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JD Miller's picture

When our kids were old enough to listen to what I read, I started family devotions.  I would read a chapter a day.  When they were old enough that I could actually talk to them, I realized that they were not listening very well or grasping what I was reading.  I quickly shifted my approach and started to read a much smaller portion of scripture.  A two or 3 year old is not ready for a whole chapter.  Suddenly I realized they were paying attention and were grasping what was being read to them.  

Beyond the regular devotional time, I like how now my boys often ask questions or talk about what they have been reading when it is not even devotion time.  I love that they ask if they can go along to pastor's fellowships too.  They are no longer 3 years old, but now a decade later, we still try to remain flexible.  Sometimes it is more important to read a smaller portion and talk about it than to read a big chunk.  

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