Some Practical Guidelines for Family Worship (Part 2)


Read the series.

Be creative and thoughtful

Speaking of the element of prayer in family worship, Alexander writes, “Family prayer should be varied, otherwise the inevitable result will be formalism and tediousness. Indeed the snare into which we are most prone to fall, in this service, is that of sameness and routine.”4 I fear that the form of family worship practiced in some Reformed circles has degenerated into mere outward formalism. After dinner, the father reaches over to the hutch, grabs the Bible, and turns it to the next chapter to be read. He reads the chapter in a monotone voice, puts down the Bible, and says a brief prayer. Family devotions over.

We don’t want our family altar to degenerate into a mindless ritual. One way to guard against that is to bring variety into our family worship. And, by the way, variety for variety’s sake is not necessarily a bad thing. If you look at the world around you, you soon discover that God delights in variety. Therefore, provided that we maintain the general framework of what constitutes true worship, variety can be a good and useful thing. But in order to keep a measure of variety in our family worship, we need to be creative. At this point, I’d like to offer you several suggestions:

1) Read through the Bible

  • Use a Bible that is both readable and reliable (NKJ, ESV, NIV)
  • Use a Bible reading plan (you may summarize chronologies or skip sections with excessive repetition).

2) Read through a Bible Story book (see bibliography)

3) Read through a good devotional commentary (see bibliography)

4) Teach through the Shorter Catechism

  • Combine memory with discussion.
  • Keep it on the level of your children.
  • Use study helps on the Catechism if necessary.

5) Read through a good Christian classic (i.e., Pilgrim’s Progress, Foxes Book of Martyrs)

6) Read through a good devotional book (see bibliography)

7) Read through a good Christian biography

8) Sing a variety of good hymns and praise choruses (Note: there are sound files available for the Trinity Hymnbook and Maranatha Chorus Book online).

Be Genuine and Real

Jean Merle d’Aubigne, historian of the reformation, highlights this point:

My brethren, is there an altar in your hearts erected to the only living and true God? Are you the temple of God and does God’s Spirit dwell within you? So long as there is no altar erected to God in your souls, there can be none in your houses.”5

Could this be the reason why family worship is so rare in our land? Could the absence of family religion in so many Christian homes be indicative of the absence of vital religion in the heart of dad or mom? I don’t believe that our family worship will ever rise any higher than our own private worship. We cannot have real family worship unless we know real private worship. Of course, this does not mean that we should forgo family worship in order to avoid hypocrisy. According to Jesus in Matthew 6, the solution to hypocrisy is never the abandonment of all public religion. The solution to hypocrisy is to cultivate genuine private religion, so that our public religion will be the natural overflow of our private religion.

Therefore, let us strive to be real Christians in the prayer closet, at church, in society, and in our homes. Let us always and everywhere endeavor to worship the living God in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship him (John 4:23-24).

Resources for Family Worship

On the subject of family worship

  • Alexander, J. A. Thoughts on Family Worship in The Family. Sprinkle Publications, 1991.
  • Beeke, Joel. Family Worship. Reformation Heritage Books, 2002.
  • Davies, Samuel. “The Necessity and Excellency of Family Religion.” In The Godly Family. Soli Deo Gloria, 1993.
  • Doddridge, Philip. “A Plain and Serious Address on the Important Subject of Family Religion.” In The Godly Family. Soli Deo Gloria, 1993.
  • Johnson, Terry. The Family Worship Book: A Resource Book for Family Devotions. Christian Focus, 2003.
  • Marcellino, Jerry. Rediscovering the Lost Treasure of Family Worship. Audubon Press, 1996.
  • Ptacek, Kerry. Family Worship: Biblical Basis, Historical Reality, Current Need. Southern Presbyterian Press, 2000.
  • Wenger, Ray M. Divine Design for the Family, pp. 135-51. Plumb Line Press, 1990.
  • Whitefield, George. “The Great Duty of Family Religion.” In The Godly Family. Soli Deo Gloria, 1993.

On the Puritan practice of family devotions

  • Packer, J. I. A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. Crossway Books, 1990.
  • Ryken, Leland. Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were. Zondervan, 1986.

Helps for conducting family worship

Daily Devotionals

  • Carson, D. A. For the Love of God, 2 vols. Crossway Books, 1998.
  • Cromarty, Jim. A Book for Family Worship.Evangelical Press, 1997.
  • Pederson, Randall, ed. Day by Day with the English Puritans: Select Readings for Daily Reflection. Hendrickson, 2004.
  • Day by Day with Jonathan Edwards: Select Readings for Daily Reflection. Hendrickson, 2005.
  • Piper, John. Toward a Godward Life, 2 vols. Multnomah Publishers, 1997, 99.
  • Rhodes, Ray, Jr. Family Worship For the Christmas Season. Solid Ground Books, 2007.
  • Family Worship For the Reformation Season. Solid Ground Books, 2008.
  • Family Worship For the Thanksgiving Season. Solid Ground Books, 2009.
  • Spurgeon, C. H. Morning and Evening. Hendrickson, 1997.

Bible Stories and Truths for Children

  • Schoolland, Marian. Leading Little Ones to God. Eerdmans, 1995.
  • Vos, Catherine. The Child’s Story Bible. Eerdmans, 2000.
  • Vreugdenhill, John. The Bible History Told to Our Children, 3 vols. Netherland Reformed Congregations of America, 1996.


  • Bridges, Charles. Proverbs. Banner of Truth, 1979.
  • Psalm 119. Banner of Truth, 1987.
  • Henry, Matthew. A Commentary on the Whole Bible. Hendrickson, 1991.
  • Ryle, J. C. Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, 7 vols. Banner of Truth, 1992.
  • Spurgeon, C. H. The Treasury of David, 3 vols. Hendrickson, 1995.


4 Thoughts on Family Worship, p. 197.

5 Cited in Jerry Marcellino, Rediscovering the Lost Treasure of Family Worship, p. 15.

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 Review, The Founders Journal, and Westminster Theological Journal. He blogs at It is Written.


Family Bible time is important, but so are non Bible times. For example I have been reading a work of fiction to my boys. We do not do it every day, but when we do it provides a time to teach. The other night we read through a few chapters and we talked about the godly character of one of the characters in the story and how that is something we should emulate in our lives. In one of the side plots of the story the author showed a supporting character who had just build his own boat and how the boat was his prized possession. It seemed to have little relevance to the rest of the story until a huge storm hit and many lost their homes. This character also lost his boat. His brother offered to help him build a new boat, but the one who lost the boat pointed out that lumber would be scarce after the storm and that many would need that for their homes, so his boat would have to wait. I paused and talked about that with my boys. I pointed out that it was okay to have nice things that we liked, but we should never put them ahead of God or loving our neighbor and that this character had set a great example in that area. It was a Biblical truth that they could really connect to even though it was not a story from the Bible.

Thank you so much for the work assembling the bibliography! My wife and I have been using Dinner Table Theology off and on for the last year. It’s good but we feel we have exhausted it and are now reading something else.

I saved your recommendations and will be pulling from them in the future. Some I have heard of/own but many I did not. I just purchased the Vos book and appreciate that it has no images of Jesus.