Perhaps the biggest barrier to regular family worship is getting started. Many families, convinced that worshiping together in their home would strengthen the spiritual maturity of their family, don’t know how to take the initial plunge.
Hopefully this post will help! Before we begin let me mention that, as is probably obvious, I am assuming that those reading are already convinced of the importance of doing family worship in their homes. However, if that isn’t the case let me suggest taking a moment to read the following articles at Desiring God and Radical Experiment (PDF). When you’re done come on back here and carry on with this post.
A few points before we get started: Please keep these in mind (repeat them to yourself quietly if necessary):
A. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. We should assume that new ventures don’t always go as planned or desired initially. That is okay. Getting through your first time of family worship makes each subsequent gathering easier so this first run, even if bumpy, is well worth doing. And even if you stumble a bit the first time (or the first several times) keep in mind, like batting practice, you are getting your reps in and will get steadily more comfortable having your family together for worship at home.
B. Keep it simple. We’ll talk in just a moment about the elements to include in family worship. However, you don’t have to go whole-hog the first time. Pick the most essential and easily available elements and add in others as you go along. Really. That’s fine.
C. Family Worship Supplements Corporate Worship. As I’ve alluded to above, there are a number of benefits to practicing family worship in your home. However, as beneficial as family worship is, it is no substitute for regularly gathering with your local church for corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. Build your family’s worship around what you do when gathered with the body – sing the songs you sing with your church, read and discuss passages from the book your pastor is preaching from, etc.
D. Ideally, Dads will Lead. If They Can’t, See Point A Above. Dads have the primary privilege and responsibility to lead their family in worship of the Lord. However, for various reasons, dad-led family worship can’t always happen. In those cases please remember that it is beneficial for mom, grandpa, grandma, uncles, foster parents, etc. to lead those in their care – even if visiting for the weekend – in worship. Don’t delay beginning family worship just because you think there is someone more qualified to initiate. Invite them in but don’t let their lack of initiative or involvement stop you.
Furthermore, don’t consider family worship limited to nuclear or extended families with children. Christian roomates? Empty nest married couples? These things apply to you as well.
E. The Younger the Children the Lower the Expectation. People who know me will realize how odd it is for me to write that. I’m certainly not for dumbing down our worship. What I mean is this: younger kids, particularly those not used to gathering for family worship, will have shorter attention spans. Plan for this – and plan too for helping them grow in their ability to participate for longer stretches. Also, younger kids are more fidgety. Don’t worry if it is hard to keep their attention and certainly don’t worry if they want to move around. This freedom of movement is one of the unique opportunities of family worship and shouldn’t be seen as a negative. Knowing this up front and taking a gradual approach to helping them grow in their ability to simply stay and listen pushes back against discouragement about how your worship times go.
What Should You Do?
I suggest Acts 2:42-47 as a guide to what Christian worship looks like. Yes, it more directly speaks to corporate worship in the local church. Nonetheless, it addresses elements of Christian worship and is thus useful for our purposes here. If you want to discuss that point we can do so but for now let’s look at what the text identifies as consistent with Christian worship and then what can be done in our homes.
The Apostles’ Teaching
The Breaking of Bread
There is some debate about what fellowship entailed but, considering it is distinct from the breaking of bread, it appears we’re supposed to understand fellowship as some Christian communion and breaking of bread as taking the Lord’s Supper.
As a Baptist, I understand the Lord’s Supper to be a local church ordinance, meaning that it should be taken within the context of a gathered local body. As a result I cannot recommend taking the Lord’s Supper at home. With that one off the table (no pun intended) lets take a look at the other elements.
I. The Apostles’ Teaching
The early church had the unique and very desirable opportunity to hear the Apostles preach and teach. As much as we would like to have that experience ourselves we must remember that we are at no disadvantage compared to the early church because we have the complete text of Scripture. This is the teaching of the Apostles as much as their verbal declaration and, more importantly, is the perfect Word of God. Thus availing ourselves of hearing and taking the Word into our minds and hearts should be a primary goal of our spiritual lives and family worship.
This can be done during family worship in a number of ways.
Read the Bible Aloud – This simple act brings us under the authority of the Word and creates space useful to the Spirit’s work. One note for those with younger kids – sticking to stories is a good idea and can be your main reading diet while the children are particularly young.
Give the Meaning of the Text – If there is someone available who can do so, have that person give some insight into the text. Here too, with younger kids, keep it simple and short. If no one there feels confident about explaining the text this time then make your Bible reading something connected to your pastor’s last sermon and use his points. Even if you’ve heard it before it is always a good idea to be reminded and refreshed.
Memorize Scripture – As your family’s abilities grow, add in Bible memorization to your time of hearing Scripture. Don’t, however, turn this into a laborious chore. Aim to help everyone enjoy taking God’s Word into their minds rather than checking off verses on a list.
Practice Catechesis – Memorizing what Scripture teaches is an important supplement to memorizing what Scripture says and catechesis is a proven method of discipling believers. This too can be added in as you grow in your practice of family worhsip. For adults I recommend Hercules Collins’ Orthodox Catechism, a Baptist version of the beloved Heidleberg Catechism and for children I recommend A Catechism for Boys and Girls by Tom Nettles.
Work on one question and answer at a time. When that section is memorized move on to the next and keep the memorized sections fresh with review.
Also, feel free to start very young; my 2 year old has done well with questions 1 and 2; he’ll pick up more as he goes along and, more helpfully, as he hears his older siblings answering later questions.
It is here that I recommend some singing. I’m not, in doing so, arguing that what the early believers did that Acts describes as fellowship is reduced to singing but I do believe it was an important aspect of their gatherings and one that can – nay, should – be replicated in our homes.
Consider how important good singing is to Christians. It has been said that we sing the truth of God’s Word into our hearts through singing together. Consider two texts:
Ephesians 5:18-21 – And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Colossians 3:16 – Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
We serve one another when we sing together. Serve each other well! I suggest picking simple and well-known songs to sing together – songs like Holy, Holy, Holy and Amazing Grace because their familiarity and simplicity help overcome fear of singing together in a new setting and, as a bonus, young children can memorize them comparatively quickly.
If there is no musician in the family be thankful you live in the era of Youtube, where versions of most every spiritual song your family knows can be found with both music and lyrics (see the links above). Use the computer you are reading this on and let those versions lead you. Of course, the versions I linked to might not suit you – or be easy to sing with – so make do if this is your first time and spend some time later finding preferable versions.
One note for those with small children – one song, sung [relatively] together is a good goal. As mentioned previously, plan to grow in that ability but one time through Holy, Holy, Holy together is spiritually profitable. Don’t be dissatisfied if that is what your group can do.
Prayer, too, is an important act of Christian worship. The person leading family worship can pray on behalf of the group or, if each participant is able, you can take turns. One warning for those with young children – this is a tempting moment for children to become particularly silly. Give some forethought to how you will have them participate – ask them for requests, help them think of who and what to pray for, or simply ask them to slow and quiet themselves while the leader prays.
Now Get Started!
There you have it – a simple three-part guide to family worship. Pretty painless, no? I’ve even provided links to your first song.
So what are you waiting for? Pick a time, gather everyone, and give it a shot. I’m confident you will be glad you did.
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I appreciate the work of Seeds Family Worship in their efforts to provide churches and families with resources to encourage and grow in the practice of family worship. I also receive via email D6 Family’s Splink which provides very practical and specific guides to leading your family in worship.