Per the title, this is a personal testimony, and I’m directing it to heads of households. Whereas Christians gather together on the Sabbath to worship as a congregation, individual families also may gather by themselves, in their respective households, for daily times of worship. Hence, “family worship.” This is a practice I learned from certain men in my life, and from the likes of Charles Spurgeon and Donald Whitney.
During the first year and a half of our marriage, my wife and I experimented with various types of family worship. Nothing seemed to stick, primarily because I had something too grand and complicated in mind. When our firstborn came in May, 2020, I decided that it was past time to solve the dilemma. So, the next month, we implemented a simple, repetitive framework for family worship. Nearly a year into it, we find this framework to be very helpful.
The strategy I have applied to leading my family in worship on a daily basis is built on two principles. First, we come for nourishment. Family Worship is for my family, but my family is not for Family Worship. I glean this principle from the stated purpose of Biblical rituals. At the end of a list of laws concerning sabbath and festivals, God said, “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:19). These rituals were meant to serve the Israelites, not the other way around. Similarly, in the New Testament, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). This means that I need to be tuned-in to my family’s daily needs. If something happens (or doesn’t happen) that makes it strenuous for Family Worship to happen, then I need to be open to canceling it. Or, maybe it needs to be shortened. The bottom-line question is always, “What does my family need today?”
Second, we come in faith. Two blind men came after Jesus saying, “Have mercy on us” (Matthew 9:27). When they reached him, “Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Then he touched their eyes, saying, ‘According to your faith be it done to you'” (vv.28-29). We come to Jesus for mercy; we do not mercy ourselves before coming to Jesus. Therefore, I need to guard my family against any perceived need to emotionally prepare for this time. This is not something we do because we feel like it; it is something we do because we need it. We are not gathering together because we have done a good job today; we are gathering because we have sinned and obeyed, failed and succeeded, hated and loved, and as a family, we are in need of Christ. So, instead of “working-up” to family worship, just do it.
Our Family Worship involves four elements: Song, Other, Scripture, Prayer.
In “Song,” the aim is to sing something. We are greatly aided by my wife’s musical experience on the piano. Because of her ability to sight-read, we are able to sing from hymnals. Last Wednesday, we finished an eleven month journey through the Grace to You Hymns of Grace hymnal. We just began the Christ Church Cantus Christi hymnal, which has both Psalms and hymns. We plan to sing one Psalm and one Hymn every session.
But lacking a musician in your home is no excuse to skip-out on the song element. First of all, singing without instrumentation is a viable possibility. It may not sound good, but, returning to the second point under “strategy,” the point is not to sound good but to simply sing. Second of all, appoint one or two people in your home to begin learning an instrument, if no one is currently learning. It could be you or someone else. It will take time, but the long-term dividends are glorious.
In “Other,” the aim is to digest something that isn’t Scripture. Of the four elements, this one is the first I cut-out if things need to be shortened. I suggest doing something in this portion that is self-explanatory. For example, the first “other” we utilized was the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). We took June-March to read through it at an average pace of one paragraph/session. I briefly commented on each paragraph. The systemization already present in the WCF made it easy to facilitate commentary and discussion, without doing homework beforehand. After the WCF, we dove into the Shorter Catechism, with the aim of memorizing the whole thing. Each session, we review 5-6 questions and learn a new one if I feel like we’re ready. It only takes 2-3 minutes.
Another type of “other” resource which could be easily digestible would be some type of devotional prose, such as the Pilgrim’s Progress. And remember, I do not consider this to be an essential element of Family Worship, so if it seems too cluttered for your family, let this be the first element to get cut.
In “Scripture,” the aim is to read Scripture together. Initially, we read through the books of Isaiah, Philemon, Jonah, 2-3 John, and Titus in small chunks, and I made no commentary on the text. I decided to switch things up when we moved-on to the Shorter Catechism, however. We are now walking through Matthew, and it’s Scripture that I’m commenting on, not “other.” Surprisingly, I’m finding this to be much more difficult, because synthesizing a passage of Scripture on the fly is much harder than doing so to a paragraph of the WCF or Pilgrim’s Progress.
The important thing is to read Scripture. You don’t even have to talk about it, just read the Word of God out loud, in your home, as a family.
In “Prayer,” I lead the family in a time of prayer. Loosely, I make sure that I do a few things with this prayer: proclaim the name of God, ask for forgiveness and renewal for my family, bring-up any pressing need we have, go through a portion of our prayer list. This list includes public and personal persons. We don’t pray for all of them every night, but we do get to all of them throughout the week.
Asking other members of your household to pray during this time would be fine, but I think there is something significant about the head of the household praying, here. I want there to be a time every day when I gather my house and pray for them. I have not implemented this yet, but I also would like to bless them.
I can’t speak much to the benefits of Family Worship, because, as stated above, I have only been consistently doing this for about a year. However, I already notice some benefits in our house. The habitual gathering around worshiping God forces me to remember my commitments to Christ, to my family, to my church, and to my various other responsibilities. I am forced to ponder again the good news of Christ, his Lordship, and his kingdom. I would say that our daily schedule has benefited from some of the structure that comes with having Family Worship at the same time every day. Additionally, our son (who isn’t quite a year old) has learned some discipline similar to what is needed in a church service. Beyond this, I have faith that more benefits will abound in the years to come, because I am doing as God has commanded, to keep my family in remembrance of his Word. “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
Here are a few quick-tips. For more, go talk to someone who’s been doing it longer than I have.
First, you need to form a habit. Like all disciplines, Family Worship needs to be habitual. The first month of doing it was difficult at times to remember or submit to. After a couple of months, it became natural. Today, days without Family Worship feel weird. So, pick a time that is best for your family to gather together, and do your best to gather during that time, even if only for a couple of minutes. We meet in the evenings after dinner, because that is the time we are consistently all awake and together. This also helps our bed-time schedule flow smoothly. There is a methodical, back-to-back pace from dinner until we hit the sack.
Second, you need to start simple. You may have a handful of kids, no musicians, and no clue how this is supposed to go-down. In such and similar cases, starting simple is essential. Cut out the “other,” for starters. Second of all, just sing the Doxology every session. Third of all, choose a simple narrative book to walk through, or perhaps the Psalms. Read a few verses, say a couple sentences if you want (you don’t have to), and pray over your family.
Third, you need to keep it short. Obviously, if you need to go a long time, you can – remember, Family Worship is for the family. But usually, brevity is key. This is a lesson I especially need to keep learning. I have a tendency to drag our time out in the commentary section, I think. One of the key dangers in this point, I think, is that taking too long in Family Worship can sour the experience for your children, especially the young ones. This needs to be a sweet time for everyone, and keeping things brief is typically one of the best ways to ensure this.
Fourth, you need to evaluate your weekly schedule. When I speak of a “daily” Family Worship, I actually do not mean every day. My rule is that we are going to worship as a family every day, and congregational worship counts. So, we don’t do Family Worship on Sundays, and other days (e.g. Wednesday) if we worship with our church. Thus, a typical week for Family Worship includes about 5 sessions. This weekly schedule is arbitrary to what I think my family needs. You need to look at your situation, your schedule, and make decisions accordingly.
Fifth, you need to be willing to change the format as the family needs. My family is small and fairly flexible. In five years, Family Worship will probably look different for us than it does today. That’s fine. As children come, grow, and go, as visitors join-in, and maybe as some convictions change, your family’s needs will change. As the head of the household, you need to ensure that shepherding the family comes before sticking to a subjective, traditional formula for Family Worship.