There is a lot of hubbub in Reformed circles regarding family religion—or, as it is sometimes is called, family worship. If you’re an evangelical, you probably simply call this family devotions. Regardless, there has been a real effort to recover this practice among Christian families. I have even seen some men post statuses containing the “liturgy” of their family worship. They are quite long.
In The Puritan Family, Edmund Morgan writes:
Every morning immediately upon rising and every evening before retiring a good Puritan father led his household in prayer, in scriptural reading, and in singing of psalms. Whenever they sat down at table together, he offered thanks to the Lord.
Now, fathers, please note what Morgan reports next:
None of these devotions was supposed to be long. Although the Puritans enjoyed two-hour sermons on the Sabbath, they tried to avoid prolixity in their family services. Cotton Mather says of John Cotton that he always read a chapter of Scripture to his family every morning and every evening, “with a little applicatory exposition, before and after which he made a prayer; but he was very short in all, accounting as Mr. Dod, Mr. Bains, and other great saints did before him, ‘That it was a thing inconvenient many ways to be tedious in family duties.’”
There is a tendency to either do nothing, or to be overzealous in what you do. Neither are good when it comes to family worship. As always, you need to keep it between the ditches. John Cotton strikes me as a solid example of plodding consistency. The goal should be to make Scripture reading, prayer, and praise a normal part of your home. It is unwise to recreate something approximating an entire Sunday service. That is, as Dod and Bains indicated, a very tedious thing for all involved.
My approach is very simple. I read a portion Scripture when my kids are half-way through their breakfast. I do this because I have some very small children. The light distraction of eating actually helps them pay attention to me when I talk. After I finish reading, I ask them a few questions about the passage, make a few applications, and close with prayer. That is it for us. This takes 10–15 minutes.
We follow this pattern Monday through Friday. I would like to eventually add praise to our time together. Presently, my children sing a hymn together as part of their home-school curriculum. I’ll add it into our devotional time soon. My main goal is consistency and participation.
An example might be helpful; here is a summary of what we did around the table today. This morning our text was Psalm 100 (I needed a break from Matthew). I read it and asked, “What is this Psalm about?”
My eldest son (12) said, “It is about God’s goodness and how we are to worship Him.” I replied, “Good. Anyone else?” No one spoke up. I pushed, “Caedmon, anything you’d like to add?” He had nothing. I always push for participation, but I don’t demand water from a stone. So I moved on.
I pointed out that Hudson was right. The passage is full of verbs like shout, serve, and come. However, the imperatives aren’t naked. They are accompanied by modifiers. We must shout joyfully, serve with gladness, and so forth. God isn’t interested in naked actions. They must be adorned with the right attitude.
I told them the passage gave us reasons why we should possess such attitudes. I asked them if they could point any of those reasons out. One of them pointed out that “we are sheep of his pasture.” I agreed; that was a big reason. God takes care of us. He provides for us like a shepherd provides for his sheep.
My application was straightforward. We cultivate gladness and joy through meditating on how God has been good to us. I pointed out a few ways God had been kind to our family. Also, I exhorted my boys to sing with more zeal in the worship service, and to be more attentive during the sermon. I ended in prayer.
That was it this morning. Sometimes it’s less and sometimes it’s more.
Again, my goal is consistency and participation.
- Consistency: You need to find a time that consistently works for your family. Evenings don’t work for us. We tried to make it work for years, but were never able to get any real momentum. It took switching to mornings to have a real breakthrough.
- Participation: I want my kids to interact with the text. I like to ask lots of simple questions. What is this passage about? What is it telling us to do or not do? Why is it telling us this? What sticks out to you? What doesn’t make sense to you? Etc. I also like to keep it short. I don’t want to see any eyes glazing over. So I only do 10–15 verses on average. Sometimes I go longer, but only if the passage is very exciting. I don’t want anyone, particularly my older children, to check out.
The most important thing is not to establish some kind of perfect family liturgy. The most important thing is to just do something. Find what works for your family. Keep it simple so you can make it into a habit. Because you can always build on a habit.