It’s 6:30 p.m. at the Schaal house. We just finished eating our meal-grilled chicken, sweet potatoes, and stir fry veggies (or maybe bunless cheeseburgers, French fries cooked in the air fryer, and steamed broccoli). There is lots of excited chatter coming from our three little girls, and Klayton is getting restless in his highchair. (Hopefully his fork hasn’t hit the floor yet.) I walk over to the cabinet next to the fridge, pull out The New Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes, by Kenneth Taylor, and open to where we left off last night. Everyone knows what it’s time for, because we do the same thing every night. Since we recently bought the home I grew up in, I know that this routine has been happening in the same exact spot in the kitchen for over 22 years. What routine am I referring to? Family worship.
Throughout church history, Christians have recognized three forms of worship: corporate, personal, and family.1 If you think of these forms as disciplines to begin, the first is relatively simple. Corporate worship happens when you gather with your church on Sunday. Just show up on time, and they’ll walk you through what to do!
The second form–private worship–is a little more challenging than corporate worship, and yet the fact that it’s personal makes it less daunting than family worship to most. After all, you don’t really lead in personal devotions, per say, you just do them. Perhaps you read a chapter out of the Bible, pray, and work on a memory verse for a minute.
“The basic elements of family worship are easy to accomplish—simply read, sing, and pray together!”
But family worship is different. You actually have to lead your family in it, and that can be awkward! Many Christian dads are at a loss when it comes to family worship. They don’t know what to do, so they do nothing at all. However, God calls parents to teach their children (Deut 6:6-9, 20-25; Eph 6:4), and one of the best intentional places to do this is at family worship.
Basic Elements of Family Worship
Worshipping together with your family is very important and can be such a grace! Also, it doesn’t have to be complex. No rocket science or Bible degrees are required. The basic elements of family worship are easy to accomplish–simply read, sing, and pray together!
You can read from the Bible itself (we’ve done the gospel of John), or you can read from a Bible story book designed especially for children. The books with pictures are more engaging for younger children. Some of our favorite kids' Bible story books are The New Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes, The Jesus Storybook Bible, and Leading Little Ones to God. The Ology is another good book for older elementary aged children.
You can also read a missionary biography. We recently read the Gladys Alward biography in the Christian Heroes: Then and Now series,2 and my older girls were riveted. When I was a kid, my dad read us Pilgrim’s Progress in modern English, and we loved that too. Whatever you choose to read will probably be great, so don’t overthink it. If you need further recommendations, ask your pastor or another Christian man who you know leads in family worship.
Once you have chosen a book, begin reading it aloud little by little each night. Keep the reading chunks short for each day in order to leave time for discussion. The depth of this discussion will vary greatly depending on the ages of your children, but it doesn’t have to be long. Ask some good questions, take the time to listen, and make applications to your kids’ personal lives. Then wrap it up and move on. The goal is to meet as a family multiple times per week, so you don’t need to cover everything all in one night.
In addition to reading, you may also choose to memorize Scripture. You would be amazed how quickly you and your family will memorize individual verses or even whole passages just by saying them aloud together each day. Scriptures memorized in this way will stick in your mind and become bedrocks you can fall back on.
For many families, this is the most awkward part of family worship. Many dads don’t have a good voice, and sometimes, there aren’t many Christian songs that everyone knows and likes. However, I would urge you to push through the challenges, because singing together can be a great grace (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). Don’t get hung up on the quality of the sound you are producing. Focus on the words and on making a joyful noise to the Lord.
You probably want to start with just one or two songs that you sing every night. If you have young children, make sure at least one of those songs is a simple kids’ song like “Jesus Loves Me.” If you don’t know the words very well, print them out or use a hymnal or song book. If you are uncomfortable with the melody, play a recording of the song on your phone before singing, so that everyone gets the music in their heads. Then, turn off your phone, and try your best to sing the song together. Over time, your confidence will improve. As you learn more songs as a family, you can add them to your repertoire.
Close out your time of family worship in prayer. There are a couple of ways to do this. First, especially if you are short on time, you might just choose someone to pray, whether that is you, your wife or one of the children. You could also take prayer requests before praying, but you don’t have to.
“One way you can train your children to think in terms of the Great Commission is to pray for missionaries during family worship. ”
Another thing you can do is to have everyone pray. Since we have small children, when I have everyone pray, I like to go around the table beforehand and ask everyone what they are planning to pray for. That gives me a chance to talk to each person about his or her prayer request and hopefully help them learn to pray more biblically (rather than always praying for their best friend’s goldfish, etc.). Sometimes when I have everyone pray, we do something they are thankful for instead of a request. It is so important that our kids learn to be thankful.
One way you can train your children to think in terms of the Great Commission is to pray for missionaries during family worship. We like to do this using missionary cards or the Joshua Project “UNREACHED of the Day” app.
When missionaries visit our church, my oldest two girls always stop by their display tables to look at the items from other countries and check for candy. While they are there, they pick up a prayer card. Sometimes during family worship, when it is time to pray, we pull out one of those prayer cards and pray for that family. Our kids especially enjoy praying for the missionary kids.
The Joshua Project “UNREACHED of the Day” app is a great way to keep frontline missions among unreached peoples in front of your kids. The Great Commission calls us to go not just to the lost but to the unreached, and I want to inspire my kids with that vision. The app includes stats, pictures, and descriptions of a new people group every day. There is also a button you can press to say that you prayed that day, and you can see how many others prayed too. My children love hearing how many others also prayed for that same people group on the same day.
Those are the basics of what to do in family worship. It doesn’t have to be hard!
Practical Tips for Family Worship
I’d like to close with a couple of practical tips for making this a regular habit in your lives.
1. Choose a regular time and place.
Some families like to meet in the morning at breakfast. We meet at the table right after dinner. Other families worship together right before bedtime. It doesn’t really matter when you meet, as long as the time frame works and allows you to be consistent. (You want to make this new habit sustainable.) Meeting 3–4 times per week is a good goal. This allows for days on which you have other things planned. (For instance, since we meet in the evenings, Sundays and Wednesdays do not work well for us. There is also usually at least one other evening per week on which we are busy.)
2. Optimally, husbands should lead in family worship.
God calls husbands to lead in their homes, including in the spiritual realm (Eph 5:22–6:4). Many husbands would rather their wives lead in family worship. Perhaps they think, “My wife knows more about Scripture than I do.” That may be true, but remember, God doesn’t call you to be smarter than her, He just calls you to take the initiative. Even if your wife has been saved longer than you have, she will appreciate your leadership in this area. Also, don’t be afraid to ask her to lead in singing, prayer, or even reading on a particular day. Just don’t make her be the one to get everyone together and make family worship happen. (Obviously, in one-parent homes or homes where only one parent is saved or walking with God, this may not be possible.)
3. Start small and stick with it.
Better to meet for 15 minutes, 3–4 days per week than to try to meet for an hour per night. Don’t feel the need to prepare extensively and don’t hold your family hostage for longer than is reasonable. You don’t have to be John MacArthur. The important thing is that you as a dad are visibly leading your family in following God. That fact alone will speak volumes to both your wife and your children. You probably do not realize, for instance, the impact your simply reading the Bible and praying publicly can have on a young son.
Let’s not miss the grace of family worship.
If you’d like to read more on this topic, check out A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home, by Jason Helopoulos.
Jason Helopoulos, A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home, pp. 21–22. ↩︎
View volumes 1-5 of the series on Amazon. (There are 45 books total, and you can purchase them in five-book sets.) Fair warning: there are some pretty graphic scenes in the Gladys Alward book that I skipped over for the sake of our young children. ↩︎