In her biography of her martyred missionary husband, Elisabeth Elliot captures the biblical foundation Jim Elliot received in his growing up years. She writes that his father “read the Scriptures daily to his children, seeking to show them the glory of Christ above all else….[He] prayed with them as well as for them.”1 God used this early spiritual nurture to lay an indispensable foundation for Jim’s life and ministry,
and through him to call a new generation of missionaries.
Early in our marriage, my wife and I were impressed with the importance of building this same foundation in our family. Our great challenge, however, was figuring out how to do it, having had no models from our own families. Now, more than 33 years and five children later, we can testify to the twin values of simplicity and consistency as the keys to our sweet family times together with Christ.
The twin values of simplicity and consistency [are] the keys to our sweet family times together with Christ.My wife and I serve with RTS in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. Besides teaching, I have the privilege of preaching to hundreds of students, families, and Christian workers each week. By and large, even those who come from Christian homes have little understanding of the Scriptures or how to nourish their faith. This challenge has only grown more difficult with the COVID-19 restrictions placed on our community by governmental and living-community authorities. However, this context has also provided a golden opportunity for a “spiritual recalibration” for many families through family worship.
Perhaps you desire the same for your family, but, like us, do not know how to begin. With the typical hectic pace of life now interrupted by the pandemic, there may never be a better time to get started and establish new patterns. I prepared the following ideas for our church in Jakarta, based on our experience and lessons through the years. I begin with eight principles then suggest a plan.
- There is more than one right way to have family worship. Every family needs to find its own “rhythm.” The one nonnegotiable element, however, is reading and discussing God’s Word together.
- Just do it! If you wait until you have discovered the perfect method, perfect leader, perfect time of day, and perfect kids, you will never get started!
- Keep it simple. It is better to have simple, imperfect devotions than to have no devotions at all.
- Keep it short. Brief devotions are often more effective because there is one key concept under consideration. Some devotions will naturally last longer because the topic being discussed has touched a core interest, leading to a deeper discussion.
- Keep it consistent. Seek to find a common time each day when the family can meet. We found that during the academic year, breakfast was the best time. During summer or school breaks, dinnertime fit our schedule better. For the toddler years, bedtime was best. Because children like routine, find a time that consistently works.The goal of family worship is the spiritual formation that comes from being rooted in God’s Word.
- Keep it Bible-centered. The goal of family worship is the spiritual formation that comes from being rooted in God’s Word. It is normal for you as the parent to not understand every passage you read. It is fine to say to your family, “I don’t know the answer.” We all need the help of the Holy Spirit and godly individuals to help us understand less-clear passages. It is also good for your kids to see that you, too, are a learner. Seek answers from your pastors or elders, or from trusted commentaries and study Bibles. You also model for your family how each member can individually study God’s Word in his or her own personal devotional lives.
- Where possible, be father-led. Mom often nurtures the kids during the day, so it is important for children to see dad leading the family spiritually. They need to know and hear his heart for the Lord. It’s also helpful for them to see mom participating, answering questions, and sharing her thoughts, too.
I have often heard fathers say, “My wife leads devotions because she knows the Bible better than I do.” She may indeed know the Bible better, but that does not mean that the husband is disqualified or should abdicate his spiritual responsibility. What qualifies him to lead is his love for Christ and his God-ordained role of headship in the family. It also encourages him to be diligent in his own walk with the Lord.
- Gear it toward your oldest child. If families have a four-year-old, a six-year-old, and a nine-year-old, they tend to ask questions at the four-year-old level. With that approach, the older ones quickly become bored and their minds wander. However, younger children want to be “big” like their older siblings, so they stay focused even when tough questions are asked. We have been amazed at the depth of concepts younger kids grasp. Certainly, ask age-appropriate questions, but let your general level of discussion be directed toward the older children.
With these concepts as a foundation, I suggest the following simple plan:
Pick a book of the Bible to study, for example, John, 1 Samuel, or the book your pastor is currently preaching at church. You may also select a book relevant to a particular family need. For example, you may realize your family needs growth in godly living and the power of the tongue and consider the book of James. You may observe that your family needs help with godly decision making in the midst of strong peer pressure and consider Proverbs. Set aside 10-15 minutes for your family devotions. If you are having devotions around a meal, wait until the end of that time, since stomachs are full, forks are quiet, and everyone is calm.
On the first day of a new study, introduce the biblical book you are studying. A study Bible is a convenient place to find this information. For example: “Today we are starting our devotions in Philippians. The Apostle Paul is writing from jail in Rome to the church in the city of Philippi to encourage them to walk joyfully with the Lord even in the midst of their struggles. In fact, they had some of the same struggles in their church that we have in our family!”
It is good for the children to hear their parents, especially their father, praying.Read only a few verses. This may be a paragraph, a few sentences, or in some cases, a few words! Old Testament books that are narratives may be better read in longer sections since they are historical stories. It may be necessary to discuss a passage for more than one day. With a letter from Paul, one verse may be enough! Err on the side of reading too little, rather than too much.
After reading the passage, discuss it by asking four basic categories of questions.
- The first question checks understanding with an invitation to summarize. For example, “Sarah, can you summarize what I just read?” or “Did anything stand out to you in this passage?” You may need to read it again, which is normal. Be patient. Be affirming. Guide them.
- The second question considers spiritual truths about the Lord. For example, “Nathan, what does this passage teach us about God?” (or about Jesus, the Holy Spirit, etc., depending on the content).
- The third question similarly considers truths about man: “Abby, what does this passage teach us about us?”, “What does it say about our hearts?”, or “What does it teach about what is true of us as believers in Christ?”
- The fourth question focuses on application: “How does knowing Christ (or whatever the truth from the passage is) affect our day today?” Be sure to ask several people, and answer it for yourself, too. Look for specific applications. With older kids, you can go into more detail and expect deeper thoughts. For example, “How does this reflect God’s mercy and grace to us through Christ?” or “How is the Father’s love for us displayed?”
End your time in prayer (and singing a hymn, if possible). Pray for each family member and other needs at church or school. You may rotate the closing prayer or, if you have time, ask everyone to pray. Remember, it is good for the children to hear their parents, especially their father, praying. You also want them to be comfortable praying with and for others. The singing of hymns unites us with other believers through the centuries and trains our families for Lord’s Day worship.In summary, read, discuss, pray (and sing). The above plan also works well for small group worship and discussion.
Each of us — individually, and as families — need to have our hearts and minds renewed regularly in worship, prayer, and study of God’s Word. In fact, I have often found that our time of family worship also nourishes and guides me in my preparation for preaching and teaching. What better way to prepare our families for life in this world, and ultimately for eternity, than growing together in daily family worship?
1 Elisabeth Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty
Download a printable summary of Daily Family Worship here.