I have two young children who are both off in their own different worlds because they are also both in different stages of life. Our oldest daughter, Adelaide, is six-years-old. Vesper, who is our youngest daughter, is two-years-old. The oldest is distracted with all things sparkly and unicorn-laden, on top of whatever is the current trendy kids game or application that we’ve downloaded on to our tablet. The youngest one loves kitty stuffed animals and is pretty content with making anything in our home into a toy, including my morning mug of coffee. It’s safe to say that the arena of raising kids is packed with plenty of topsy-turvy moments, but if you are a parent of small children, it’s likely that you already know that. Leading family worship in our home is packed with scenarios of kids not settling down, struggling to focus on prayer and singing, and whatever new-fangled chaos the kids have created that day. Strange things tend to be brewing when we start family worship.
What Is It?
Family worship is simply the regular reading of Scripture, singing of songs, and prayer together as a family. The idea of families worshiping together as one unit has a rich history within the timeline of the church. John Chrysostom (349-407 A.D.) who was Archbishop of Constantinople and one of the fathers of the early church, encouraged the worshiping family to be modeled as such: “…every house should be a church, and every head of a family a spiritual shepherd…” You don’t have to be a theology expert, pastor, or worship leader to do family worship in your home. And really, it doesn’t have to be something that is complex. You just have to be willing to carve out time with your family to worship God.
What Does Scripture Say?
Colossians urges us to “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.” I don’t believe that Paul is painting a hard and fast rule for what family worship should look like in the home. What Paul is saying is that we should be doing these things together as the gathered body of Christ, so he is speaking much more about that corporate gathering and worship unified worship of God amongst believers. Are children a part of that same body? Yes, but for some, worshiping as family is going to be the singing of songs coupled with prayer and the reading of God’s Word. In other households, it may be a time of prayer and devotion. After all, the singing of songs is not the only element of worship. The reading of God’s Word is worship. The practice of resting in God’s presence is worship. Anything that points to adoration of God is ultimately the worship of him.
I’ve witnessed others treating family worship in a legalistic manner by saying a lack of strict schedule of worship in the home is sin that is clearly explained, when in actuality, the Bible doesn’t explicitly lay out instructions for how we are to worship in the home, nor is there anything that tells us that if we don’t worship in a particular way as a family in the home that we are living in disobedience to God. Regardless of some of the legalism that can surround this practice, I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t organize what we can refer to as traditional family worship. It can be a very rich source of spiritual formation for families. In fact, I highly recommend it and would encourage it’s traditional practice if you are willing to. While Scripture isn’t fully direct about this practice, it certainly encourages the man, who is the spiritual leader of his home, to actively lead his family in modeling and teaching God’s Word (1 Timothy 3:4). At the same time, I believe the point should be some kind of scheduled familial worship of God rather than focusing on strict particulars. In the same way we don’t have a direct place in the Bible where it commands us to “read and teach catechisms to your children,” that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, because even though family worship and the use of catechisms aren’t commanded in the Bible, Scripture has commanded parent’s to teach their kids the faith, so we should be open to all of the great tools and options we have.
The Purpose and the Benefits
The purpose of worshiping at any time and any place is for the glory of God, whether that’s in the sanctuary of your church or in the living room of your home. We were created to worship God (New City Catechism Q&A 1). The act of worship shapes us and is the divinely ordered way of the creature pointing to the beauty of God and simultaneously giving thanks to him. I’ve noticed in our home that family worship creates discipleship opportunities. Lately, my daughter Adelaide has been having trouble sleeping in the dark. With that in my mind, we’ve been singing a song together “Fear Not” by Ellie Holcomb from an album of worship songs she wrote just for children. It reminds kids (and adults) of God being our redeemer and defender:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you
I’ve called you by name, you are mine
Fear not, for I have redeemed you
I’ve called you by name, you are mine
“If you’re scared of the dark, I’ll be your guiding light
If the flood waters come, they won’t wash you aside
If your caught in a storm, I’m a safe place to hide
Don’t be afraid, I am with you”
Kids are scared of the dark. Kids are afraid when they are startled by the sounds of thunder and pelting rain during a storm. And where do they run? To their parents’ room. Where can we run when we are scared? To God our father. When we sing this song together, we get the opportunity of showing our kids that God is an ever present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). After we sing together, I get the opportunity to remind our daughter that in the same way she can run to Mommy and Daddy’s room when she is scared of the dark or thunderstorms, she can run to the maker of heaven and earth to find love, assurance, and security. Like us, our kids don’t learn gospel-deeps and biblical truths overnight, but we know as people that when we participate in the liturgy of song, it sticks to us and is deeply formative.
A Final Word
With whatever you decided to do as a family, whether that be the traditional mode of family worship or another way, any biblically-focused mode of worshiping God together is going to glorify him and add spiritual growth in your family dynamic. If you are in a odd season of life with strange schedules, ease into a practice. Perhaps you begin reading a devotional as a family. Training Hearts, Teaching Minds by Starr Meade is a really great resource in not just teaching your kids the Bible, but in also demonstrating why it needs to transform our souls. On the other hand, if you are interested in diving into the more traditional way of practicing family worship, a group of musicians under the name Rain for Roots have created story-like songs that help kids learn how to worship God in a fun and engaging way.