What is Family Worship?
Family worship is simply the regular practice of gathering daily as a family to read Scripture, sing, and pray together, guided by the head of the household (sometimes called “family devotions”). However, family worship is not merely a spiritual practice or discipline; it is a sacred meeting with God. When God’s Word is opened and read in the hearing of your family, God speaks. Whether you gather in your living room, around the dinner table, or some other place, God’s voice is heard right there in your home. Family worship is a means for God to reveal himself to you and your family in a personal and powerful way.
When God called Abram, he was a pagan idol worshiper (Joshua 24:2). God later changed Abram’s name to Abraham, and made him the father of the nation of Israel. In Genesis 18, God says of Abraham, “I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice” (Genesis 18:19, emphasis mine). As a Christian husband and father, I, too, am called to raise my children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). This is the weighty responsibility and privilege of every Christian husband and father.
In Deuteronomy 6, Moses tells the people of Israel:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (emphasis mine)
As believing parents, we are to teach our children the ways and the Word of the Lord at every opportunity, and family worship is a great opportunity to do just that. One of my favorite passages from Scripture on this topic is one of the psalms of Asaph. In the days of the tabernacle (before the temple was built in Jerusalem), King David appointed three different leaders of music, one of whom was Asaph. In Psalm 78, Asaph wrote:
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
He established a testimony in JacobPsalm 78:1-8 (emphasis mine)
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.
In this psalm, Asaph recounts the mighty deeds of God in the history of Israel, much like Joshua recounted them in Joshua 24. Asaph writes of God’s command that the fathers in Israel would teach their children the “glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Psalm 78:4). God’s desire for Israel was that the fathers would teach their children who would teach their children, and thus future generations would “set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Psalm 78:7). Do you see the repetition in language between Genesis 18, Joshua 24, and Psalm 78? But these are not simply Old Testament commands. I briefly mentioned Ephesians 6:4 at the beginning:
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”Ephesians 6:4 (emphasis mine)
Responsibility and Privilege
As Christians fathers, we are commanded not to provoke our children to anger, but to bring them up in the ways of the Lord. Paul was not sharing some “tips and tricks” to the Ephesian fathers. This wasn’t a list of “good ideas.” This is a divinely inspired command for New Testament believing fathers. The Scriptures are clear: teach your children to love and obey God.
The Westminster Kids Catechism asks, “Where do you learn how to love and obey God?” The answer: “In the Bible alone.” This is a great help and relief to me, because it means I don’t have to write a curriculum for my children or develop some grand teaching plan. Family worship isn’t reinventing the wheel; it is simple, faithful discipleship of your family.
Even so, this task can seem daunting or overwhelming. It can be easy to think, I bring my kids up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord by example. I bring them to church, I pray before meals, and I treat my wife with honor and respect. It is true that we teach by example. So much of what our kids learn is more “caught” than taught. But bringing up children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” does not only happen unintentionally. It must also happen intentionally. God is worthy of our worship every moment of every day—not only when we gather at church. Family worship is an excellent place for the worship of God to happen in your home.
“The way of family worship is a good old way, no new thing, but the ancient usage of the saints.”
Read, Sing, Pray
So, how do we do it? What does family worship look like? As I mentioned earlier, family worship is simply the regular practice of gathering daily as a family to read Scripture, sing, and pray together. Read, sing, pray.
I believe the best way to read and study the Bible is to read it the way it was written. Your family will greatly benefit from the regular, consecutive reading of different books in the Bible. I would recommend rotating between the different genres of Scripture. Reading Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy in succession might be a tough go. If you’re reading through Genesis, consider reading an epistle next (Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, James, etc). If you’ve just finished Romans, consider reading poetry next (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, etc). Read in small portions suitable to your family (maybe a paragraph, a chapter, or a few verses). Next time, simply pick up where you left off. Then, help your family understand the text. Explain words that your children may not understand. Ask your family if there are any verses they need help grasping. A little bit of discussion can go a long way. This doesn’t have to be an exegetical exposition of the text—simply read it with enthusiasm and teach it with conviction.
Christians are a singing people. This is not something we simply picked up over time—God gave us a song to sing—a song of praise to our God (Psalm 40:3). We are commanded to let the Word of God dwell richly in our hearts by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
“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.”
Colossians 3:16 (emphasis mine)
Ephesians 5:19 gives us a similar exhortation: “[address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” Singing is one of the chief ways we worship God. God has ordained that his people worship him in song. There are many tools available to help facilitate singing in family worship. I would recommend a good psalter hymnal (see links below for recommendations). Your church may have some hymnals available. Many hymns and older songs are in the public domain and can be found online (Hymnary.org is a great resource). If you have any musicians in your family, it may be helpful to gather around a piano. Many people I know simply sing without accompaniment. Some use recorded music. Use what’s best for your family—the important thing is that you’re all singing together, worshiping God as a family.
Prayer is one of the most important—and yet undervalued—gifts to the church. The Scriptures are full of the language of prayer, so there’s no need to fret about the words to pray. I recommend taking some of your prayer time to simply pray through the Scripture you read together. For example, if you read 2 Chronicles 28:1-4, you could pray that God would strengthen you and the members of your family to follow after him, forsaking the things of the world that would seek to distract us from walking in God’s ways. You could pray for each member of your family by name, asking God to protect and guard their hearts, keeping their eyes fixed on him. I would also encourage you to take time to ask for prayers, and ask your family to share things for which they would like prayer. Let them pray for you, and let them hear you pray for them by name. God is so kind and gracious to hear our prayers, and our children need to know that we value and treasure this great gift.
You might also keep a prayer list. We break ours up into categories, so one night we will pray for friends and family members who don’t know Jesus. Another night, we will pray for our church and local community. Another night, we pray prayers of thanksgiving for the many blessings we have in Christ.
If you find it difficult to pray aloud, practice using a method like the ACTS method (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). Begin by acknowledging the goodness and greatness of God: who he is and what he has done for us in Christ. Confess your sins and shortcomings to God—this can be especially powerful for your children to hear. If your children witnessed an outburst of anger that day, confess that sin to God. Teach your children to come to God for forgiveness and restoration. Thank God for what he has done and for the forgiveness we have in him. Thank him for the many blessings your family experiences on a daily basis. Lastly, ask God to meet your needs—physical and spiritual. Teaching your children a biblical model of prayer will reap eternal benefits.
I know this wasn’t one of the three points, but you can consider it a bonus. If you have time, and if your children are of the right age, I highly recommend a good catechism. The Kids Catechism by The Westminster Standard is an excellent one. The New City Catechism is also a great resource, and they have excellent supplemental material like a devotional, songs, and flash cards. Catechisms have been used by the church for centuries to help children and adults alike learn more about the Bible and the God who gave it to us. The question-and-answer format is incredibly helpful for memorizing important biblical truths and doctrines. I cannot recommend catechesis enough.
A Word of Encouragement
I want to leave you with some encouragement. If you’re anything like me, an article like this might leave you excited and energized to gather the family around the dinner table and hit the ground running. And someone spills a drink. Or one of the kids won’t stop interrupting you with their stories of the day’s events. Or the baby decides it’s time to have a screaming party. Stuff happens—don’t sweat it. This is family life. Family worship isn’t going to be picturesque. It won’t look like a beautiful Instagram-worthy moment around a beautiful feast with quiet, smiling children eagerly waiting to hear from God. It will be hard—it’s spiritual warfare. You might miss a day. You might miss a week. It’s easy to become discouraged and feel like a failure, but remember this: God’s grace reaches even here. He knows and he understands. Don’t allow missed time to keep you away. Just pick up where you left off and keep going.
Lastly, find some community. Link up with other Christian husbands and fathers and encourage one another in this high calling. Share what works for you and ask for tips from them. Share resources and encourage each other to bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Family Worship Helps
Family Worship 101, a free 5-day email course designed to help you lead your family in worship. It is based on the book, Family Worship, which is a short, accessible book by Donald S. Whitney. It is incredibly helpful and very practical. I highly recommend it if you’re just starting out and need a good starting point.
A Guide to Family Worship was very helpful for me when I was looking for a place to start. It’s an approachable 30-day guide so each devotional corresponds to the day of the month. It is meant to be repeatable, so you can repeat the process, applying it to different Scripture texts for a whole year. It also includes tools to help your family read and memorize Scripture, catechize, pray, and sing. There are also pre-recorded songs and a digital version available.
Psalters & Hymnals
The Trinity Psalter Hymnal was published in 2018 and contains all 150 Psalms and many well-known hymns. It is available as a downloadable PDF, a printed hymnal, and even as an iOS or Android app. The app includes piano tracks to help you learn songs that may be unfamiliar to you.
I also recommend the well-loved Trinity Hymnal (not to be confused with the Trinity Psalter Hymnal).Our Hymns, Our Heritage: A Student Guide to Songs of the Church was written to acquaint people of all ages with a collection of great hymns of the church, new and old alike. The target age is children 9-12 years old, but it is an excellent resource for the family.
Photo Credit: Emilee Carpenter
Will Burrows is the director of publishing and executive editor at Hosanna Revival. He is passionate about biblical literacy, biblical theology, and loves teaching and preaching the Word. He lives on Michigan’s west coast with his wife and his five beautiful, handsome, striking sons. Will blogs at williamburrows2.com and you can follow him on Instagram and Twitter.