Family Worship: The Heart of the Christian Home
The heart of a Bible-driven family ministry is not more spiritual training happening in the church, but more spiritual training happening in every Christian home.
By Rob Rienow
In summer 2004, God brought me to a place of brokenness. I had served as a youth pastor for 10 years. Amy and I had been married for the same amount of time, and God had blessed us with four children. The problem was that my heart was at work, not at home. My passion was to make disciples of the children and youth at church. But I had no vision and no plan to disciple my own children. I was a spiritual leader at church, but passive at home. God brought me to repentance and turned my heart to my most important ministry — leading my family to love and follow God.
The church in North America faces a crisis. We are losing the majority of our children to the world. According to a range of studies, between 60–80 percent of children growing up in our churches today are leaving the faith when they become adults.1 How could this happen?
For many, the first response to this crisis is an urgent call to improve the youth and children’s ministries in our churches. But in reality we have the biggest and best children’s and youth ministries the world has ever seen. We have paid church staff, caring volunteers, Christian education rooms, great curriculum, and more. The fundamental problem is not the church, but rather the Christian family. Up until the early 20th century people commonly understood that the spiritual training of children was the responsibility of parents and grandparents in the home.
LOVING GOD BEGINS AT HOME
In Matthew 22, Jesus pointed to the most important commandment in the Bible: “ ‘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 6:5–7, (ESV2).
Immediately following the Great Commandment, God focused our attention on family life. He spoke specifically to parents to live out their love for Him by doing all in their power to pass their faith to their children. Are we serious about loving God? Then we must be serious about diligently teaching God’s Word to our children. This is the first mission God gave us after the most important commandment in the Bible. This is the purpose of parenting and grandparenting: to impress the hearts of our children with a love for God. At the heart of the Great Commandment is family discipleship, with parents being the primary spiritual trainers of their children.
Family Worship in History
In the 1600s church leaders regularly visited the home of each family in the church to assess whether or not the parents were discipling their children through the regular practice of family worship. In 1647, believers in Scotland published the Directory for Family Worship in which they wrote: “The assembly requires and appoints ministers to make diligent search and inquiry, whether there be among them a family or families which neglect the duty of family worship. If such a family is found, the head of the family is to be admonished privately to amend his fault; and in case of his continuing therein, he is to be gravely and sadly reproved by the session; after which reproof, if he is found still to neglect family worship, let him be, for his obstinacy in such an offense, suspended and debarred from the Lord’s Supper, until he amend.”
Family worship was a major issue of church discipline. Why did these churches take it so seriously? Why did they invest so much time going from home to home to encourage and ensure that family worship was taking place? Family worship was a top priority because churches were passionate about the Great Commission. They wanted, more than anything, to see the gospel of Christ advance locally and globally. They knew that the Great Commission to make disciples began with their sons and daughters. They knew God had spoken clearly in the Bible that parents and grandparents were to take the lead in the spiritual training of their children and grandchildren. For them, a church could not be serious about the Great Commission if it was not serious about family worship.
In the late 1800s, Charles Spurgeon was deeply concerned about the changes that were occurring in Christian culture. He saw parents increasingly delegating the spiritual training of their children to the church, rather than taking the lead at home. In his article, “The Kind of Revival We Need,” he wrote: “We deeply want a revival of family religion. The Christian family was the bulwark of godliness in the days of the puritans, but in these evil times hundreds of families of so-called Christians have no family worship, no restraint upon growing sons, and no wholesome instruction or discipline. How can we hope to see the kingdom of our Lord advance when His own disciples do not teach His gospel to their own children? Oh, Christian men and women, be thorough in what you do and know and teach. Let your families be trained in the fear of God and be yourselves ‘holiness unto the Lord’; so shall you stand like a rock amid the surging waves of error and ungodliness which rage around us.”
Spurgeon’s message is desperately needed today. Godly men and women in growing churches receive the constant call to get involved in ministry. Often ministry is synonymous with “volunteering at a church program.” For the sake of the generations to come, we must return to the biblical vision that ministry begins in our homes.
Family worship is rare in Christian homes today. In the family conferences I do at churches, I regularly ask the attendees how many of them grew up in a home that practiced some sort of family worship or family devotions. The response is consistent: 10 to 15 percent of adult Christians in our churches today experienced family worship when they were growing up. In a scientific survey, George Barna found that “fewer than one-twentieth of churched households ever worship God outside of a church service or have any type of regular Bible study or devotional time together during a typical week.”3
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?
Many habits and practices can spiritually enrich and strengthen your family. Share meals together. Serve your neighbors. Volunteer at church together. Participate in short-term family mission trips. But these are icing on the cake. For the icing to “stick” you first have to make a cake.
One practice forms the essential foundation for the Christian home.
“[You] shall talk of them when you sit in your house” (Deuteronomy 6:7, ESV).
God calls heads of households to bring the family together in the home for what Christian history referred as family worship. “You shall talk of them [the Word of God] when you sit in your house” (ESV, emphasis mine). Family worship is the time when a household gathers for prayer, Bible reading, and spiritual conversation. Families eat physical food together to nourish their bodies. Family worship is a spiritual meal to nourish their souls.
In 2004, I faced the reality that my schedule did not allow for regular family worship in my home. This plain instruction from God convicted me that the schedule I had chosen was causing me to sin, and was preventing me from practicing the first specific thing God has required of me in response to the greatest of all His commandments.
Family Worship 101
Many of your families may see the need to have family worship but do not know how. Have them consider mixing and matching these five elements as they grow in the practice of family worship.
- Activity. Some of the best times of family worship in our home are when we put some energy into preparing a simple activity that helps us get into our Bible reading. This is particularly helpful for younger children. We often play Bible charades. Invite someone to act out a story from the Bible while others try and guess what it is. Look for simple object lessons that explain spiritual principles. If families have children with a wide range of ages, have them ask their older children to plan an activity for the younger ones.
- Singing. When we sing we draw close to God and to one another. You do not need to be musically gifted. Put in a worship CD or DVD and sing along. If you begin singing with your children when they are young, you will grow into a family that sings together for generations to come.
- Bible reading. This is the heart of family worship. What your children need more than anything else is to see you open God’s book and read it with a believing heart. Some days you may simply read a single proverb. Other days you may read a few chapters from a Gospel. The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God is able to make you wise unto salvation (1 Timothy 3:15). The enemy will do everything he can to keep your family from reading the Bible together. This is where the power is to transform your hearts and renew your minds.
- Discussion. Talk about the Scriptures you read. What truth did you learn from God’s Word? How does that truth apply to your life? Some parents are afraid their children will ask questions to which they do not know the answers. Do not worry. Encourage all kinds of questions. Take them to your pastor. Take them to the Lord in prayer.
- Prayer. My favorite part of the day is when our family of six gets on our knees around our coffee table (our prayer table). We confess our sins. We thank God for His goodness and faithfulness. We pray for those who are sick and suffering. We pray for those who are lost, for them to repent and trust Christ. We pray for God to use our family and our church for His glory around the world.
Consider using the high-low method of prayer. Invite each person in the family to share a high point of the day. After he/she has shared, ask someone to pray and thank God for those good things. Then invite people to share their low point of the day. What was the hardest thing they faced? After sharing, ask someone to pray and lift those difficult things up to the Lord, asking for His grace and strength to face them.
Encourage parents not to wait to start family worship in their homes until they become better Christians. Parents should not wait for their schedules to become less chaotic or for their children to be a little older. Encourage them to take action to increase the prayer and Scripture in their homes.
True change begins with true repentance. If parents have not been leading their families and their children spiritually, encourage them to confess that to the Lord and receive His forgiveness through Christ. Have them ask God to turn their hearts to the ministry of their children. Instruct them to ask God to make it the No. 1 mission of their lives to impress the hearts of their children with a love for God.
Encourage them to also confess to their families. Tell them how God has convicted them and called them to grow in the practice of family worship. Share with them your fears and anxieties. Invite them to follow you, as you seek to follow Christ.
Launch Your Family
God desires to use family worship time as the launching pad for families to impact the world for Christ. When parents put first things first in their homes, God will transform their hearts and they will increasingly:
- take action to reach out to neighbors who need prayer, support, and salvation.
- share their hearts with one another during meal times.
- give their money to those in need and causes that they believe in, rather than the next thing.
- spend more time helping and blessing grandparents.
- use some vacation time for service and missions.
- forgive one another, rather than boil with anger.
There are hundreds of ways God may use families to build His kingdom. But we do not get first things by putting them second. God’s first call for families is to worship Him together. As families increasingly worship God at home, He will bless them for generations to come.
- Rob Rienow, When They Turn Away (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011).
- Scripture quotations marked ESV are taken from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, copyright Â© 2001, Wheaton: Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- George Barna, Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions (Ventura, California: Regal, 2003), 125.