Friday, March 30, 2007

Thoughts on Family Worship

Joe Thorn recently posted some thoughts on family worship that got me thinking about my own family’s devotional times. My wife and I have tried to have regular family devotions with our children around meals or at bedtime. These times often include a bible/devotional reading and prayer. I would venture to guess that our practice represents what the average Christian family attempts to do during their devotional times together.

Interestingly, previous Christian traditions (such as the Puritans) would call this gathering time “family worship”. Though family worship included reading of the Word and prayer, it also included a time of singing. Perhaps today’s Christian families are missing out when we don't take the time to regularly sing together. After all, Christianity is a singing faith and there is no better medium by which to both engage our affections for God while also learning about Him through His Word. Why shouldn’t singing be a vital element of nurturing our children and glorifying God as a family? The following are a few of Joe's tips about family worship.

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1. Don’t overdo it.

Most people I know who try to start family worship have unrealistic expectations about what it should look like. I know I did. Back in seminary my primary source for instruction in this was no one I knew personally, but the puritans. They spoke of reading the bible with simple explanation, prayer and singing. In my mind, this must have meant 1 to 2 hours for each gathering (and they often did it both in the morning and the evening). Then I came across “The Family Altar,” a compilation of the writings of Doddridge, Bickersteth, Watts, Hamilton, and Barnes and found relief through a more realistic expectation of how much time we should spend in family worship.
But some, in excuse for the neglect of this duty, urge the want of time: - their families are too large - their business presses them - it is of such a nature that they cannot control their hours. This they plead that they have not time for a duty which they confess to be all-important. On this point permit me to remark, that good people do sometimes err in spending an unreasonable length of time in the performance of this service. We may be so long as to become tedious in our prayers; and whenever this is the case, it creates a weariness, especially in the minds of the young, that is too apt to end in disgust or aversion. But when we urge the duty of allowing no day, in ordinary circumstances, to pass by without, as a family, spending ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes, in the solemn worship of our Maker, and when the objection made against it is the want of time, we ask, Can men be serious when they say so? (pg. 44)
This was very liberating for us. The warning of potential spiritual damage done to children by well-intentioned and over-zealous parents was helpful and reading that meaningful family worship can happen in the span of 10-20 minutes was exciting.

2. Find the right time.

Even after having a better understanding of what needs to be happening, finding time to be regular in this proved difficult for me as a pastor. Our attempts at family worship in the evening were often interrupted by church activities, counseling, associational meetings, etc. So we decided to move it to the mornings, and this changed everything for us. We get up, eat breakfast and then gather in the living room to read the Bible, pray and sing a song. Our 3 year old and 5 year old really enjoy this time, as do Jen and I. Family worship is now a regular and natural part of our lives. I would love to hear what you do for family worship, and/or what books and material you have found to be helpful.

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