As a father of two daughters (one outside the womb and one inside), I am continually thinking about the gospel-shaped environment of our home. Carly and I want our girls to grow up dazzled by the grace of God in the gospel. As the husband and father, it is my divinely-ordained joy and duty to pray about and plan intentional opportunities to cultivate a “gospel culture” in our home. (If you are a single mom or the wife of an unbeliever, keep reading. I hope this will be helpful to you, too!) The problem is that if I don’t plan now and decide beforehand what we will do as parents to train our children, nothing will happen. Even though our oldest girl is seventeen months old and literally has a fifteen second attention span (if food is involved), it’s never too early (or too late!) to ask, “What should family worship look like?”
By “family worship,” I mean intentional, structured, and systematic times of instruction, reading, praying, and singing together. You may wonder, “Shouldn’t we just make sure our whole lives are about Jesus? Why emphasize this formal stuff?” Yes, we should not just be a Christian family for thirty minutes a night plus an hour on Sunday mornings. In ancient Israel, parents were called to rehearse the glory of God’s redemption in the Exodus during their normal daily rhythms (Deut. 6:7). This, too, is worship, and the same should be true for Christian parents today.
Yet at the same time, God also commanded parents to establish formal times of instruction and worship (Deut. 6:6, 8-9). This would provide opportunities for children to ask questions of their parents and for parents to properly interpret God’s redemption to their children (Deut. 6:20-25). In the New Testament, Paul tells fathers to bring their children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), certainly implying structure.
What then should family worship look like? The Bible doesn’t give a prescription, and I don’t have all the answers (after all, my kids are seventeen months and twenty weeks in utero!). But as I reflect on it, here are some major elements of family worship that can help cultivate, by the Spirit’s power, a gospel-shaped home:
- Reading Scripture. This is essential. At the very least, we need to read Scripture with our children, and teach them how to understand the Bible. We must show them that it is a story of how God rescues his children through Jesus, the Hero of the story. By God’s grace, we use the Bible to expose our children’s sin and help them see how the Hero is the solution to everything they truly need.
- Prayer. When we pray, we should pray meaningfully. While good grades, thanks for the sunshine, and requesting good night sleep are important, what we really need to pray for is spiritual renewal and growth. Our kids will pick up whether or not we are shallow pray-ers. They will pray about what we pray about. When we pray together, I want the flavor of Scripture, not scattered thoughts, to saturate my prayers. I want to be quick repent of my sin, exalt Christ, and be bold to ask God to open my kids’ eyes to their need and that he gives them faith in Jesus.
- Reciting the Apostles’ Creed. Christians have been reciting the Creed since the second century and for good reason. It summarizes the absolute fundamentals of the faith in an easy-to-remember way. (You can sing it, if you’d rather. I usually sing it to our oldest daughter as I’m putting her to bed.) This is a simple way to instruct our kids in what we believe. It is not boring theology! It is about God! If you are not into theology, you are not into God. We never move past belief, and saying, “I believe in God the Father Almighty…” is, indeed, a profoundly theological thing to say. The question is not whether we and our children will be theologians; the question is whether we will be good ones.
- Catechesis. Don’t freak out! Catechesis (or catechism) simply comes from a Greek word meaning “to teach.” Call it whatever you want, but the point is that to “discipline and instruct” our children in the gospel, we must have a systematic plan. Forging catechesis and Scripture together can make things easier. There are so many resources out there including a new interactive catechism called New City Catechism (with video teaching and settings for child or adult). You can even put it on your iPad. There’s also a number of other books/children’s Bibles that can be used in a catechetical (teaching) manner: The Jesus Storybook Bible, Long Story Short, and Big Truths for Young Hearts.
- Singing. Pick up a hymnal or put in a worship CD and start singing! What matters is not how we sing, but that we sing. Did you realize that the longest book in our Bibles, the Psalms, is a songbook! Right now, we’re singing songs like “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” But every now and then we break out “Amazing Grace,” “Thy Mercy My God,” “Jesus Paid It All,” “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” or something else. Singing brings glory to God and joy to our hearts. I want our family to glorify God and be happy doing it.
I don’t have all the answers, and I know there will be frustrating “family worship” times when tempers flare and somebody leaves crying. We can’t control everything, but we can have a plan by God’s grace, be flexible, mix it up, and keep it simple. As parents, let’s lean into God’s grace, walk in the Spirit, get creative, be serious, have fun, and watch God work in the lives of our kids. I know he will.