Leading Family Worship
Desiring God 2011 Conference for Pastors
The Powerful Life of the Praying Pastor: In His Room, With His Family, Among the People of God
Notes taken during the session.
Turn with me to Joshua 24:14-24. This is part of Joshua’s farewell address to Israel. Look at also at Deuteronomy 6:4. I don’t know where you are at in family worship, but just as in private worship, we all fall short—as in private prayer and reading, so in family prayer and reading. My prayer is that those who are engaged in strong, regular family worship will grow. And those who struggle in it or have never engaged in family worship would learn how and be encouraged to start worshiping as a family regularly.
The Necessity of Family Worship
In my family growing up, we would pray before and after the meal. My father would also read Pilgrim’s Progress with us on Sunday evenings. However, we would never discuss or engage each other in family worship. So when I was asked once to speak on family worship, I was convicted that I had not been leading my family in worship how I ought. My siblings and I all have agreed that we are most grateful for my mother’s prayer life and my father’s reading of Pilgrim’s Progress and teaching us from it. Family worship time is the most important thing I do in my life. I wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world. It isn’t perfect but it is critical.
The commander of Columbia shuttle that disintegrated in mid-air was so devoted to family worship that he recorded eighteen videos for his family, one for each day that he was supposed to be gone. How valuable do you think those videos are to his family now? What a legacy he has left.
As pastors, we need to lead the way in family worship so that when people come into our homes, they see what family worship is like. We must strive to have our families be mini-churches, which function as the backbone of the local church. I want to lay out for you a paradigm for leading family worship, … , challenge you to commit to leading your church in family worship, and encourage you to train men in leading their families.
The Puritans saw family worship so foundational that they would bar a man from communion if he failed to lead his family in worship. Family worship is the foundation of child rearing. As family worship goes, so will go the family. The Puritans thought family worship was the whole backbone of society.
Our God is a family God. He is a triune God. He is an intra-trinitarian relationship. That is the basis of family relationships. We ought to emulate him in family worship. The head of the family in leading his family in covenant faithfulness to God is perhaps the most significant way God has used as a means of saving grace.
The Duty of Family Worship
Joshua concludes the passage I read with “We will worship the Lord.” Joshua enforces the service of God in his whole family by his own example. Joshua is going to die but he is so confident in his influence in his family that he says, “We will worship the Lord.” He says it is a future reality because of his example. Now look at Joshua 24:31. Most of the nation followed his example for at least one generation. Joshua’s example pervades throughout Israel for a whole generation. Would that everyone of us would say tonight with conviction, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It is possible for God to bless our families and our children if we have failed in this, but it is his normal operation to bless those families who are regular in family worship.
There are three aspects of family worship. First, daily instruction. That means reading daily from the Bible and explaining it. We should instruct our families with the same earnestness that we preach with on Sunday.
Second, daily prayer to the throne of God. We must engage in prayer with our family. It doesn’t matter when but we must seek to bring our families into heavenly places and rain down heavenly benediction upon them through prayer.
Third, daily singing the praise of God. The Lord is to be worshiped daily by the singing of psalms and hymns in our homes (cf. Colossians 3:16).
Dear brothers, we must implement and teach our congregations and families to implement family worship in our homes. God requires it of us as heads of our families. Your family owes its allegiance corporately to God. You have a position of authority in your family not as their buddy or friend but as their prophet, priest and king, showing them the way to God. As pastors, we must lovingly inform the heads of households in our congregations to lead their families in worship.
The Implementation of Family Worship
Family worship does require some preparation. It requires some forethought. Choose a text to read, a place to meet, a song or hymn to sing and be ready. Expect everyone to be there. Family worship is to be jealously guarded.
Aim for brevity. Ten minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the evening is sufficient for most families. Don’t over do it. Don’t do forty-five minutes on Monday and skip it on Tuesday. Do it every day.
Don’t make excuses to avoid family worship. When you get home and you’re tired, don’t make excuses to skip it. If the Lord Jesus was not too tired to die for him, you shouldn’t be too tired to live for him. If you just got angry at your children, don’t skip family worship—that is the best time to do it! Ask for forgiveness and get beyond it.
Lead with a firm, fatherly hand and a soft, penitent heart. Encourage warmth and abiding love. Talk naturally with your children.
Now for some more specifics. In regards to the reading of Scripture, have a plan and be sure to read the whole Bible. Perhaps read ten to twenty verses from the Old Testament in the morning and ten to twenty from the New Testament in the evenings. Do account for special occasions in your plan. Involve the whole family in the reading. And as each reads, teach them how to read out loud.
For biblical instruction, be plain in meaning. Involve your children. Ask them how a text applies. Don’t ask the same question to each child lest they begin to compete or feel insecure. Don’t ever make them feel belittled. And if you don’t know an answer, have a commentary or two beside you to reference.
Be pure in doctrine.
Be relevant in application. Explain how a text as affected you in your life or church history. That will give your children the feeling that the Bible is a real book with real applications.
Be affectionate in manner. Show them the way to fear, delight in and love the Lord. Our children need to feel that we love our children but that we love their soul. Pray earnestly for their salvation out loud in front of them. Little children see you as a God-figure and that is a profound responsibility. Embrace your children in the way God embraces sinners.
Require attention. As loving as you are, never allow slouch behavior. No one ever answers the phone. We are in family worship and God requires our attention.
In prayer, be short. Three to five minutes is sufficient. Don’t teach in your prayers. Be simple without being shallow. Be direct—plead your case before God. Ask your children what to pray for and bring all those things in prayer. When your children know that you want to know what their needs are and that you will pray for them, they will come to you with their needs for prayer. The power of that is when they get older and are tempted to sin, maybe the power of prayer and your example will hold them back, even if they are not saved yet.
Be varied in your prayers as well. Teach your people to use the “A.C.T.S.” acronym—Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. Pray for the congregation.
Train your children how to pray. Start by having them repeating you.
Sing doctrinally pure songs and don’t forget the psalms. The psalms were the original hymnbook. If a child doesn’t want to sing, have discipline for not singing. At the end of the night, pray with your wife.
Objections to Family Worship
Here are some objections to family worship. “We don’t have time.” Well, you may need to have two family worship times or you need to teach your family priorities. “Our family is too small.” “Where are two or three are gathered in my name, I will be with them.”
“Our family is too diverse to profit.” You tailor make it to each one. “I’m not good at leading family worship.” Get a cyclical book on family worship and teach your people to read one. Start small and build. You can do it. The problem is not ability but commitment to do it.
Motivations for Family Worship
Why should we do family worship? God may use it to save souls. Do you want solid young men and women to grow up in your church? Then teach your congregation to engage in family worship. God uses family worship to draw people to himself. Remember that at every gathering of family worship, you are ushering your family into the presence of God.
The satisfaction of a good conscience is another motivation. Teach and pray with your family so that when you are on your deathbed, you have a free conscience, knowing you have done your best to raise your children in the fear of the Lord.
Third, family worship assists in child rearing. It makes a family able to speak more openly about anything. Talking with each other becomes normal. It helps you have more open communication.
Fourth, the shortness of time calls for it. The time when your children are in your house will fly by. See everyday as a gift of God to bring the Word of God to your children.
In conclusion, I want to address two things. Some might say, “What if I failed?” Begin today. Confess to your wife; confess to your children. If you have adult children, equip them to lead their families. Start leading your grandchildren in worship. Family worship will set the tone for your entire home.
Second, I want to read something to you from John Paton. He said that his father is the one who had such significant influence on him. God blessed his father’s family worship.