Foundations 1: Family Worship

Though many today have not heard of Family Worship this simple activity has a rich history in Christian tradition. As far back as the generations following Jesus we see records of households meeting together once, even twice a day, under the leadership of the head of the house, to do three things:

Sing, Read the Bible and Pray

This practice, though central to much of the history of the church and mentioned in the writings of countless church leaders, is not so well known today, so this is where we are going to start. 
Below you will find information, books and free resources to help you consider how and why Family Worship ought to be part of the daily life of your family.

Begin and Continue with the Gospel 

Before you start, please take some time now, or plan to soon, and mediate on a section of Ephesians 1. May these wonderful truths about Jesus stir your affections for God, motivating you to obedience out of love in all of life, including family discipleship. 

Why Family Worship?

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'Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.' Ephesians 6:4, ESV.

We are not given any more detailed instructions on how to do this in the New Testament, but church history shows us that the primary method that has stood the test of time is Family Worship. The simple practice of daily gathering to sing, read and pray together in Family Worship goes a long way in fulfilling this responsibility of parents, making each Christian household like a little church.

If you are new to the concept of Family Worship, it can be helpful to read a book on the subject. 'Family Worship' by Donald Whitney is a great place to start, or 'A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home' by Jason Helopoulos. For a quick jumpstart, follow the link below to find the first in a series of four simple videos less than 5 minutes long by Donald Whitney designed to equip you to start leading your household in Family Worship today.

 Intro to Family Worship - Donald Whitney- YouTube

Read

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Let's look at each of the three elements of Family Worship in more detail, starting with reading the Bible.
 
If you haven't already, watch the Donald Whitney video on how to lead your family in reading the Bible by following the link below. He has great wisdom to share on the importance of reading in an engaging way and how to guide your family in a discussion of the reading. The model he shares is very simple and a great way of getting started easily.

The other important question is what to read. Whitney wisely suggests to stick to narrative passages if you have young children. The length of the reading is up to you, some families will read a chapter a day, some a shorter section. Two books that are good places to start are Mark and Exodus (you may want to skip or summarise Mark 13 and Exodus 21-23, 25-31 and 35-40). Reading whole books through together with your family gives them a great foundation for doing it themselves one day, as the richness of God's character is displayed differently in each book of the Bible, so we should aim to introduce our children to all of it in time.

It is wise to be prepared. Finding or making a guide to follow or taking 5 minutes before Family Worship to familiarise yourself with the reading and decide how much you will read will help you to lead with confidence.

Let us finally consider reading the Old Testament. Old Testament narratives can be so foreign to us that we're tempted to make them into moral tales or insert ourselves into the position of the heroic main character and expect that God will be on our side to slay the giants we come across, as he did with David. This is often a mistake. To read it rightly we must keep in mind the big picture of the story of the Bible; the story of God's relationship to humanity through the creation, fall, redemption and new creation. As we read a section of the Old Testament, we should consider what it teaches us about God and how it progresses his big picture redemption plan. The New Testament makes it clear that the Old Testament pointed forward to the fulfillment of God's plan in Jesus (see Luke 24:25-27; 44-45)! This is a wonderful topic for further study. Becoming tuned in to it as we read the Old Testament means we can consider the glory of God's redemptive plan displayed in many different ways and enjoy the wonders of it afresh. For a short helpful introduction to this topic, you can read this article from the Gospel Coalition called "Don't Overlook your Bible's First Four Chapters," or if you are up for a deeper dive, Mike Winger from Bible Thinker has a series of sermons, about an hour long each on this topic that cover it very extensively. Even just listening to the first one would be profitable.

Read - Donad Whitney - YouTube 

Pray

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Secondly, let's consider prayer.

The short video by Donald Whitney at the link below on this topic is a great place to start. Another helpful resource on prayer written by Martin Luther is also linked to below, where you can access a free PDF version of his booklet, 'A Simple Way to Pray.' Luther outlines a guide for prayer using the three elements of thanksgiving, petition and confession. He applies these three elements of prayer, phrase by phrase, to the Lord's Prayer, The Ten Commandments and the Apostle's Creed. The insight into Luther's prayer life can be very encouraging for our own and these simple elements can be used to guide our prayer in Family Worship, helping us pray based on what we have read. There are many ways you could do this, the simplest might be asking your children to choose something you have read to thank God, apologise to him or ask him for. If your children need help to consider how these elements relate to the passage you have read, you can ask simple questions like:
What did God do? What can we thank him for?
What did people do? Is this something we need to say sorry for?
What truth about God could we ask him to help us remember from this?
Sometimes for younger children it can be beneficial to say a line and have them repeat after you. As they spend time listening to you pray simple prayers like this they will grow in confidence in offering up their own prayers too. 
This is one way that you can help your children learn to come before the Lord in prayer, using the Bible and your own family situation. However you choose to pray remember to keep it short and simple, and try to base prayer on the Bible and your lives.

Pray - Donald Whitney - YouTube

A Simple Way to Pray   Martin Luther, Free PDF

Sing

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Lastly, singing.
Again, Donald Whitney has some great advice on this topic at the link below.

It is wise to be thoughtful about the song choices you make. We absorb a lot of theology through the Christian songs we sing, so it's great to sing songs that focus on God's character, Jesus and all he accomplished for us in his death and resurrection. This is such a multifaceted wonder that the list of good songs to sing on this topic seem limitless! Here are a few of our favourite picks:

Songs by City Alight (easy to sing, theologically rich) or the Gettys
Many of the old great hymns and chorus'
Psalms-Sons of Korah have beautiful arrangements, Zach Fitzsimmons has some great word-for-word Psalms from the ESV on YouTube which you can access music to, and you can follow the link below to find a good number of word-for-word ESV Psalms put to a simple melody by an Elder at Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church.

Sing - Donald Whitney - YouTube 

ESV Psalm Music   Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church

Persevering in Family Worship

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I hope this material has inspired you to start Family Worship in your home!
Please keep in mind, family discipleship is a long game, and you shouldn't expect a spiritual transformation in your home after the first day of Family Worship. It is going to require many of the fruits of the spirit for you to persevere, especially in the early days. But, as you do, by the grace provided to you, may this become a time of great joy and unity in the Lord for your whole family.
Donald Whitney expresses this struggle beautifully with his testimony of the impact on his grown children of years of Family Worship in the short video below. The start of the video covers the basics of Family Worship again, so if you don't need the recap, jump ahead to 2:30.

 Persevere - Donald Whitney - YouTube 

Bearing Fruit in Family Worship

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It is important that we remember that simply doing these things with our children is not enough, that more than actions or words God wants our worship. It is easy to fall into a pattern of just getting through family worship with little delight in God. We are all susceptible to this temptation, so we should all remain on guard against it. And what do we do if we find ourselves in this place? Prayerful meditation on the gospel is a good place to start. That in considering the holiness of God, the worship he deserves in light of this and how far short we fall of this in our offerings, we would receive the good news of the gospel with great joy. That the wonderful gifts of our new unearnt, underserved righteousness and adoption and all that they entail would cause our love for God to be rekindled, so we can approach this sacred time together with our families with a fresh awe at God's goodness to us and a desire to lead our families out of our love for him. 

Jerry Bridges has written a brilliant book on this topic called "The Transforming Power of the Gospel." In it he says that we need to think of ourselves as if we were in a boat, in a current, that is always pulling us in the direction of a performance-based relationship with God. Oh dear! So what can we do? Bridges tells us we must be regularly taking up the "oars of grace" and rowing in the opposite direction, by reminding ourselves of the forgiveness and gifted righteousness we now have in Christ, that these would then stir our affections for Him. He recommends we choose two or three verses on each of these topics and memorize them, so we can prayerfully meditate on them whenever we find ourselves slipping into a performance-based mentality towards God. You can find the list of verses he recommends on these topics below:
 

Forgiveness: Psalm 103:12, Isaiah 1:18, Isaiah 43:25, Isaiah 53:6, Romans 4:7-8, Romans 8:1 

Gifted Righteousness: Romans 5:19, Romans 10:3-4, 1 Corinthians 1:30, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Philippians 3:9 


Further reading:
The Transforming Power of the Gospel, Jerry Bridges

A Quick Note for Mums

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If you have a Christian husband who is willing to lead your home in Family Worship, praise God for this wonderful gift! But don't forget the important role you have to play. As a tired mum, the temptation may be there to skip Family Worship. Please resist this. When possible, don't miss this small, regular opportunity to put God above your own comfort together with your family and to support your husband in his spiritual leadership. 
Another temptation which I have fallen into far too much is to criticise. It is very easy to think about how you would do things better given the chance and to let your husband know. Be prayerful in your feedback to your husband and guard your heart. There have been times that my husband has said he would rather not have me attend Family Worship due to my critical attitude. I have come to see that what my husband needs most from me in this time is support - support in disciplining the children when they are bouncing off the walls, support in my enthusiasm for this time together and support in the way that I respond to and appreciate the work he is putting into it. 
May our husbands know that we are on their side as they lead us in Family Worship, may they know they can always glance our way for an encouraging smile to help them persevere when needed. 

Family Worship in Your Home

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There are many opinions about the particularities of how to practice Family Worship, yet the phrase is not even mentioned in the Bible so it doesn't give us comprehensive guidelines on the how to. This can be frustrating, especially when we hear different voices passionately calling us to practice it in a particular way with compelling reasons. The truth is, we have wonderful freedom in the way that we practice Family Worship in the different seasons of family life. We can be thankful for those who are willing to share what has worked well for them and consider if it could suit us too. We benefit greatly from the riches of sharing and experiencing different ways of worshiping God in a variety of cultures and settings. So start small, share what you are doing with others, listen to those who have been doing it for decades and enjoy the wonderful freedom we have to lead our families daily in worshipping the Lord. 

Having said all this, we have found, through much trial and error, a structure for Family Worship that is suiting our family well in this season with lower primary aged children and younger. If you want to know what we do, read on, but please bear in mind I intend it to be here to help you consider the possibilities and reasons behind things, rather than the only way to do it. 

Firstly, we meet twice a day for family worship. We initially only met once, and I think for most this is the best place to start, but in time there were more things that we wanted to do that we found our kids didn't have the attention span for all at once, hence we started twice a day. We meet in the morning during breakfast (toward the tail end when my husband has finished eating but the kids are still going) and after dinner. 

Morning meeting: 
We start by singing a hymn, generally we sing the first half at the start, the second half at the end of Family Worship and ask that the children stop eating their breakfast for singing and prayer. This is a great opportunity to sing together the hymns that we sing at church to help them to be able to participate in congregational worship more too. 
Next, my husband reads our passage for the day. He then reads it again, this time leaving out a few key words so that the children can try to fill in the gaps. We would like to do a more involved passage retell together later but for now this suits our family well. When we started doing this we made sure to prepare the children by reminding them to listen carefully as we would be doing a retell after, but now we don't have to. 
Then my husband asks if we have any questions. There might be words or concepts that the children don't understand and we adults often have questions about what is happening in the passage as well that we work together to answer as best we can. We then each get an opportunity to share one thing that stood out in the passage to us-something surprising or wonderful. This is our chance to share a very brief exhortation with each other, but we need to be really disciplined to keep it brief and to the point. Did I mention it needed to be brief? This is something that my husband and I need regular reminders of. 
Finally we pray. When we have time for all of us to pray, we will ask the children to choose something from the passage to thank, say sorry or ask God for. We use this scaffolding because we want our children to learn to pray using the Bible as their guide and for these three elements to come to each feature in their prayers. Again, my husband and I try to keep our prayers to just one sentence. 

Evening Meeting:
We start by singing a Psalm together. We know the benefits of memorising scripture and we find this to the easiest and most enjoyable way to do this. 
Next, we remember the passage that we read in the morning. My husband might ask some questions to help us recall it, and we have some discussion around any further insights we have made over the day or how it has affected our day. 
Finally we pray for friends, family, missionaries we know and the global church. We are people who like order and systems, so this is our system. We have an index car box (but you could use an app on your phone) that has categories that we cycle through each day of family, friends, our church family and missionaries. We just do one person/family from one category a day, and half our family will chat about prayer points to prepare for our prayer time. The other half of our family uses the Voice of the Martyrs prayer calendar to discuss the prayer needs of the people selected for that day on the calendar, then we all come together to pray. We wanted to include all these elements in our prayers, so this is the system we have chosen for now to help us cover these bases. 

I hope this has given you some ideas of the kinds of things you could be doing together in your time of Family Worship. You probably won't always do the same things in the same way, but if you think about the kinds of things you want to focus on as you read, pray and sing together, you will come up with something that works for your family too. 

Next Steps

You can move on to Foundations 2 now, but if you are only just starting to establish a good routine of Family Worship, it's best to give yourself some time to do this well and plan to move on later.