Transforming Ordinary People into Extraordinary Followers of Christ

Family Worship

Family Worship

by Don Whitney

Excerpted and Adapted by Dan Clement


Psalm 78 shows how God intends each new generation to come to believe in him:

O my people, listen to my instructions.   Open your ears to what I am saying, for I will speak to you in a parable.  I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—stories we have heard and known, stories our ancestors handed down to us. We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the LORD, about his power and his mighty wondersHe commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them—even the children not yet born—and they in turn will teach their own children. So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands.


From ancient writings shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, we learn that families followed this practice:

At an early hour in the morning the family was assembled and a portion of Scripture was read…This was followed by a hymn and a prayer, in which thanks were offered up to the Almighty…his grace was implored to defend them amid the dangers and temptations of the day, to make them faithful to every duty, and enable them, in all respects, to walk worthy of their calling as Christians.  In the evening the family again assembled for the same form of worship they’d practiced in the morning…


Throughout the centuries family worship has been practiced in pious households:  

Matthew Henry (1662-1714), whose commentaries on the Bible are still widely used, urged believers to “turn your families into little churches.”  He added: “Families that worship can renew a whole church.”  


Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), theologian and president of Princeton University, serves as a model:

Edwards began the day with private prayers, followed by family prayers.  Care for his children’s souls was his preeminent concern.  In morning devotions he quizzed them on Scripture with questions appropriate to their ages.  Each meal was accompanied by family devotions, and at the end of each day his wife joined him in his study for prayers.


Pastor Richard Baxter (1615-1651) threw down this challenge:

I appeal to the experience of all godly families around the world.  Which of them have seriously followed these duties and not found them beneficial?  And are there any families which do grow in grace and heavenly mindedness but have not used these practices?  Compare families which abound in wickedness, cursing, arguing, drunkenness, immorality and general worldliness, to those families which abound in faith, patience, self-control, love, repentance, and hope.  The value of family worship is not hard to decide.


The practice of family devotions continues today among serious disciples:  


John Piper (1946— ) says:  “You have to decide how important you think these family moments are.  

It is possible—for little ones and teenagers and parents.  You may have to work at it, but it can be done.

    Some may protest that believers in previous centuries lived in a simpler era that afforded them more time to practice family worship than Christians would have today, but this is not so. Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) pastored the largest evangelical church in the world at that time, preaching almost every day.  He then edited (by hand) has sermons for weekly publication, which comprise the largest collection of works by any author in English (sixty-four volumes).  In addition to his collected sermons, he wrote an additional one hundred and twenty books, averaging one every four months throughout his entire adult life.  At the same time, he presided over sixty-six ministries, edited a monthly magazine, read an average of five books per week, and wrote—with a dip pen—five hundred letters per week!  Despite the ceaseless, crushing demands on his schedule, at six each evening, setting aside a to-do list that few could match today, he gathered for family worship with his wife and twin boys.


How to conduct family worship:

But we cannot expect Christians to do what they’ve never been taught to do, so, how does one conduct family worship?  There are only three necessary elements:  read the Bible, pray, and sing.

Read   Chapter by chapter, read through books of the Bible together.  The  New Living Translation is particularly good.   For younger children, use narrative passages and read shorter sections.§  Read enthusiastically and interpretively.  Simply read it to the best of your ability.  Explain any words the children may not understand.  To improve their understanding, ask the children to choose a verse or phrase to explain back to you, and then have them choose one for you to explain to them.

Pray   Pray about at least one thing suggested to you and your family by the Scripture passage you just read.  Some families, regardless of where they were reading in the Bible, always to go the book of Psalms when it’s time to pray.  Simply turn the words of a few verses into a prayer for your family.

Sing   Some people sing a different song each time; some sing the same song for a week so they can learn it.                                                                                                                                                  Talk to the director of children’s ministries at your church for age-appropriate song suggestions.  Create song sheets for everyone.   Find the tunes on YouTube and sing along.

     Four suggestions: (1) Be brief—otherwise the experience can become tedious.  Ten minutes is sufficient. Less time if you have very small children.  It’s always possible to lengthen the time if family members are having a particularly meaningful experience or have lots of questions.  (2) Be regular—find the best time for your family, and keep the same time every day.  (3) Be flexible—consider the wisdom of adapting a time when the family already is accustomed to being together, rather than trying to create another routine.  You can even adapt family worship to a mobile experience while traveling.  Just be careful that your flexibility does not lead to inconsistency. (4) Don’t let shame over past failures stand in the way!

  • Because Dad has failed to lead family worship for so long, he feels embarrassed to begin now.  
  • Because Mom fears that a child will sneer at her attempts, she is scared to try it.
  • Because they tried it before but did not stick with it, parents fail to recommit to leading spiritually.  

Whatever your fears, simply say something like this: “I have come to believe that the Bible teaches that I should be leading us in family worship, and I want to start today.  I have a lot to learn about it, but I want to do what I believe God wants me to do.  Will you join me?”    Then—just read, pray, and sing!


  • With younger children, consider using a picture Bible or a Bible-based book:  David Helm’s The Big Picture Story Bible or Kevin  DeYoung’s The Biggest Story (for preschoolers).  For children aged four to ten, Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible  or Catherine Vos’ The Child’s Story Bible.  For elementary-aged children consider Marty Machowski’s Gospel Story Bible.
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