As a college student one of my favorite professors warned our Greek class that it will take us up to 5 years to fall into a comfortable and profitable habit of "devotions" with our spouses. I thought he was crazy since Jen and I were frequently reading the Bible together and praying while dating. As it turns out his words proved prophetic once we were married. Though we were regular in our personal quiet time, doing this together proved difficult. So we started reading on the topic of family worship - when the household gathers to worship God led by the head of the house. One of the books we read early on was Thoughts on Family Worship by J.W. Alexander. It was a great read and really helped to establish what we wanted to do as a family. Unfortunately it did not establish our actual practice. When we transitioned from a dating couple who would spontaneously break out the Bible and pray to a married couple trying to establish a routine for this sort of thing we found it to feel awkward, unnatural and forced. We continued to read and work at it but our family worship was very irregular. We eventually gave up, but were not too alarmed since we remained disciplined on our own and had no children. When we began to have children we took this much more seriously, but getting to the place where it was a natural part of our lives took some time. There were two things we learned along the way that were of particular help to us.
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.
Instead of making a biblical case for family worship here, I will recommend an interview and a few books. Tomorrow I will post an interview on the subject with Dr. Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL, Executive Director of Founders Ministries and Editor of the Founders Journal. Be sure to check that out, he has some great things to say.
For foundational material on the subject be sure to pick up one or more of the following:
Family Worship by Donald Whitney Thoughts on Family Worship by J.W. Alexander The Godly Family by various authors The Bible and the Closet by Thomas Watson and Samuel Lee (see the very back for "The Family Altar").