When you become convinced that family worship is something you want to practice in your home, and you start down that path, there are dangers to avoid. Dangers that many who do family worship tend to fall into. Here are six you should be careful to avoid. The first three are internal dangers the parents face personally, the latter 3 are external dangers that can develop in your practice of family worship.
1. A Proud Heart. When we are convinced of the importance of something like family worship and begin practicing it with consistency, it is easy to become satisfied with our own performance while condemning other who do not measure up. It is unfortunate that we take credit for the grace of God at work in our lives through the development of discipline. Pride is always waiting for the opportunity to attach itself to our hearts and lives, replacing the gospel's comfort of our consciences with false assurance built on performance.
How do we avoid this danger? Remember: Your family worship is not good enough. It does not impress God, and he graciously uses it for the sanctification of his children. Focus on what you need to do for your family, not on others, and encourage others through a gracious example.
2. A Legalistic Approach. Legalism is the child of pride. It tends to manifest itself in one of two ways: a) in the belief that God accepts us based on our performance, b) pushing extra-biblical law as if it were God's will and standard. While I do believe that family worship is something God expects his people to practice, I am equally convinced that this can take on a number of different forms. But even when we can agree on this point legalism may creep into our practice of family worship in a more subtle and deadly way - through the instruction itself.
Teaching our children the Scripture should be a journey through the history of redemption emphasizing the law/gospel presentation of God's grace to fallen humanity. But we often default to teaching our children little more than moralisms when walking through the Bible. The point of each story can become good little boys will be like Joseph, or Daniel, or Jesus, and that we should not be like Jonah or Judas. Empty moralistic teaching that is disconnected from the gospel emphasis of the whole of the Bible not only leaves our children with a misunderstanding of the Scripture, but of the nature of salvation itself. What do you emphasize when teaching your kids - the gospel hope or works righteousness?
We can avoid the danger of legalism by keeping the gospel central for ourselves and our children as the means by which we know God and ourselves. By helping your family to see the gospel's connection to every story and teaching in Scripture.
3. A Hypocritical Life. Hypocrisy is the friend of legalism. It may sound strange but a public discipline like family worship can lead to hypocrisy if we are not careful. Our children will hear our words. They will listen to our teaching, and before much of it takes root, they will have the opportunity to see if we really believe what we teach. Our lives will testify either for or against us. So if we teach of Christ's forgiveness, the need to forgive, and that "unless you forgive, you will not be forgiven," but then are observed by our children harboring hatred or holding a grudge they will see that we are hypocrites. This clear absence of integrity will rob us of influence and the ability to teach with authority. I am not suggesting that we can live without such sin in our lives, my point has to do more with confession and honesty in the midst of family worship.
Most people do not work at being hypocrites. It tends to come about through good intentions. As we teach our children the commands of Jesus we want them to see the beauty of holiness and the value of biblical virtue. We want them to embrace Jesus' teaching. But this requires us to be truthful with our children, not only about the who and what of the Bible, but concerning ourselves. They must hear from us that we, like they, fail to meet God's standards, and are in desperate need of the gospel ourselves. I must not pretend to be someone else during family worship, because the dad my kids know is the dad I am everywhere else.
How do we avoid the danger of hypocrisy in family worship? Be being honest with our kids about our own struggles and keeping the gospel central, and exalted above the law.
4. A Sterile Lecture. It is obvious to all that children do not enjoy dry lectures. Most adults don't either. The good news is that the good news is not boring. The history of redemption and the gospel is found in an exciting narrative and is inherently practical/experiential. It is common for people to fall into the cold lecture format when beginning family worship because it is a new and strange discipline. Our ignorance of the discipline and the inherent awkwardness of starting it lends itself to a stiff presentation.
You can avoid the sterile lecture by using age appropriate Bibles/guides, and learning to express the proper emotions during each reading. Look for opportunities when teaching to express joy, sorrow, sobriety or amazement.
5. A Rigid Format. Every family is different and has it's own culture. Some are more formal while others are more relaxed. But when talking about family worship I encourage families, in general, to avoid an overly rigid format. We are tempted to create a very stiff format and feel to family worship because we are convinced of its importance and priority. Family worship is serious business and we don't want to take it lightly, but it is not performance. think a healthy family worship ethos will have a casual and yet serious atmosphere.
How do we balance the serious and casual aspects of family worship? Maintain a flexible structure. It's valuable to have a routine, but don't be afraid to change it up when you think it's necessary. And respond graciously to interruptions. You will be interrupted. Especially in the beginning. The phone will ring, your youngest will throw up, the dog will start barking, and in the beginning your children are likely to ask a lot of questions that are not relevant to what you're doing. A gracious response will encourage your kids to ask more questions later on that are relevant. If you are stressing about family worship, others are likely to as well.
6. A Tiring Length. People often have the best intentions, and put a lot of effort into preparing for family worship. Unfortunately it can become a rather lengthly discipline for the family. I remember when my wife and I began reading on the subject we were really excited. My natural thought was that family worship will probably wind up lasting 30 minutes. But was that enough? I read treatises, books and sermons on the subject but could not find a reference to the time frame of the habit - until I read The Family Altar in the back of the book, The Bible and the Closet by Thomas Watson and Samuel Lee. Here 10-20 minutes was said to be an appropriate time frame. Getting that little piece of advice from a few hundred years ago was most encouraging and liberating.
While we spend about 10 minutes in family worship with our kids at their current ages (3 and 6), this time will grow with our children. I think it's better to leave them wanting more, then to overload them with.
I have found that having a plan, and giving my family the best stuff prevents me from letting the time get away from me.