Note: This blog post is from our brother, Scott. Knowing that he has had a lot of experience with worship at home (both as a child and now as a father), I asked him to write out some thoughts about it. He graciously agreed. I've been helped by his thoughts. They are biblical and clear. I pray you will be helped by this, too. May God grow the gospel in our homes! - Pastor Josh
I have been asked to share some thoughts with you concerning the concept of family worship. In this strange time of the coronavirus pandemic, we have been prevented from meeting together in the usual way. Many of you have been listening to the NCF services and worshipping at home. For some of us, conducting a “worship service” in the home is a foreign concept. This is not surprising, as we are all tempted to confine worship to Sunday morning services and small group meetings. My hope, however, is to encourage you to consider that family worship is not beneficial only in times when we are unable to meet as a local church. It is beneficial as part of our daily lives regardless of our circumstances, and it is our duty as children of God to worship Him together in our homes.
I certainly would not claim to be an expert on the subject of family worship, but I was raised in a home where we worshipped together regularly. Likewise, I have been conducting family worship in my home for several years now. Undoubtedly, I have seen my family grow in grace as a result. Trust me, we have had our fair share of struggles along the way and, admittedly, we have not been as consistent as we should have at times. Nevertheless, God has blessed our humble efforts, because He is gracious and faithful to grow and sanctify His people.
I would like to address the notion of family worship by answering the following questions:
1. Why is family worship important?
2. Why do many families in the church neglect to worship together at home?
3. What does a typical family worship meeting look like?
4. What can your family expect, as you embark on worshiping together in your home?
So, let us now consider these individually.
1. Why is family worship important?
As members of Christ’s church, we all agree that worship is important. We meet regularly to do so. We may often vacillate between worship from a sense of obligation and worship from sincere, Spirit-filled desire, but we know from God’s Word that the corporate worship of God is a vital part of the life of a Christian. We read the following in Hebrews 10:23-25: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We understand from passages like this that worshipping with other believers is essential.
But what about worshipping together within the context our individual families? Why is it important? Is it as important as going to church? Is it described in the Bible? Is it something God requires, or is it optional?
The concepts of family worship and its importance are certainly found in the Bible. One such passage is found in Psalm 78, a Psalm of Asaph. The first seven verses read as follows:
“Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.”
This passage emphasizes the general importance of family worship and our instructing of our children. Also described are the what, how, and why of our instruction to our children. What we are to teach our children is found at the end of verse 4 — “the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders he has done.” How we are to teach them is observed at the beginning of verse 4 and the end of verse 6. Statements like “We will not hide them” and “arise and tell them to their children” imply that we should be forthcoming and unceasing in our praise to the Lord as we teach His word to our children. Why we should teach and minister to them is observed in verse 7 — “so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.”
Psalm 78 is specifically about the ministry of parents, especially Fathers, to their children, but family worship is not only for those with children in the home. As it pertains to married couples without children or those who are “empty-nesters”, the importance of family worship between a husband and wife is also found in Scripture, namely in Ephesians 5:28-30.
“In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”
Here the husband is commanded to love and care for his wife, even as his own body. Notice the use of the word “nourish” in verse 29. Also, notice the comparative statement concerning Christ’s nourishing of the Church. The nourishment being referred to here is that of Spiritual nature. Christ provides nourishment to the Church by virtue of His being the Incarnate Word of God, the Bread of Life. A husband provides spiritual nourishment to his wife by worshipping with her through the study of the Scriptures, singing, meditation, and prayer.
Before we continue, I would like to say a word to those of you with living arrangements that are different than those that have been mentioned. Whether you are a single parent with children, married to a spouse who is not a believer, part of a multi-generational home, etc., there is a need for you to worship together with those with whom you share your life and your home.
In summary, family worship is important because it is a means by which children are encouraged to hope in and obey God, husbands are able to nourish their wives, and all members of the home can join together in song and in prayer. It is important because we typically spend a disproportionate amount of time with our families than we do with the other members of our local church, providing us with more opportunities for family worship “meetings”. It is also important because it facilitates the strong bond of Christian love that is necessary to live out the gospel both within and beyond the walls of our homes.
Having considered the importance of family worship, let us now consider our second question.
2. Why do many families in the church neglect to worship together in the home?
It might be easiest to list a few of the more common reasons that people give for not worshipping together regularly as a family and address them as we go. In doing so, I hope to dispel many of the false notions of which we can easily convince ourselves and to encourage you to go forward confidently and boldly in the pursuit of worship meetings with your family.
So, what are some of these reasons for neglecting family worship?
“Life is too busy and hectic.” Well, it certainly is. You will hear no argument from me where this is concerned. Many of us move from task to task and activity to activity throughout the day and are often asking ourselves by the end of the day, “Where did the time go?”. We are rushing out the door in the morning, busy with work, school, errands, etc. throughout the day, and trying to figure out a plan for dinner as evening quickly approaches. And when all is said and done, we are physically and mentally exhausted, desiring to do nothing more than vegetate in front of the TV, catch up on housekeeping, surf the internet, etc.
Because this is true for so many of us, we have to realize that we don’t neglect family worship because we lack time, we neglect to worship together in our homes because we have filled our schedules with other interests. As believers we all have, to some degree, an appetite for the things of God and the worship of God. However, we are still in the flesh and must constantly battle our natural, fleshly desires. We must be intentional about setting aside time to worship in our homes, or we will continue to place our natural desires over the spiritual discipline of worship. What we will find, if we are faithful to set aside time for family worship, is that God will supply the strength needed to begin this work, as well as the strength to continue (1 Peter 4:11).
“I feel inadequate to lead family worship.” This is another common reason why family worship is neglected in the home. As individuals, we have so many interests and so many distractions that we give little time and attention to personal study of God’s word. The result is a lack of knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures. This leads to feelings of inadequacy where Bible teaching is concerned. For some, they have only been in the Church and acquainted with the Scriptures for a short time, and therefore they do not have an extensive knowledgebase to draw from. Some are the leaders of the home and yet have less knowledge and experience in the things of God than those they would be leading and teaching. These factors can also result in feelings of inadequacy.
Similarly, those who are in a situation where they are more knowledgeable than the prescribed spiritual leader of the home, or those who are themselves the de facto spiritual leader of the home (e.g. a believing wife with children in the home who is married to an unbelieving husband), might feel as though they are usurping the leader’s authority by “taking charge” of family worship.
Regardless of our perceptions, we have clear instruction from the Scriptures concerning the role of “worship leader” and “pastor” of the home. Husbands and fathers, you are to be the spiritual leaders of your home, as we previously observed in Psalm 78 and Ephesians 5. Regarding our potential feelings of ineptitude, we know from the narrative of Scripture that God often calls to leadership those who are not confident in their ability to lead (Moses is a clear example [See Exodus Chapters 3 & 4]). We also know that God equips those whom He calls (as He did with Moses). Man of God, He has called you to lead your wives and children in family worship, and He will certainly equip you to do so. The expectation is not that you be eloquent or uniquely gifted. The expectation is that you simply obey the call.
Concerning wives of husbands who are less experienced and/or less knowledgeable in the things of God, take care to be meek in your dealings with your husbands and children. Pray for your husband to grow in knowledge and skill in leading your family. Honor your husband by the manner in which or extent to which you discuss the quality of his leadership with others.
Those of you who desire to worship with your children but face the challenge and potential obstacle of an unbelieving spouse, you may not be able to conduct regular, organized family worship “meetings”. However, you can look for and capitalize on opportunities to worship God with your children, however brief or informal, as they present themselves. God will provide a way for His people to worship Him.
Not all of us are called to be pastors, elders, teachers, etc. However, there are a litany of resources available to help those who desire to teach and to lead family worship in the home. The catechisms are a valuable tool, especially as a starting point for the instruction of children. Our church has used the New City Catechism with some regularity. Bible commentaries are also extremely helpful. I am certain that our pastor would be delighted to point you in the direction of resources that would help you as you lead your families.
“I am comfortable teaching a Bible lesson to my family, but I am uncomfortable with leading singing and/or prayer.” So far, we have concentrated mostly on the instructional element of family worship. But, as we will see in the answer to question #3 (What should a typical family worship meeting look like?), there are three basic components to a family worship meeting. These are teaching, singing, and prayer. All three are essential elements of worship.
Part of our submission to God in worship is the performance of those things which we find to be weak in ourselves. We often see our prayers as weak, but He has given us the Spirit to help us communicate that which we struggle to communicate (Romans 8:26-27). We see our singing as weak, but He asks only for the sounds from our lips to be joyful (Psalm 98) and He graciously inhabits our praises (Psalm 22:3). We must humble ourselves and give to the Lord that which He requires and that which is due Him, recognizing that we are strong in Him when we are weak in ourselves (2 Corinthians 12:10).
I have mentioned a few of the reasons commonly given for neglecting family worship in the home, but undoubtedly there are more. However, when we consider these potential barriers in the light of Scripture, we realize that God has given us everything we need to faithfully worship Him in our homes.
We now come to our third question:
3. What does a typical family worship meeting look like? I would like to begin by stating that there is no exact blueprint for how we are to worship God, regardless of the venue. There are guidelines that God has established in His word for how He desires to be worshipped. Generally, there are four main components of the service when we meet for corporate worship. These are singing, prayer, the reading and preaching of God’s word, and Communion. Three of these can and should be part of our family worship as well. These are singing, prayer, and the reading/preaching of the word of God. Let’s examine these individually:
Reading and preaching of God’s word: As previously stated, we are not all called to be pastors, elders, and teachers in the context of the local church. However, all believers are called to “preach” the gospel (Matthew 5:14-16, Matthew 28:18-20, 1 Peter 3:15, Philippians 2:14-16, Colossians 4:5-6 and 1 Peter 2:9). We have already discussed the responsibility of men to be the leaders of family worship in the home. So, ideally, family worship should include a husband/father teaching his family from the Scriptures. As mentioned previously, the catechisms and Bible commentaries are excellent resources from which to derive “lessons”. I would also encourage you to memorize and recite Scripture together as a family. In my home, the reading and teaching/preaching portion of family worship typically takes around 10-15 minutes, and I base the amount of time on factors such as the complexity of the material, the time of day, the attentiveness of my family, etc.
Prayer: In my experience, regular, fervent prayer is the spiritual discipline that is most lacking in the lives of Christians. I must confess that I am no exception. We struggle to pray for many reasons, and if we struggle to pray as individuals, we certainly would expect to struggle when it comes to praying with our families. We might pray briefly around the dinner table, but we rarely come together to worship God in prayer and supplication otherwise. When we pray together as a family, we bond together in confessing our need of God and His Providence. We call one another to thankfulness for His blessings on and care for our families. We plead with Him for the salvation of those we love, such as friends, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and so on. In my home, we sometimes take prayer requests. Sometimes I simply lead. On occasion, my wife and children pray individually as well, and sometimes we pray together reciting the Lord’s Prayer. We typically spend 5 minutes or so taking prayer requests and praying together.
Singing: We must sing to the Lord together. This is particularly valuable where small children are concerned. They are not the ones leading the teaching and they often do not feel comfortable praying aloud, but nearly all of them will sing. Leading your family in singing allows them to actively participate in worship and allows you to edify and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19). I am particularly fond of songs that have been constructed by adding melodies to passages of Scripture. This not only facilitates worship but also Bible memorization. Also, I make it a point to include classic, doctrinal hymns, as they help to foster useful meditations about God and the things of God. In my home, we typically sing two songs at the end of our family worship meeting.
These are the elements that should be present in our family worship. The exact way this is carried out is for you and your family to decide. The important thing is that we regularly worship God together “In Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23).
This brings us to our final question concerning family worship:
4. What can your family expect, as you embark on worshipping together in your home?
You can expect changes, not all of which will be felt (at least initially) to be positive. Your efforts will likely be met with some level of resistance. You will likely struggle to be consistently prepared and consistent in your routine. You will battle discouragement as you and the other members of your family fail to meet your expectations.
However, you can also expect to ‘grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ’ (2 Peter 3:18). You can expect to have sweet times of fellowship with your spouse and children. You can expect to see the members of your family developing a desire to worship God and to study His word. You can expect to be “knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-3).” My home is unsettled when family worship is absent. If I neglect it for any significant period (for whatever reason), my wife and children seem out-of-sorts, and someone usually asks why we have not worshipped together lately. Thankfully, family worship is to some extent self-perpetuating, as it cultivates a desire for fellowship, much the same as the meeting of the saints at our local church.
It is my desire to encourage you to worship with your family. It may seem onerous and slow to develop, but if you remain faithful, God will richly bless your family with a stronger love and desire for Him and a stronger sense of His love for you. I leave you with the following from our members covenant: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:16-17).”