Hints On Family Worship

We have seen in the last two weeks that one of the most important factors contributing to the state and health of the Church in any generation is the emphasis or lack of emphasis on family religion. We have also seen that in a Christian home, it is the God-ordained duty of the covenant head of household to ensure that family religion is maintained. How is it maintained? No less than through daily family worship and systematic catechising. In this article, we shall discuss the elements and conduct of family worship by way of a Q&A on the subject.

Who is responsible to start, call for and maintain family worship?
The covenant head of household, namely the father in a Christian family is responsible (Eph 5:25-26; 6:4). If the head of household is not a believer or does not live in the house (for whatever reason), the eldest son who is a believer or the mother should take over the responsibility.

Who are to participate in family worship?
All who are in the house under the charge of the covenant head of household are to participate. This includes unbelieving covenant children, live-in domestic helps, as well as any guests who are staying with the family (cf. Ex 20:10).

When and how frequently should family worship be carried out? 
There is no hard and fast rules (cf. Deut 6:7). Family worship should be regarded as an integral part of a family’s responsibility and as much time as possible should be devoted to the exercise. Each family should worship together at least once a day, but if possible, twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening would be ideal (cf. 1 Ch 16:40). In any case, the time for worship should be regular, specified, and adhered to as much as possible. In this modern high pressure society it is generally very difficult to get the family together except at meal times, so I would recommend that that family worship be worked around meal times. Many families prefer to have worship after their meal, but in my family we have found it advantageous having it just before our meals —never mind the food getting a little cold. Each family, with the father taking the lead, must work out its own schedule which can be observed with some discipline and consistency.

How long should family worship be?
Again there are no rules. Some families can only afford 10 minutes each day, some can afford more. The key is not to rush through worship so that it becomes a mechanical exercise to be get over with rather than enjoyed. Also the father (or whoever is leading in worship) should discern the specific needs of the family. If there are very young children for example, it may be difficult to have worship any longer than 15 minutes. In which case, the family should not be forced to sit through an hour of worship lest resentment and irritability develops. Keep the worship time short and succinct, say 20-25 minutes if possible.

What are the elements of family worship?
All the elements of public worship except the administration of sacraments may be included in family worship. Thus Scripture reading, prayer, singing of psalms, exposition of the Word (and catechising) may be included. The head of household should lead in all these areas with solemnity and reverence. In addition, I believe that family worship ought to be less formal and more flexible than public worship, and so I would allow some discussion of doctrinal or theological subjects passage read or a sermon that was heard on the …cont p. 3 Lord’s Day (cf. 1Cor 14:34-35; Deut 6:20). I would even allow "responsive reading" or having each member of the family read a verse in turn. This will help to keep the attention of both younger children as well as tired adults!

How do I start? I do not know how to expound the Scripture.
May I suggest that it is the duty of the head of household to be instructed in the Word by reading and self-study before he is able to instruct his family. But if you are unable to do so, one suggestion is to make use of a devotional commentary (e.g. Matthew Henry’s) or a daily devotional guide (e.g. Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening,Tabletalk by Ligonier Ministries or even IDE Thomas’ Daily Devotions from the Puritans). Another excellent alternative is to make use of books such as Calvin’s Truth for All Times or Thomas Watson’s Body of Divinity or Thomas Vincent’s Exposition of the Shorter Catechism. I do not think that it is wrong to read from these during family worship. But a point must be made to adapt and simplify the lesson so that the youngest in the family may benefit from the study. Remember also that if you are reading a passage of Scripture, that there is no necessity to read an entire chapter each time. Rather, carefully divide the chapter into logical passages and read one such passage a day (a Study Bible may be helpful for this purpose). Remember also that there is no need to explain and expound every verse in the passage. Do seek wisdom from the Lord (Jas 1:5) to know what to emphasise.

I would like my family to sing as part of our worship, but my repertoire of hymns is very small, what can I do? 
When my family and I started family worship, I had the same problem, and after a while we gave up singing altogether. Providentially, we met Ps Jeff ‘O Neil who gave us a few copies of the Scottish Psalter. Straightaway we had a more than adequate supply of not only theologically accurate, but also inspired hymns to use for all-purpose. Moreover, we could sing any of the psalms without difficulty. You see, the Scottish Psalter, may be sung to any Common ( Meter Tune, many of which are very familiar tunes, such as Amazing Grace,O God our Help in Ages Past, I Sing the Mighty Power of God, The Lord is My Shepherd, Lead Me to Calvary etc. Get a list of these tunes from me. Do let me know also if you would like a few copies of the Psalter for use at home.

Finally, what are the keys to endurance, seeing that there is so much to distract us away from our duty of family worship? 
Firstly, a determination to honour and please the Lord by exalting the name of Christ in the home, on the part of all, but especially the father. Secondly, consistency. Try not to allow anything detract you from family worship at the specified time (this is why working it around meal times is helpful—not only would the family gather automatically together, but few people will call by phone or in person at dinner time). Thirdly, flexibility. Be ready to make adjustments that may be necessary because of unplanned circumstances. For example, be prepared to have worship at another time slot if the regular slot is not available for one reason or another.

May the Lord grant you much help as you endeavour to obey Him and to build up the church within the family which the Lord has placed you in, or placed you as a steward of.