About a year ago, my husband Bryan said he felt we should start some kind of family worship time with the kids. He handed me a small book he had ordered based on a recommendation he read from Mark Driscoll (pastor of a megachurch in Seattle). It was called “Family Worship” (by Donald S. Whitney) and, despite the 2006 copyright, looked as if it were designed and printed in about 1982. I immediately started laughing. A lot.
The thought of a family worshipping together at home was far outside of my experience and comfort zone. Honestly, the notion conjured up an image of Bryan handcrafting a wooden pew in our backyard, all of the females in our house wearing floor length skirts with little aprons over them, perfectly placed hymnals in our laps and Bible readings with a lot of “thou shalts.”
After reading this valuable little book, however, I could see how important family worship time could be and how it didn’t need to look anything like my image. We started doing our own daily worship based on ideas from the book, tailoring them to a family with very young kids. For several months now we have spent the last 10 minutes before the kids’ bedtime in worship.
For those who can’t begin to imagine what that would entail – like I couldn’t a few months ago – I wanted to share what our worship time looks like.
To make the transition to worship time, we lower the lights and ask everyone to sit in a circle. This is regularly a struggle. The kids like to run around the room, thinking it is a fun game. On most nights we have to say, “It’s time now to learn about God. You need to be respectful and sit down. If you do not sit down right now, you will lose all your stuffed animals for tonight.” On one hand, I wish we didn’t have to issue a threat to have them sit down reverently. On the other hand, I realize that realistically we are dealing with three kids ages three and under and they are not necessarily going to understand the importance of family worship. If they still don’t sit down, they have to sit on one of our laps for the rest of the time (literally being held down). We never treat it as discipline to remove the child from the room. Worship is not an option.
The kids received a daily devotional book for Christmas, and each night we read the page for the day of the year we’re on. The book we are using is OK, but I wouldn’t recommend it specifically. Based on my experience, I would evaluate devotional books for young children based on the following criteria:
- Devotionals are short. Our kids don’t see devotional time as the same as story time, perhaps because of the time of day or perhaps because of the subject matter, but the result is that their attention span is very limited for it. A devotional should only be a few sentences so the focus can be on your own follow up questions and comments for discussion.
- Each devotional provides a Bible verse. Even though Bible verses are often difficult to understand, reading one provides a good opportunity to remind kids what a verse is and what the Bible is, and introduce them to names of Bible books.
- Each devotional provides questions. We make up questions for comprehension after we finish reading. For example, if the devotional is about how God loves us all the time, we give the kids scenarios to evaluate and ask if God would still love them then. (The answer is always yes.) It would be great if the book provided questions of this nature after the devotional. The kids are significantly more engaged when answering questions.
- Topics are theologically appropriate. This is difficult to evaluate, but it is a problem with almost every book for toddlers/preschoolers that I have seen. For example, a recent devotional was about asking God for help and told the kids if they need help tying their shoelaces, just pray! The lesson was that we can ask God for help in all circumstances, but kids this age are very literal with their understanding, and it sets up inappropriate expectations to tell them that next time they can’t tie their shoes, God is going to help them. It seems quite common that kids’ books simplify theology to a level that results in lessons which aren’t quite appropriate.
My husband and I alternate between who leads the prayer. In general, we:
- Give thanks for specific parts of the day (e.g., thank you for the opportunity to spend time at the park) and for, more generally, our blessings (e.g., food to eat). We always try to be very specific rather than generally giving thanks for “everything” so the kids learn to be mindful of each blessing. We want them to be thankful that they have a bed to sleep in, for example. Without hearing us give thanks for something so specific, it probably would not occur to them to be grateful for that blessing.
- Ask for some type of personal help (e.g., please help us to be patient parents and obedient kids) and help for others (e.g., please help our cousin to get well).
- Ask for forgiveness for specific events of the day (on behalf of each family member). Sometimes we ask the kids before the prayer starts what they need to ask God’s forgiveness for, and then we incorporate their answer.
- Do a “roundtable” of thanks. Whoever is praying says, “Kenna would like to thank you for…” (and then Kenna thanks God for whatever she wants). When she is done, we say, “Nathan would like to thank you for…” and so on. This allows them to get used to praying out loud and allows them to be participants rather than listeners.
We sing two songs per night. Each of the twins gets to pick one. We always remind them that we are singing TO the Lord – even though we can’t see Jesus, he can see and hear us. This is important so they have the right context for why we are singing. We have three rules for song time:
- No changing words. My son likes making up lyrics to make them funny. We teach the kids that when we sing to Jesus, we need to respect Him and take it seriously.
- No singing in a funny voice. Similar to the last rule, we want to make sure that they are not treating this as play time and are always mindful that we are singing to Jesus, not to ourselves.
- It is OK to dance, as long as you sing. A few weeks ago, Kenna started getting up to dance during song time. At first, I told her to sit down and be respectful, but then I realized that she was actually making gentle (respectful) moves to the music. We told her that if she wants to do an “interpretive dance,” it’s fine, as long as she is singing as well. That way, she is able to express herself, but is required to do it in the right context and mindset.
The kids know a small set of songs that we have taught them over time. We didn’t select these for any particular reason or for age appropriateness; they are simply songs we knew. Some of them are perfect for their age (God Is So Good), while some of them are probably barely understandable (How Great Thou Art). To make song time more meaningful, we could do a much better job of selecting and teaching new songs that have more understandable words for their age.
Here are the songs we sing: I Love You Lord, Open the Eyes of My Heart, Father I Adore You, Amazing Grace, Jesus Loves Me, Jesus Loves the Little Children, Seek Ye First, God Is So Good, and How Great Thou Art.
All told, our worship time can last anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. It never goes perfectly, typically involves threats about staying seated, sometimes involves holding a child down, and rarely looks “holy.” But those precious moments each night bring our family closer to each other and to God than anything else we do.
How about you? Have you tried family worship at home? If so, please share what you do! If you have older kids and would be interested in writing a guest post about family worship for the “over 5” set, please contact me: [email protected].