The Heart of Family Worship

My wife and I like to talk about family worship--not because we have it all figured out, but because we actually enjoy experimenting with different ways to draw ourselves and our five daughters to God (Yes, five! Yes, daughters!). Of course, family worship with little children can be particularly intimidating to young parents trying the balance the complexities that go with that season of life.  Be encouraged, meaningful family worship is within reach.

I think of family worship as being comprised of three interconnected variables: the heart of family worship, the timing of family worship, and the manner of family worship. In the next two posts in this short series we will consider these three aspects. We will limit our consideration in this first post to the heart of family worship. The following treatment aims at being practical, but that requires us dabbling in a little theological grounding because, honestly, why else would we want to go through the cat-herding effort. To paraphrase the song, our family worships because "the Bible tells us so." For the most part though, what comes next will deal with the hows and whats of regular family devotions in the midst of swim team schedules, play dates, distractible personalities, and bedtimes. 

The Heart of Family Worship

Family worship supports and augments what have been called in certain circles "the ordinary means of grace," meaning the reading of the Word of God, prayer, and the sacraments   (Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 154; Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 88). By thinking of family worship in this way, we connect what we are doing in our living room to what is happening at church Sunday. If we think about our time as being part and parcel of the life of the church, we are able to see family worship as part of a larger movement of the gospel in the world. The heart of family worship is that it serves to help us be better worshippers on the Lord's Day with the covenant community. We see this in at least four ways:

Reading the Word of God.  Our family better receives the preached word on Sunday if we have spent time in it during the week. That is why our family worship usually includes a direct reading of the Bible or at least allusions to biblical passages that address an issue we are talking about. We want ourselves and our children to be literate not only in the biblical text but the overarching themes and narrative that hold the biblical story together. We want them to be cognizant of the major biblical stories but also of the major biblical story.

Practicing Family Prayer.  We pray through song and we pray through spoken word. The children have opportunities to pray out loud and quietly. One thing that we have emphasized is prayer as a response to God's word to us in the Bible. What about the Bible reading gives us cause to pray? Does it make us thankful, repentant, needful, and so on? Prayer is the other side of the conversation that God institutes and initiates through his word.

Celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Time was when the elder visited your house during the week to interview a family before the  Sunday administration of the Lord's Supper.  In current practice, the table is typically "fenced" by the discretion of the participant and a word by the pastor (though some exceptions occur).  While our children are young, we want them to be prepared to approach that table at the appropriate time. Our oldest daughter has given a profession of faith to the elders of our church, and so our family worship helps her prepare herself to participate in the Supper in a discerning way (1 Cor 11:29), but even the younger ones need such hopeful preparation that will one day carry them to the table of the Lord as well.

Improving upon our Baptism. Because we embrace the idea of the covenant family, we encourage our children to live out the baptisms they received in their infancy, what the Westminster Larger Catechism calls "improving our baptism."

WLC Q. 167 How is baptism to be improved by us?

The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.

In other words, improving our baptism is a succinct way to talk about sanctification in the Christian life: beginning with what the baptism signifies, the inner response it requires from us, and the effect it should have on the way we behave in the world. Staying cognizant of this idea of improving our baptism also helps us keep the main thing the main thing.


Dr. Scott Redd is the president and an associate professor of Old Testament at the Washington, D.C., campus of Reformed Theological Seminary.

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