Family worship should be a basic discipline of a believing family. Tragically, it’s infrequently taught and modeled in American churches today. The reasons are varied, ranging from not knowing how to not having time, or simply not seeing the importance of it.
Nik Ripken notes this deficiency in The Insanity of Obedience, saying,
“We have discovered that many families do not know how to do this and, in some cases, they are simply not willing to try. Some families resort to playing a DVD, or watching worship through the Internet, of a worship service from a sending church, and they presume that the playing of that electronic tool has been ‘worship’ for them. This substitute for worship, however, is severely lacking. When there is no opportunity to gather with a group for worship, it is essential for the family to worship on its own. We have been surprised how difficult this is for most families.”
At the most basic societal level, God instituted the family. It is the building block of all human civilization, and it is the model for how God’s family, the Church, is to function. At the same time, man is meant to worship, and, in fact, he can’t help it. Why, then, do we neglect worshiping God in this most basic sense, and even outsource the activity to others?
The need for family worship
Perhaps in America it’s because we have such freedom of worship and gathering that it seems less effective to perform daily worship in the confines of our homes when we could have the professionals at the church facilitate it for us. That’s not to say we shouldn’t worship in churches or that we should all call our families house-churches. Of course we should worship corporately as churches. But we should also be able to worship in our homes and among our friends, or as the New Testament refers to it, “from house to house.”
As a husband and father, I realized after my third child was born and my older two were approaching preschool age that this practice would be essential to the spiritual formation of my children and wife. I began to see that without a plan, practice, or rule for worship we simply wouldn’t make time for it. But I had no idea what it should look like.
So one day I asked a friend that did something similar, looked up a few things online, remembered a quote from a book, then wrote out a short outline of what I thought it might look like to lead our family through worship after dinner. My wife helped me think through what’s most appropriate for our children’s age levels since she’s a trained educator and spends more time around them.
I knew intellectually that building family worship into our lives would be valuable, but I grossly underestimated the impact it would have on our family and others. In the short time since we instituted an almost daily worship time we’ve seen God work in numerous ways, such as:
- Our children memorizing large passages of Scripture (2-4 year old’s can memorize much more than you think, and so can you)
- Allowing us to worship with friends, family, and neighbors (if you’re at our house at 7:00 p.m., you join us for family worship time; we’ve had grandparents, neighbor’s kids, our house guests, and others join us on different occasions)
- Creating space for theological conversations…with preschoolers (which some of you know is actually very deep and rewarding)
- Cultivating a rhythm that’s focused on God (too much of our lives revolves around what we want to do; stopping to give worship and honor to God most nights centers and grounds my family in what it means to follow Jesus)
After working with my wife and refining our family worship time, here’s a simple template of what you can do for family worship with preschoolers.
(Please note: this is meant to be descriptive of our family worship time with our preschool age children. It is not prescriptive in any way, but hopefully will give you a window into what this looks like if you’re not familiar with it. We’ve had children as old a ten go through this and they’ve enjoyed it, though it’s meant for children up to age 6-7.)
A simple template for family worship with preschoolers
1. Open in prayer
We usually start family worship time right at 7:00 p.m. because families thrive on routine and this seems to be the best time for our family since it’s after dinner and right before baths and bed. We gather the family and whoever else is there into a living room where my wife and I sit in a rocking chair (we alternate for different parts of the worship time) and the children sit on the floor in front of us.
I sit down in the rocking chair first, and I open us with a simple prayer that usually goes something like this: “Father, thank you for this time of worship where we get to focus our hearts and minds and attention on you, which is what worship is all about. We pray that we bring you honor and glory through this time, and pray that you help us to have self-control throughout it.” (These are still preschooolers after all, so self-control is usually needed in gracious quantities!)
2. Recite memory verses and catechism questions and answers
After we open in prayer, mom usually takes over and leads the kids through their memory verses and catechism question and answer. This works for our family because my children are currently homeschooled and they work on these verses earlier in the day with their mother (that, and I can’t ever get all the hand motions down).
We always have two memory verses and one question and answer going. Since each child has a memory verse assigned for the month in their children’s ministry classes, we do that one (currently they’re the same verses since my children are two years apart and the youngest in under 1). This one is shorter, most often just one verse or part of one verse.
We supplement this with a longer passage that’s foundational, such as Isaiah 9 when we get close to Christmas, or the 10 Commandments, or being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry from James 1. My wife did a fantastic job picking these then formatting them for us to use throughout the year. You can download them here if you’re interested.
Once my wife leads us through these verses, we then do one question and answer from the New City Catechism. It’s a modern compilation of older catechisms, but it’s particularly helpful to use with children because each question and answer is accompanied with a shorter version for little learners. Mom simply asks the question, then has the children repeat the answer.
3. Read a Bible story
Now it’s back to dad and I take my place in the rocking chair to read through a Bible story. Last year we read through a Beginner’s Bible that was mine when I was a child. This year we’ve been going through The Jesus Storybook Bible, which is amazing. The stories are a little on the long side for preschoolers, but if you read it with enough energy and excitement (and shouldn’t we?) then it’s relatively easy to keep them engaged. We read one story per night.
After I read through it, we go back and check for understanding and comprehension. We’ll ask simple questions like, “Who was this story about? And what did he/she/they do? What do you think that tells us about God?”
Then we’ll let them ask questions, which is always the interesting part. The day I’m writing this, for instance, we had four extra children joining us, three of which are older than my children. When reciting the 10 Commandments as the catechism answer, one of the young girls was keen to know what adultery was. “Let’s ask your mom and dad about that one when you get home. But be sure to tell them you heard that when we were going through the ten commandments!” Another child wanted to know what God created the world out of (we were reading through Genesis 1-2). And another wanted to know why God created the world when He did and not at some other time. Those are good questions! Had we not been in that time of worship they never would have come up.
4. Sing some songs
At this point, we’re usually no more than 10 minutes into the worship time, but if you know preschoolers then you know their attention is starting to run thin. So we stop and sing some songs to Jesus. We keep a basket full of instruments in the room (tiny guitars, xylophone, tambourines, etc.) and allow the kids to choose one to “play” as we sing along. If there are more than about five kids present (or if our children are struggling with self-control that day) we’ll sing without instruments.
So far we’ve introduced a mix of preschool church songs such as “Father Abraham” and “The B-I-B-L-E,” and more classic refrains like “Our God is an Awesome God” and “Joy to the World” (leading up to Christmas). This is one area where we have some learning to do. We like to keep it fun, but also to choose songs which inform the kids theologically.
5. Record what you’re thankful for
After we make a joyful noise to the Lord (and I mean that literally), we all sit back down and I lead the family through a time where we simply remember something we’re thankful for from that day, and I write down the answers on a note card. We’re trying to build thankfulness into the culture of our family, and also to show the children all the ways in which God blesses our family. We call these our “thankful’s.”
Examples of what the kids say are too personal to share, but suffice it to say this is where you’ll hear some of the most sweet, joyous, precious, and moving things to come out your children’s lips. The profundity of children’s prayers can at times be overwhelming, and I’m constantly challenged by their vulnerability and trust.
6. Close in prayer
After we record our thankful’s, we all pray to close. Usually my wife starts, my oldest two will take turns, and then I’ll close us. The idea is that they’re specifically thanking God for their thankful’s, and anything else they want to pray about. When I close, I’ll usually reiterate what we’re thankful for, thank God for the time of worship and tell Him that we hope we brought Him honor and glory through our worship, and then add anything that might be pertinent that day (this can be anything ranging from a sick family member to help with a specific family expectation the children struggled to meet).
7. Store the “thankful’s”
This part is really cool. After we close in prayer, we rotate letting one of the children put the “thankful’s” in the “thankful bin,” which is just a bucket from IKEA. Each night we do family worship time, we drop the thankful’s in that bin so we look back on them one day. I imagine looking through them as a weepy mess when my kids go off to college or get married. But what a precious time capsule of the way God blesses us over the years! Some days the kids are thankful for cheese, but other days for their new friends or spending time with mommy. As I reflect on what’s written on some of those cards, I’m realizing that they’re one of the few priceless possessions we have.
And that’s it. That took longer to explain than it does to do it. The whole process usually takes us about 15 minutes. It can be hard to get past the inertia at first, but once you do your kids will be reminding you when you forget it.
We were made to worship. And we will do it in our churches as long as we can, but we should also be doing it in our homes as often as we can.