“Alright Mal, ya ready?”
This was my dad’s invitation every night before bed when I was a kid. He would bring out my slightly wrinkled bible memory plan that all of the second graders were working on at my church that year. I would climb into my bed in my pajamas and dad would pile in right next to me propped on his elbow. This was always funny because I had a tiny twin bed and my dad is 6’5’’. So in that little-bitty bed, we would play games that helped me memorize God’s Word. Fill in the blanks, funny voices, speed throughs. We would work on the new verses for about ten minutes, and when we were done, we would pray and ask the Lord to help me remember what I learned. Then dad would stick the crumbled paper under my pillow and make the same silly joke about how sleeping with it would bring about some sort of Holy Spirit osmosis effect.
Even now at age 32, I remember this so clearly and I still laugh about that joke. My dad is funny and precious, and this is one of my dearest memories of engaging in family worship growing up. What is family worship? Family worship is when a family gathers together to seek the Lord through prayer, Bible reading, scripture memory, song, and learning about who He is. This sounds ideal in theory, right? Family gathered around a kitchen table, Bibles open, everyone listening, smiling, and quoting Psalm 23. What a pretty picture. So why does it feel so hard?
It feels hard because kids are squirmy and we are all busy, or because we have expectations for ourselves to be picture-perfect at spiritual parenting and we are disappointed when it doesn’t turn out that way. I’m here to encourage you and to bust a few myths around family worship and discipleship. Family worship is about engaging in and modeling the practices of the faith with your children. It will be wiggly, getting interrupted by spilled milk and temper tantrums. It won’t feel instagram-able, and you might not see the fruit of your efforts right away, and that is ok! God promises us that he will meet us in these ordinary means of grace, and we are to pass them down to our children.
While your local church’s children’s ministry staff is likely considered “expert” at teaching children of different ages and stages biblical truths, you as parents and caregivers have an enormous home team advantage: time. If a child spends an hour at church on a Sunday, even every single week, that is nothing compared to the number of hours spent at home, in the car, and around the table with you! When I meet with parents in my work at Christ Presbyterian, so many parents buy into this “home-field advantage,” but they feel they need a playbook to get started. So I have some practical steps to help you move forward.
1. Pick a consistent time that you can be with your children.
Is this around the dinner table, at bedtime, or in the car? Pick one and give it a try! My cousin used to drive his young child 20 minutes to preschool every day and go over an incredibly long bridge. My cousin capitalized on this time by teaching his son the Apostle’s Creed, phrase by phrase, while driving over the bridge. They practiced a little bit every day until his little guy memorized the entire creed! They looked forward to this moment every morning on the way to school. You can do this as well with your family.
2. Make it fun!
While worship is seriously important, it does not have to feel serious and stern all the time. Like the story with my dad, we raced each other to say the verses, practiced in funny voices, laughed and enjoyed being together around God’s Word. Don’t feel like you can’t infuse some of the natural dynamics you enjoy in your family in this time together.
3. Set a goal.
Start small and dive in! Do you want to read through a book of the bible together? Do one chapter a day. Do you want to memorize Scripture as a family? Do it one verse at a time. Choose something that feels important to you and break it into little mini-goals. Stick with it and don’t give up, but don’t forget to celebrate when you reach a goal!
4. Model that it matters.
Your children are watching what you give time and attention to in your life. My younger brother, Mason, loves Detroit sports. He loves the Lions, particularly when they play on Thanksgiving. He wears a Detroit Tigers hat everywhere he goes. He is nuts for Detroit sports, and yet, Mason has never been to Detroit. So what made him decide at age 10 to love Detroit sports teams? My dad grew up there and loves Detroit sports. Mason loves them because my dad was invested in them and modeled that love to us. If Mason can pick up, as a child, that we love Detroit sports (even when they don’t win), then your kids can pick up on the fact that spiritual practices born out of a love for God are important to you as well! Show them how important Bible reading and prayer are by doing it in front of them and inviting them into it with you. Jesus modeled for us how to pray in Matthew 6, and He gives us the opportunity to model the faith to our children as well.
5. Be kind to yourself.
Parenting can be hard and messy because we, as people, can be hard and messy. So why wouldn’t family worship and discipleship sometimes look that way as well? You are not weird for feeling this way. If one day (or week or month!) does not go as planned, that’s ok. Don’t give up! It’s not a race, and you aren’t getting a grade at the end of the semester for this. This is a beautiful gift you are giving your children. Stay with your goal and know that God’s Word promises not to return void.
I know that this a lot to think about, but can I bust one last myth for you? It’s not all on you! God gives us the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us on this ongoing quest to engage in family worship and discipleship with our children. This is absolutely a big task, but I know that God promises to meet us in these ordinary ways.
I want to encourage you this year to not see this as a big list of things to do or of ways you are falling short. This is meant to be a set of practices to grow in that help develop and prioritize your children toward spiritual health! Ultimately, we know it is God’s Spirit who will bring our children to grow in their relationship with Jesus, but it’s our responsibility to plant the seeds, water, and till the soil wherever we can. Now, go get started!