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    Mar 24, 2016

    Class 3: Family Worship - Laying the Foundation for Heart-Centered Parenting

    Series: Parenthood

    Category: Core Seminars, Family, Children, Manhood & Womanhood, Marriage, Parenting




    We have now spent a couple weeks considering the ministry of the family. We have seen that God intends to use family relationships, including children, as a vital means of communicating the most precious truths about Himself, His plan of salvation, His plan for our sanctification, and His plan for the church, now and in Heaven. And we have seen that therefore building families is an important Christian ministry—to the church and to the world.

    Now we want to turn and ask, How do we minister to the family? That is, how has God designed for families to be built up, so that they can play this important ministry role?

    How many of you have heard the term “family worship”? If you’ve been in an evangelical church for any length of time, you’ve probably heard it. What do you think it means? [Have class offer examples. E.g., prayer and Bible study together as a family; going to church together.] We want to explore today whether and how God intends us to worship together as families.

    The first question we should ask, before getting to family worship, is simply, What is worship? We tend to think of worship as singing songs at church. And that certainly can be worship. But the essential concept in Scripture is “service,” with an attitude of fear and adoring awe and wonder (New Bible Dictionary, p. 1262). Thus, Paul writes in Romans that we are to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship”—or “service” (Rom. 12:1) (emphasis added).

    I. What Does the Bible Say About Family Worship?

    Does the Bible say that families should worship God in this way? It does. Speaking through Moses, God unequivocally commanded the people of Israel, including their children, to serve him, by humbling themselves with fear and adoring awe and wonder:

    These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you. . . . . Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. [Deut 6:1-2]

    Hear the command to worship?—for Israel to serve (“commands . . . to observe . . . by keeping”) and to humble themselves with fear (“fear the LORD . . . as long as you live”) and adoring awe and wonder (“love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”)?

    But Moses doesn’t stop there. He tells them how to raise their children to be worshipers:

    These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. [Deut 6:6-9]

    We learn from these passages that God’s will for His people is that they and their children worship Him, meaning that they serve him with every fiber of their being, in an attitude of awe and love, and that this requires His Word to be “upon the parents hearts” and that they impress these commands on their children everywhere they go, during every part of the day. [Repeat.]

    This is the Scriptural foundation for the rest of this course, which is that ministry to the family, especially children, is a heart-centered ministry. God’s Word clearly teaches that raising moral children is not the same thing as raising Christian children. [Repeat.] Gimmicks that elicit outward conformity will not elicit service to God with every fiber of our children’s being, in an attitude of awe and love. So what, by God’s grace, will?

    II. Family Worship Requires Daily Teaching.

    God has told us: we are to “impress” on our children His Word. Or as the ESV and RSV put it, we are to “teach it diligently.” After all, faith comes by hearing!

    And we see that leading the family to worship is clearly no hobby; it is a 24-7 responsibility—morning and evening (“when you get up . . . and lie down”), inside and outside (“when you sit at home . . . and when you walk along the road”), active and passive (“teach . . . write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates”). But is this merely an informal activity? Must we teach our children formally to be worshipers—meaning that we must do it in a structured way, including some kind of worship service?

    A. Daily Teaching Probably Should Be Formal.

    No—but. It is true that there is no explicit biblical command that we hold a formal worship service, or other teaching time, in our homes. But given the nature of children, the command to “teach [the Word] diligently” and to “impress” it on our children strongly suggests that we teach them in a planned, structured way; and a good way to do that can be through a short daily worship service.

    As Professor Don Whitney—who I’m going to rely heavily on this morning—puts it, “bringing up children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord is not accomplished unintentionally and incidentally. Yes, it should and will happen throughout the day at unplanned, serendipitous occasions, but it should also happen purposefully. Without some regularity and structure and purpose, it is one of those things that we assume we are doing but never actually do. Consistent, father-led family worship is one of the best, steadiest, and most easily measurable ways to bring up children in the Lord’s discipline and instruction.” Whitney 7.

    And Whitney shows that Christians have long agreed on this point.

    1. Christian history shows the high value believers have consistently placed on formal family worship.

     The first generations of Christians consistently worshiped together: “At an early hour in the morning the family was assembled and a portion of Scripture was read from the Old Testament, which was followed by a hymn and a prayer . . . . In the evening, before retiring to rest, the family again assembled, the same form of worship was observed . . . with this difference, that the service was considerably protracted beyond the period which could be conveniently allotted to it in the commencement of the day.” Donald S. Whitney, Family Worship: In the Bible, In History & In Your Home 9 (2005).

     Martin Luther said that, even with all of his responsibilities as a professor and church leader, as a husband and father, he had the responsibility to be the worship-leading pastor of his family—and that his house was “actually a school and church.” Whitney, 9. [We have family worship 6 nights a week. We started when [my son] was 2, and he’ll be 12 in about a month. I’m nearing my 3000th family worship service.]

     The Second London Confession of 1689, which is the classic Baptist statement of faith modeled on the Westminster Catechism, says, like the Westminster Catechism: “God is to be worshipped everywhere in spirit and in truth; as in private families daily, and in secret each one by himself.” Whitney, 10 (emphasis added).

    In fact, the Westminster Assembly published an extensive publication called The Directory for Family Worship requiring church discipline for a man who unrepentantly refused to lead his family in daily worship! Again, we are not advocating that position, but merely mention this to show how seriously believers in the past have taken formal family worship.

     Matthew Henry wrote: “If our houses be houses of the Lord, we shall for that reason love home, reckoning our daily devotion the sweetest of our daily delights; and our family-worship the most valuable of our daily comforts . . . . A church in the house will be a good legacy, nay, it will be a good inheritance, to be left to your children after you.” Whitney 11. Regarding family worship he said, “Here the reformation must begin.” Whitney 11.

     Spurgeon wrote, “If we want to bring up a godly family, who shall be a seed to serve God when our heads are under the clods of the valley, let us train them up in the fear of God by meeting together as a family for worship.” Whitney 13.

    In short, as Spurgeon put it, “I trust there are none here present, who profess to be followers of Christ who do not also practice prayer [i.e., family devotions] in their families. We may have no positive command for it, but we believe that it is so much in accord with the genius and spirit of the gospel, and that it is so commended by the example of the saints, that the neglect thereof is a strange inconsistency.” Whitney 3.

    So – all that to say: we don’t want to become legalistic about family devotions, and simply add them to an already long list of things we have to do. But we do not want to ignore the logic and history showing that they’re of immense value.

    2. What should a family teaching-worship service be like?

    So what should a family worship service be like? Spurgeon wrote that, “I agree with Matthew Henry when he says, ‘They that pray in the family do well; they that pray and read the Scriptures do better; but they that pray, and read, and sing do best of all.’ There is a completeness in that kind of family worship which is much to be desired.” Whitney 18 (emphasis added). And remember that, as we discussed earlier, this simple three-part format is what the first Christians used, too.

    And Spurgeon practiced what he preached. Listen to how one visitor described her evenings at the Spurgeon home:

    One of the most helpful hours of my visits . . . was the hour of family prayer. At six o’clock all the household gathered into the study for worship. Usually Mr. Spurgeon would himself lead the devotions. The portion read was invariably accompanied with exposition. How amazingly helpful those homely and gracious comments were. I remember, especially, his reading of the twenty-fourth [chapter] of Luke: “Jesus Himself drew near and went with them.” How sweetly he talked upon having Jesus with us wherever we go. Not only to have him draw near at special seasons, but to go with us whatever labor we undertake . . . . Then, how full of tender pleading, of serene confidence in God, of world-embracing sympathy were his prayers . . . His public prayers were an inspiration and benediction, but his prayers with the family were to me more wonderful still . . . . Mr. Spurgeon, when bowed before God in family prayer, appeared a grander man even than when holding thousands spellbound by his oratory. Whitney 14.

    But let’s say, just hypothetically, that you’re not Spurgeon. Very practically, what do families who are not led by the Prince of Preachers do for family devotions? It’s simple: Pray, read, sing!

    Now as to each of these, let’s get very practical.

    1. As to Bible reading, you’ll want to use something age-appropriate—but don’t underestimate your children’s ability to understand!

    [Show and briefly describe Lindval’s Read Aloud Bible Stories, Catherine Vos’s The Children’s Story Bible., David Helm’s The Big Picture Story Bible, Starr Meade’s Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, – catechisms are great: the kids can memorize incredible amounts. And as Matt Schmucker says, “pack it in now; they can unpack it later.” ]

    Before reading the passage, I would always start with prayer; sometimes I use a short verse from Psalm 119 as a call to worship. Read enthusiastically, explain words that the kids may not understand, and ask questions – lots of question at the end, which often should focus on application (but do not always have to – kids can learn simply the meaning of the passage).

    2. As to prayer, be sure to pray for something from the passage, which the kids even can suggest. Be sure to pray prayers of praise, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication – not just supplication. And be sure to pray, not just for personal holiness or needs, but for the family, the church, and the world. If you take or suggest requests, encourage the family to pray for spiritual and physical needs.

    Please don’t underestimate the value of your prayers in imparting faith! Your expression of love to God and sense of His closeness is precious beyond words.

    After Spurgeon died, his wife described their evening together with their twin boys:

    After the meal was over, an adjournment was made to the study for family worship, and it was at these seasons that my beloved’s prayers were remarkable for their tender childlikeness, their spiritual pathos, and their intense devotion. He seemed to come as near to God as a little child to a loving father, and we were often moved to tears as he talked thus face to face with his Lord. Whitney 13.

    [Singles, here are a couple encouragements to you.
    - First: Realize the impact you can have on children just by praying – perhaps as you teach in Sunday School, for example.
    - Second: Do you ever feel like God is distant or a stern taskmaster? Do you struggle with legalism? Consider going to a godly Christian home for family worship. Don’t look for Spurgeon, but do consider all the ways in which the home is built as a model to you of your precious relationship with God. Watch how the kids relate to the parents; watch how the parents lead in worship; see the tenderness, the intimacy, the sweetness of being adopted into the family of God! AND – if you happen to visit a family when it’s not all hearts and fluffiness, then note the forgiveness, and the perseverance of the parents, and reflect on God’s own patience with you. Families – build your homes so singles can join.]

    [Additional, excellent illustration if there’s time: And John G. Paton, missionary to the Hebrides Islands said something similar. (You may remember that Mark quoted from Paton’s description of leaving home, and his father walking with him down the road, in a past sermon.):

    How much my father’s prayers [when John left home] impressed me I can never explain, nor could any stranger understand. When, on his knees and all of us kneeling around him in Family Worship, he poured out his soul with tears for the conversion of the Heathen World to the service of Jesus, and for every personal and domestic need, we all felt as if in the presence of the living Saviour, and learned to know and love Him as our Divine Friend. As we rose from our knees, I used to look at the light on my father’s face, and wish I were like him in spirit,--hoping that, in answer to his prayers, I might be privileged and prepared to carry the blessed Gospel to some portion of the Heathen World.

    Whitney 25.]

    3. Lastly, as to singing, consider buying a few hymnbooks and keeping the song-sheets handed out at church. Whitney 17. It’s probably most edifying to pick a song that relates to the passage. You can let your kids pick the song, to keep them thinking about the meaning of the passage you’re discussing – and to help them learn hymns and praise songs.

    There’s lots you can do – ask other families for ideas. And don’t feel overwhelmed: pick something then do it. You’ll change what you do anyway based on your kids’ age and your life circumstances. One big help is to keep your time short enough to be consistent. As Don Whitney says, the keys are brevity, regularity, and flexibility (18-19).

    B. Daily Teaching Certainly Must Be Informal.

    So that is a case for formal family devotions. Now we should consider how we informally cultivate family worship. Remember, Moses wrote of God’s commands:

    Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. ~ Deut. 6:7-9.

    We can take a number of lessons from this passage about teaching our children informally, but I want to highlight three.

    First, God’s Word is to be our constant subject of conversation. Teaching our children to be worshipers is to be going on all the time, wherever we are. This means, for one thing, that we cannot delegate teaching our children the Bible to the church. It is our privilege and responsibility. Of course, in the course of the day we will talk about other things – school, activities, people, books, chores, etc. – but we are to make sure that God’s Word is the base to which we always return.

    We have no greater example than Jesus. He was “continually using every day occurrences as opportunities to impart truth” (A Vision for Ministry to Children and Their Parents, Bethlehem Baptist Church, 31) (emphasis added):

     The fall of a tower gave him an opportunity to talk about God’s judgment and repentance; (Lk 13:4)
     “Encountering a woman drawing water from a well became a lesson about living water and eternal life”; (Jn 4:10)
     “The lilies of the field became a lesson about faith in the constant provision of God”; (Mt 6:28)
     The mustard seed became a lesson about the surprising way that God Himself grows His Kingdom. (Mt 13:31)

    “Jesus seized ordinary events and turned them into teachable moments to bear fruit for the Kingdom.” A Vision, 31. This is our job, too. As Paul Tripp has said, describing his son walking through the kitchen while Paul baked bread, we need to be able, easily, to move from yeast, to God, and back (Lecture 2, The Case for Kids).

    Second, it is not easy to keep God’s word as our constant subject of conversation, so we need reminders.

    Isn’t it striking that the Israelites were to put God’s word physically up all around them? God knew that His Word had competition in their lives from other things! We need to take practical steps to keep God’s word at the center of our conversation and on our minds. We can put verses up on the bathroom mirror. And don’t underestimate the power of music. Sound, biblical praise tapes are a great way to encourage God’s Word dwelling in us richly with “songs, hymns, and spiritual songs.” [Former member Becky Dummermuth has said that her father set scores of passages to music, and to this day she remembers them.] You could also consider devoting time each day to Scripture memory. And family devotions before bed are a great way to put God’s word on the “door” to our kids’ bedrooms.

    Third, if God’s Word is to be a constant subject of conversation, we need to be together so we can have those conversations.

    Notice the predicate to all this talking about God’s Word: being together!

    Here’s a challenge especially to us fathers. As you think about God’s will for you in your job – whether considering a new one or working out your schedule in your current one. Ask yourself: can you take this job (or this promotion, or this additional duty) and meaningfully live out the spirit of this verse?

    And that’s not JUST for fathers – mothers, too, need to consider how their decisions to take on other activities (or a job) affect their ability to be always about teaching their children.

    I also applies to setting priorities for your kids’ activities: are you getting them so busy that there will be little time for conversation about God’s Word?

    One practical (non-inspired) example of making this kind of conversation a priority: “Lie down” next to your kids every night to talk. [HIGHLY encourage you to talk ask Andrew Nichols what this looks like for him] Ask them what they want to talk about. If they don’t know, ask them to tell you about their day. And then listen, and talk and laugh. This teaches them that a loving father wants to listen to them and speak their language. It also helps you learn their personalities, and will help you to build strong friendships in advance of the teenage years. You want your kids to be used to talking with you about what’s on their mind, and hearing your reaction to it (hopefully framed in Biblical terms). Then you can pray, maybe sing a little Bible song together – and remind them to “turn from your sins, and rest in Jesus” so the last thing they hear before they close their eyes to be the Gospel.

    III. Family Worship Requires Our Own Radical Change.

    We’ve now talked about formal and informal family worship. But we’re still missing a crucial predicate: our own changed lives! Please, brothers and sisters, don’t miss Moses’s introduction to his commands about impressing and diligently instructing our children: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts” (Deut. 6:6) (emphasis added). Do you see what he’s saying? Teaching our children God’s Word 24-7, to train our children to have hearts that long for awe-inspired service toward God, is only truly done when we are simply passing on what is already overflowing in own hearts.

    We see a tremendous example of this in the life of Timothy. Remember that Paul said Timothy’s “sincere faith” first “lived in [his] grandmother Lois and [his] mother Eunice” (II Tim. 1:5) (NIV) (emphasis). And what did they do with this living faith? We don’t have to guess: “As for you,” Paul told Timothy, “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom [plural] you have learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 3:15) (ESV) (emphasis added). Do you hear echoes of Moses? God’s Word was on the heart of Lois and Eunice—their faith was “living”—and so they taught it to little Timothy, who by God’s grace “learned it” and “firmly believed it” after watching their lives and seeing their integrity.

    [Offer pastoral word of encouragement to parents in less-than-optimal situations, such as those, apparently like Eunice, who married non-believers and then became Christians.]

    Brothers and sisters, this is not a guilt-trip – we may already feel a burden concerning our performance in this area – but we must understand: there’s no faking it! If we are to be faithful parents—to lead our families in worship as God commands us to—we must have God’s word so deeply impressed our hearts that we can’t help but talk about it every chance we get, applying it to every aspect of our lives together. As Paul Tripp has said, we should be like sponges: when our children “bump” into us, they should become “wet” with God. Let’s seek God’s help to soak in his Word this week, that in worshipping Him we may also drench our children!


    The ministry to the family is a heart-centered ministry designed to create worshipers — people who serve God in an attitude of fear and adoring awe and wonder. Scripture says we do this by leading our families in worship. This is done through teaching, often in some formal ways, but always, all the time, informally. The predicate to this, however, is having God’s word dwelling richly and overflowing in our hearts. Is it dwelling richly in and overflowing in yours?