Regularly leading our families in the worship of God is something that many people desire to do, but are not sure how to start. We may not know what to do for family worship, or have trouble doing it consistently and making it a routine. The following is a practical guide on how to get started doing family worship.
Why Family Worship?
“…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
Family worship is not to replace corporate worship on the Lord’s Day, rather it is where a family sets apart a time in the day to come before God in prayer, Psalm singing, and Bible reading and instruction. Fathers are to bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4; c.f. Psalm 78:5-7). We are instructed to always have the Word of God before our minds, “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). God gave us the Psalter that the word of Christ may dwell richly in us and that we may sing with grace in our hearts to the Lord (Colossians 3:16). Along with the daily reading of Scripture, singing Psalms every day is a great way to consume the full scope of biblical doctrine!
A few hours on the Lord’s Day is not enough, we need to be diligently seeking the Lord throughout the week and saturating ourselves in His Word and in prayer. It is especially the duty of the father, as the head of the household, to ensure that his family is fed with the Word for their edification, admonition, and even rebuke, when necessary.
What To Do
The most difficult thing about family worship is doing it consistently. Find a time that works best for your family, just before or after dinner is a convenient time for most people. Family worship does not have to be very long, when starting off, just aim for about fifteen to thirty minutes, then as it becomes easy to keep the routine and as the children become more used to it, you may be able to extend it to 45 minutes to an hour. Or, if you can do it twice a day, ten to fifteen minutes in the morning and then again at night is a good amount of time. Keep it simple. You don’t have to prepare an elaborate sermon or do anything fancy. The following is a great template to start you off, and you can change it around as you see fit. Be flexible.
Start off with prayer. Thank God for His blessings in your family’s life and for the means of grace He has provided for you to get to know Him. Ask for forgiveness of sins and that the Holy Spirit be there and help you to worship purely and truthfully.
“The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles [homes] of the righteous: the right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly” (Psalm 118:15).
Get a copy of The Psalms of David in Metre (1650) for every member of the family, or use the Psalter that your church uses. The 1650 Psalter is the easiest Psalter to use because every Psalm is in Common Meter (in every stanza the first line has 8 syllables, the second line has 6 syllables, then the third and fourth lines have 8 and 6 syllables respectively), for instance, you could sing all 150 Psalms to the tune of Amazing Grace. It does not require you to memorize many tunes or to read music. There are many Common Meter tunes that you likely already know.
After opening in prayer, sing one Psalm, or a portion of a Psalm if it is particularly long. You can sing particular Psalms if you’d like, or simply go through the Psalter from front to back. John Brown of Haddington wrote an excellent devotional summary for each of the 150 Psalms. If you can find a hard copy (no longer in print), it is a great resource, or you can access his notes for free at this website: TheWestminsterStandard.com. Print the notes out, or bookmark it on your device and read the devotional summaries before singing the Psalm. It will bring out the meaning of the Psalm and help your family focus on the meaning and application of the Psalm as you sing it together!
The 1650 Split Leaf Psalter App is another excellent resource! It has the entire Psalter as well as the sheet music and audio samples of several classic tunes. You may not be familiar with the titles of the tunes, but if you listen to the samples you’ve likely heard several of them before. The app also has suggested tunes for each psalm, John Brown’s devotional commentary for each psalm, and a topical index for the psalms. It is available for IOS and Android.
Bible reading and discussion
Next, pick a book of the Bible and read a chapter or more per day together. Pause periodically while reading to summarize or simplify points to your children and ensure they are paying attention. Divide up the chapter among every member that can read, and even put an open Bible on the laps of the children who can’t read.
The Reformation Heritage Study Bible has excellent study notes as well as notes and questions for each chapter of Scripture specifically for guiding you in family worship. Discussion does not have to be too in depth, but try to bring out a few main points of the passage and briefly talk about it.
Also remember that this is likely the point that younger children especially will be the most restless. It’s ok. Try to keep them interested by explaining the Scripture reading to them, but do not be disheartened if they do not pay much attention. It takes time and consistently doing it for children to get used to it, and some children’s personalities may make it more or less difficult. But keep at it!
After reading and discussing the passage, end with prayer. Ask that God would grant your family repentance and faith and the grace to walk with Him according to His Law. Pray that the gospel would spread to the ends of the earth, that the Church would grow in holiness and purity, etc. Thank him for his blessings on your family and your church.
This is also a good time to recite the Lord’s Prayer with your family. You will find that even very young children can memorize it within a very short period of time if you do it every day.
Before or after family worship is a great time to teach your children sound doctrine in question and answer form (catechism). The Westminster Shorter Catechism (purchase booklet here) was intended for children, it has 107 questions that are short enough for children to memorize and has proof texts. Additionally, someone has put each of these questions and answers to music, listening to these songs will help the children memorize them also! (The Westminster Shorter Catechism Songs). An even simpler catechism was created for younger children, based off of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, called First Catechism. Do a couple every day and introduce a new one once they’ve got the previous ones down. Don’t just do it at family worship, do it randomly in the car, for example, or especially if something happens where you can apply the questions to the real world. Use the questions to facilitate discussion and application, it doesn’t have to be rigid, ensure that the children understand what they’re saying.
It may seem strange and daunting at first, but you will be surprised how quickly even the youngest children can memorize the answers to the catechism questions. Catechizing helps children to better understand Scriptural doctrine during corporate and family worship as well, so it is very important!
Family worship does not have to be elaborate, simplicity is key. Don’t have lofty and unrealistic expectations on the one extreme, or a minimalistic getting-it-over-with on the other. Find a good time to do it every day of the week and stick to it! There are days where you won’t want to do it, or you may have had an argument just before the usual time, etc. lots of excuses will arise to tempt you to neglect family worship, but you have to commit to doing it. Being in a bad mood, or family members being angry at one another is not a legitimate excuse for skipping family worship, if anything it means you need it all the more! It is crucial for a God fearing family and for the discipleship of children. Speak with your friends and church officers about it so that they can encourage you and keep you accountable to your commitment.
See the Westminster Directory for Family Worship for a more in depth guide to family worship.
How To Lead Family Worship by Joel Beeke is a very helpful video also.
Psalter.org will help you find and learn new tunes to sing.
thepsalmssung.org – a capella recordings of the Psalms from various Psalters.
Family Worship resources at Reformation Heritage Books.