The Rev. Dr. Brian M. Abshire
Occasionally we take the kids to the Golden Arches where they have one of those big, built in playgrounds so they can run off some energy. As we sit drinking our coffee, we have occasion to not only talk together, but also have the opportunity to see how other children behave in a public place. Since my schedule allows us to go in the middle of the week, there are often not many other children there, but the few who are, make up in noise, for what they lacked in numbers. Look, my kids are sinners by nature, just like everyone else. But at home they are taught respect, self control, obedience, etc. When they play, they have fun, making noise and running around doing kid stuff. But the other children we see are usually self-absorbed little monsters, screaming, yelling, arguing, pushing, shoving, showing contempt for their mothers, ignoring basic safety rules and generally making a nuisance of themselves. The mothers often just sit by, oblivious to their children’s behavior. Now granted, I am sure that someone, somewhere has done a research study demonstrating that mothers are 75% more able than fathers to handle the cacophony of little children. But yet, at the same time, repeatedly as I have watched pagan children, it certainly appears to me that they are out of control. In one instance, an obnoxious little snot stood toe to toe with his mother, defying her to discipline him. Elaine remarked, “Well, there’s your argument for birth control.” I respectfully disagreed. There is your argument for parental control.
Granted, many of these moms are trying to do an impossible job, i.e., raise children without any help from a husband. Frequently they are divorced, separated or never even married.. Repeatedly, sociological surveys demonstrate that the child most at risk of drug abuse, violent crime, pregnancy or “pre-mature” death, are those from single parent families where the father is absent. Even if physically present in the household, he is often emotionally and spiritually absent; dividing his time between work, hobbies and the One Eyed God in the living room He has abdicated his responsibilities, and his children pay the price. America is raising an entire generation of uncontrolled, self absorbed, irresponsible, “sons of Hell” who threaten to destroy what remains of this culture.
Pagan child rearing practices infiltrate the covenant community as more and more Christians compromise with a secularized, hostile and aggressive humanism. Having abandoned a full orbed, Biblical worldview, for a truncated, pietized and privatized religion; the Christian family has no defense against pagan practices and often unconsciously model their parenting practices after the world’s. Examples abound, but it is telling that the most frequent complaint of visitors to churches I have pastured is that generally speaking, we did not have a nursery where they could dump their pre-school children (though we usually had what we call a “cry-room”). The reason of course is that we didn’t need one! Our children even the youngest, have learned to sit quietly and reverently in worship with us. The older ones (over 5) take notes. The younger ones draw pictures based on what the pastor preaches (and I usually try to provide one good, gory anecdote per sermon to serve as their artistic inspiration!).
But often visitors’ children are squirmy, noisy, and generally undisciplined, sometimes even getting up during the middle of the service and wandering around the sanctuary (and on occasion, parents have had to leave the service because of the terrible behavior of their kids). Obviously such parents are embarrassed by the behavior of their children. But almost always it is OUR fault by not providing some place where the little monsters can be safely contained!
Our children can worship with us because the dad’s are all convinced of the importance of daily, family worship. They study the Scriptures, and apply them on a daily basis at home and our children have learned how to worship literally at Daddy’s knee. Therefore public worship is just an extension of what they have already been doing throughout the week.
Compromised Christians on the other hand, develop their core values regarding marriage and family from an anti-Biblical perspective, thus having no real understanding of what a child needs to grow into a responsible, self governed, godly adult. Is little Jonnie an obnoxious, self-willed little terror that can’t sit still? “Well we mustn’t discipline the little jewel because it might damage his self esteem!” Instead, stick him in the nursery. Then when he is older, cart him off to “Junior Church” or “Primary Praise” where he can wander around all he wants! If we manage it correctly, we can arrange it so that little Jonnie NEVER actually has to sit through a worship service!
But no, we must NEVER spank or correct them, because that’s barbaric and the new priesthood of psychology has given us better wisdom than the Scriptures. We must “reason” with the little tykes, appeal to their “better” natures; give them “time outs.” And if they can’t sit still, if they are disrespectful, disobedient and obnoxious, why that’s the school’s problem, or the churches, or anyone elses’, but certainly not the parents!
Men, as the covenant head of the family bear the greatest responsibly. However, without having had a strong father figure at home, or a strong pastor in the pulpit, too many men, just don’t have a clue how to be godly fathers. They then do what men have been doing since the time of Adam in the Garden, they push the responsibility off on somebody else (“But Johnny has to go to public school so he can play sports on a REAL team.”)
Happily, home schooling is a welcome counter cultural trend. While all covenant children require a Christian education, home schooling offers the family an incredible opportunity to take personal responsibility for their children. If for no other reason, home schooling has been a great boon in that it forces parents to make a direct, personal investment in their children. They cannot console themselves by thinking, “that’s someone else’s job.” Home schooling is a sacrifice, but it forces parents parents to take personal responsibility and be intimately involved with their children at every step of their education.
However, there is a subtle danger even in home schooling. Every Christian home school curriculum has some sort of Bible module, whether it be Scripture memory, general Bible knowledge, or some sort of Bible story book. And here is the problem. Sometimes, Dad can get the idea that since Bible study is part of home school, and Mom, by default, usually handles most of the home-schooling chores, then he has just found another way of abdicating his responsibilities. Dads need to lead in family worship, and that means planning the time, and taking the time, daily, to do it.
Now many Christian families try to have some sort of “devotions.” Usually it means reading a little passage out of some devotional book, praying at meals and basically just leaving it at that. And granted, it’s better to do something rather than nothing. But real family worship is a greater responsibility that just mumbling a few words and getting on with the day.
The Directory of Family Worship, adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1647 is an important historical document, long forgotten by most Reformed Christians. But it demonstrates powerfully the duties and spiritual responsibilities of the head of a house towards the family. It also makes one a little humble as we meditate on how far we have fallen from the standards of our reformed forefathers. Whether Presbyterian or Puritan, our spiritual ancestors understood the importance of family worship and raised up generations of warriors for the faith. Though not without their faults (see my essay on the “Puritan Family”) their example demonstrates why they were able to exercise such a powerful influence on their world, while we today, are too often influenced by the world.
The original Directory of Family Worship is available directly from Greenville Theological Seminary ( PO Box 9279 Greenville SC 29604). We have available a slightly edited version available for easier reading (we updated the language and broke the long, complicated sentences down into more easily grasped principles). However, the principles are so vital to a living, Christian faith that it is worth highlighting some of this document’s contents.
The General Assembly approved the Rules and Directions for family worship “for cherishing piety, and preventing division and schism.” The Scottish Church understood that the family is the foundation of social order both within the State and the Church. No church has enough ministers to adequately train every child, just as no free State can afford the number of police required to monitor every citizen (though Washington certainly seems to think it worth the attempt!). Instead, the Church recognized that the responsibility of teaching and catechizing the nation’s children fell upon the family. If each family diligently and conscientiously trained their children in the doctrines of our holy religion, there would be a great unity of faith and practice. Values caught by daily, family worship when a child is young, are likely to stay with him for the rest of his life. Furthermore, such doctrines help a child avoid the sinful life decisions that destroy whole generations (Psa 119:9-11). The Scots understood something that we seem to have forgotten today, unruly, undisciplined children grow up to be unruly, undisciplined adults! Wow, what a concept. And family worship was ONE means of teaching a child how to become self-governed and self-disciplined.
The Directory sees the Church’s role as not primarily educating the children, but ensuring that such education takes place in the home. It “appoints ministers and ruling elders in each congregation to take special care that these Directions be observed and followed.” Furthermore they were to reprove or censure those who did not keep them. If any family was found to be deficient, “the head of the family is to be first admonished privately to amend his fault; and, in case of his continuing therein, he is to be gravely and sadly reproved by the session; After this reproof, if he is found still to neglect Family-worship, he shall be, for his obstinacy in such an offense, suspended and debarred from the Lord’s supper, as being justly esteemed unworthy to receive the sacraments until he amends his ways.” Family worship was a very serious duty. Today, with our low view of ecclesiastical authority, the fact that a man could be barred from the Lord’s Supper for failing in family worship may seem extreme. But again, the early Presbyterians knew something that modern Church-men have forgotten: if the family does not do its duties, the Church cannot fulfill her’s. Character is created normally in a Christian home. Bringing children up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord is fundamental to every other area of life (cf. Eph 6:1ff, Deut 6:4ff).
Today we substitute Sunday School, youth group, summer camps etc., for family worship. Yet, these things, although certainly not evil in and of themselves, too often undermine the father’s responsibility and give him an excuse to turn this important job over to others. . It is too easy to think that we have done our duty to our children by turning their training over to someone else. My own sad experience as a youth pastor 20 years ago was that the parents expected me in a couple of hours, to undo all the damage done to their children by statist education, R-rated movies, rock music and television had done throughout the week. It just could not be done.
Family worship takes time, and effort and daily discipline. Over the years, as I have worked in various church and para-church ministries, I have been conducting private surveys on a number of issues. It is no accident that the more developed the Christian education program in a church, the less actual time the family spends together in family worship. The more time, money and effort spent on Sunday school, the less catechized the children. Look, we are all “busy” people today with many demands on our time, energy and attention. It is just too easy to push off one job, especially if no one is emphasizing it’s importance, on someone else. It is especially difficult if we do not have clear directions as to what this duty entails.
Family worship begins with what the Directory calls “secret worship” or what some call today “quiet times.” The Directory makes it clear that national reformation can only occur when there is personal transformation. Therefore, every person was to be dedicated to personal prayer and meditation. Having been brought to faith in Christ through a parachurch organization known for its emphasis on “quiet times” I have always appreciated the leg up this gave me over many other Christians to whom the very concept seemed a mystery. Many people don’t have a clue as to what a “quiet time” is. The Directory defines “secret worship” as the means “whereby, communion with God is enjoyed, and right preparation for all other duties obtained.” In other words, it is time, personal time, quality personal time with God and nobody else. It is a time of praising God for His nature and being, meditating on His Law (Josh 1:8) and being convicted of our sin. It is then a time of spiritual refreshment as we learn to cast all our burdens on Him (1 Ptr 3:5) trusting in Christ and Christ alone for our salvation and forgiveness. It has been said, and it is true that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship (Jn 17:3). That relationship needs tome each day to develop and grow. What would we say about a man who SAID he loved his wife, but was always too busy to spend any time with her? Would we not question his sincerity? Secret worship is the time spent along with God, relating to Him, enjoying His presence, glorifying His name.
Furthermore, Pastors were required to exhort their congregations “to perform this duty morning and evening.” Notice, the terminology here; secret worship is not just a nice thing good Christians do. It is a duty that God Himself requires. To fail to have regular secret worship was to fail God. Furthermore, it was the responsibility of the head of every family “to have a care, that both themselves, and all within their charge, be daily diligent herein. “ So not only did Dad have to have secret worship himself, but he was also required to make sure everyone else under his authority had it as well.
It is a good idea for fathers to have their “secret” worship on the same passage they will use for family worship later in the day. This way, the father gets a chance to consider the passage of Scripture, get his own heart right before God, and have time to carefully consider how the Scriptures apply to his personal situation. Then when he brings the family together, he can share the word of God powerfully, because it has already had a chance to work in his own life.
The Duties of Family Worship
Family worship is much like public worship, apart from the sacraments. When families convened for worship they were first to pray and praise God with special emphasis to the Church and the kingdom, the family in general and “every member thereof.” Next, they were to read the Scriptures. Thirdly, they were to catechize the children and “uneducated” persons so that they “may be the better enabled to profit under the public ordinances, and they made more able to understand the scriptures when they are read.” Catechism is one of the most potent ways of internalizing truths. Years ago, we began with the Children’s Catechism which is a short, easy introduction to the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession. But one of our deacons at the time (now a ruling elder) questioned the efficacy of having to teach the children two different catechisms. He showed up one Sunday afternoon with his two year old having memorized the first seven answers of the Shorter Catechism! I was so impressed I immediately dropped the Children’s Catechism and began teaching my kids the Shorter as well. We had to work with our youngest ones quite a lot, but made a game of it and soon the oldest were memorizing three or four questions a week, on their own! Of course they do not understand all that they are learning, and part of my job in family worship is to relate the Catechism answers to real life. Often in family worship, a question, concern or issue will arise directly from the text for that day. I then ask the kids leading questions until they see how the catechism answer related to that concern. Thus my kids not only learn by rote, but also by organically internalizing the concepts into their daily life. This is what the Directory requires; “There should also be godly conferences for the edification of all the members in the most holy faith: as also, admonition and rebuke, upon just reason, from those who have authority in the family. “
Hence, the Directory does not require the father to preach a sermon every day. Instead, the Scriptures are to be read “and it is commendable, that afterwards [the family] confer, and by way of discussion make some good use of what has been read and heard.” The Directory offers specific examples such as “if any sin is reproved, the whole family is to be made aware and watchful against the same; or if any judgment is threatened, or mentioned to have been inflicted… the whole family should fear lest the same or a worse judgment befall them.” And, finally, if any duty is required, or comfort held forth in a promise, the family should stir up themselves “to employ Christ for strength to enable them to do the commanded duty, and to apply the offered comfort.” In all of this, the “master of the family is to have the chief hand; and any member of the family may propose a question or doubt for resolution.”
Family worship does not to supplant public worship on the Lord’s Day, but rather to encourage it. “On the Lord’s day, after everyone of the family apart, and the whole family together, have sought the Lord (in whose hands the preparation of men’s hearts are) to fit them for the public worship, and to bless to them the public ordinances, the master of the family ought to take care that all within his charge repair to the public worship, that he and they may join with the rest of the congregation.” Afterwards, the father is to spend the rest of the Lord’s Day catechizing and discussing the sermon, finding practical applications for the family so that “they may confirm and increase their communion with God: that so the profit which they found in the public ordinance may be cherished and promoted, and they more edified unto eternal life “ Hence we come full circle. A family instructed, admonished and encouraged in secret and family worship, is thus ready to appreciate public worship. Squirmy kids in worship thus may well indicate a father abdicating his duties at home.
There is of course more in the Directory that is of great value, but the main point here has been to demonstrate just how important Family Worship is to raising godly, dominion oriented children. Fathers ought to begin by setting definite times, every day when Family Worship can be held.
In the morning session, the head of the household ought to convene the family together after they have had their own personal devotions. This does mean getting up a little earlier than most of us are used to. Yet, many homes find that mornings are the most hectic and troubled time of the day. Beginning the day with Family Worship helps to focus our attention on what is good and right and proper.
The family then can begin by singing a hymn together. Not every family is musically gifted, but every family can enjoy singing Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (cf. Col 3:16). Don’t allow self-consciousness to rob you of praising God. You can do it and your family will be enriched by praise. It is helpful for young children if the church supplies families with the songs to be sung for the next Lord’s Day service. This helps very young children learn the hymns so they can participate more in the service.
After the hymn, the Father should open with brief prayer. Though not required, families can use the Lord’s Prayer together and then recite one of the great ecumenical creeds of the faith (i.e., either the Apostle’s or Nicene Creeds are very good). Again, this is usually for the benefit of very young children. It provides the opportunity to learn important statements of faith as well as giving them things to do (the more the children are included, the less tendency to be squirmy!).
Then a passage from Scripture should be read. If the family has very young children, it is helpful to focus on narrative passages that tell a story. One can work through the Old Testament and the gospels giving children a broad overview of Scripture. When the children are older, didactic passages from the epistles are more appropriate. The family can discuss the points made in the passage, with Dad making some practical applications from it.
At one time, we used to re-read the same historical narrative as told by in a Bible storybook. However, we found that these books come in uneven quality and need to be handled carefully. Eventually, our dads found that they could re-tell the same story, in their own words with better effect, and fewer heresies, than most popular Bible storybooks. If one’s children are old enough, we allow them to read the Scriptures one verse at a time. In other words, we try to get as many of the children involved in as much of the program as possible. This greatly helps attention spans.
Dad should focus on making some practical applications for the family. Many Dads have found that having 15 minutes of private devotions first on the same passage, gives them the time and opportunity to think through the passage so they can teach it to the rest of the family. Preparation helps performance! (For more information about how to draw good, practical applications from a passage of Scripture, see my book. “Get More from Your Bible,” Scripture Union Publishing, 130 City Road, London, EC1V 2NJ, 1988).
The children can then be asked to pray for the specific needs of the family, church, friends, etc. using the prayer list from our weekly church bulletin. Sometimes, especially with children under four, the prayers are quite simple and Dad may need to help them word them accordingly. But the children are often quick to pick up on the method. Dad can then closes in prayer.
That’s it! Twenty minutes, tops. Remember, you are not trying to study the entire Bible in one session! All you have to do is focus the family’s attention on the Lord God, and give them one small thing that they can take with them throughout the day. And the result is children who enjoy hearing and studying the Scriptures, singing Psalms and doctrinally sound hymns and praying for people they know.
In the evening, Family Worship consists of working on the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession. Here brevity is the key. Fifteen minutes of sharing questions and answers on a daily basis will do more to help your kids learn and remember the catechism than four hours once a week. Furthermore, it just brings everyone together, on a common cause, with the idiot box turned off. During this time, you can also share about God’s providence during the day..
Sometimes, in our hectic schedules, families just cannot manage to put it together in the morning. Some people swap the order around, where they do a couple of catechism questions in the morning with a short prayer, and then have the singing, praying, reading, etc., at night. This means that a lot of traditional church activities that go on during the week must be cut out. And really, is this so bad? What is of more value to the Kingdom, a family having worship together, every night, where the children are learning the Scriptures from their father? Or endless committee meetings, activities, etc., that the average evangelical church requires of it’s members?
Our kids love Family Worship and are most upset if we miss it. It is not a burden because we try to make it fun learning about God and His commands. They value the uninterrupted time with Mom and Dad and try to outdo each other learning new questions from the Catechism. In fact, my oldest, when he was just seven, often got the Catechism book down to lead his younger siblings in impromptu family worship sessions of their own!
For those who have not had regular Family Worship, their children might initially resist this innovation. They will fidget, whine, complain, etc. However, just like any other aspect of child rearing, parents have to set the standard and enforce it. If we are consistent, they will be. The kids will test whether you are really serious about doing this. A few bottoms may sting until they finally get the message. But, again, don’t be afraid to have fun! It is a duty, but also a great joy to worship the Lord.
The Head of the house is responsible to God for caring and nurturing their families. Our family is the most important ministry God has given us. If you cannot handle this one, Scripture says you are not qualified for any other (cf. 1 Tim 3:3ff). “These exercises ought to be performed in great sincerity, without delay, laying aside all exercises of worldly business or hindrances, not withstanding the mockings of atheists and profane men; in respect of the great mercies of God to this land, and of his severe corrections with which He has lately disciplined us. And, to this effect, persons of eminency (and all elders of the Church) not only ought to stir up themselves and families to diligence…, but also to exhort all other families, where they have power and charge, to conscientiously perform these same exercises. “
In the morning… 20 minutes
- Begin with “secret worship” (on the same passage as for family worship
- Begin with singing a hymn, psalm or spiritual song
- Open with the Lord’s Prayer
- Read a brief passage of Scripture (highly recommend narrative portions; i.e., “Bible stories”
- Make ONE practical application from the text.
- Pray for the family, church, friends,
In the Evening:.. 10-15
- Review catechism questions after supper
- Sing together