I have become convinced that the family is the first Church.
Among the fondest memories I have of my extended family is the visits to my great-grandparents. My guka (great-grandfather) Kaguti, was among the first Christians in his locality. When we would gather at his, and cucu (great-grandmother) Wamaitha’s place, he would teach us (their children, their grandchildren and their great-grand children) songs. Several years after their passing, we still sing some of those songs when we gather at my grand-parents (late guka’s Muriithi and cucu’s Kiumbiro’s) place in central Kenya. It was common for us to have family worship services as an extended family, something that was also a norm in my nuclear family growing up. In my younger years I had a phase of rebellion, but God was faithful in converting me to Christ. With the gift of hindsight, I am grateful for the heritage of faith that God has given me.
The family is the first Church
Working now as a youth pastor and from my research work, I am aware of the huge cultural shifts going on – shifts that mean that the discipleship of the next generations will have to be more robust by giving a reason for the Christian worldview. As a parent, with a young child, I have been seriously considering what that means in the long run. In addition to the devotions with my wife, we have started to incorporate the use of a catechism – we usually read a Scripture, sing a song, sometimes incorporate a catechism question and answer (using the Westminster Shorter Catechism) and pray. That amounts to around 10-15 minutes each day. I am hoping that this will bear much fruit in the coming years.
Studies have shown that many young people who end up being disillusioned about church usually come from homes where the genuine worship of God was absent. Even for those who came from Christian homes, there was usually a gap in what was taught and practiced. Studies have shown that young people in the west have a truncated view of God, which has been called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) – this term was was first coined by sociologists Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton in their study of the faith of American Teenagers. Moralistic means that life is a list of rights and wrongs. Therapeutic means that God is like an ATM machine, only to cater for our personal needs. Deism means that God is far removed from daily life. Kenda Creasy Dean a Princeton professor of youth, church and culture argues that this is a result of what parents and churches have taught young people. Thus, youth ministry needs a robust theological foundation. But since youth ministry begins in the home, family worship, as a genuine expression of God’s covenant with us and our households, is important. In this first part, I want to consider the important topic of family worship. Why is it important and how can we best do it?
1. As parents, we were created to Worship
One of the most important questions we can ask is what is the chief end of life? One of the old catechisms says the chief end of man [humanity] is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Two things this tells us is that in life, we have many “ends” or goals. I need not remind a generation that is chasing #goals about that. But in light of these many “ends” there is a chief end. Secondly, whereas a relationship with God has been seen as a “non-essential”, this short answer shows us that glorifying God and finding ultimate joy are mutually connected. Glorifying God is the path to lasting joy (Psalm 16:11). Although we think of worship as what happens on a Sunday service, worship is part of everyday life. It means giving God all that he is worth – “worth ship”. And giving him his worth is the essence of glorifying him. Genesis begins with Adam and Eve glorifying him. Revelation ends with all nations and creatures glorifying him. Rather than the false promises of casual sex, travel escapades, social clubs, career mobility, political affiliation and never-ending financial investment, God invites us to something sure and lasting: worship. It is worship that then rewires us and helps us to enjoy and use the good gifts of God, such as family, sex, travels, social relationships, vocation and money, well. The ultimate reason for our existence is the worship of God.
2. As parents, we are called to nurture Worshippers
Among the often cited passages in Christian parenting is Deuteronomy 6. It strikes me that before we teach our children, we are called to hold dearly what it is that we teach. My father always joked about the common parenting strategy “do what I say and not what I do!” Before we nurture worshippers, we are called to be worshippers.
This supports the previous point: we are created to worship.
Our central calling as parents is to nurture worshippers. Consider the following passages:
Joshua 24:15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Psalm 78:4 We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.
Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
It is true that we are called to provide for our families. It is a joy to be able to create good memories with our families. But our “chief end” in parenting is to nurture worshippers. Since God makes a covenant with us not just as individuals but as family units, our walk with him cannot be merely a private affair but a family affair. Part of what this means is to pass along the good old story of redemption:
3. The pattern of praying, reading and singing
How do we tell the story?
One of the practical huddles is for those who feel inadequate – and don’t we all? Perhaps you have not had the privilege of growing up in a home that practices family worship. Perhaps, because of life’s circumstances you find yourself as a single parent. One of the core themes of Christian faith is grace – amazing grace! There is nothing that God commands us that he does not give us grace for.
There is nothing that God commands us that he does not give us grace for.
Family worship should not be complicated. The three crucial elements are reading, singing and praying. In reading, we acknowledge the centrality and power of God’s truth. As we hear God’s Word each day it transforms us in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is an opportunity to be formed as God’s workmanship. After reading, parents can take turns to offer a short exposition or commentary on the reading.
You could explore questions such as:
- What do we learn about God?
- What do we learn about ourselves?
- How is God calling us to respond?
Second, we sing. In singing, we internalize God’s truths, allowing them to touch our affections (or feelings) and thoughts.
Third, we pray. In praying, we communicate to God our adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplications. For my wife and I, we try to keep the reading, singing and prayers short because our son is still young (1.4 years). Some days we will lengthen as God leads. As children grow, older parents have noted that you can have longer sessions of explanation and depth based on the developmental stages of the children and the questions they ask.
We continue to need God’s grace daily. Far from being perfect, we have enjoyed God’s presence in a deeper way through family worship. It has become a place of strength. A place of renewed unity in our marriage. A place of forgiveness. A place for petitions. A place of God.
4. Family Worship is a grace and not a burden
Sometimes we feel inadequate in making small steps in family worship based on past failures. That was certainly the case for us initially. But God has been so good. The more we have seen family worship as a place of grace, the more we have been motivated to do it willingly. I like how Helopoulos puts it:
Yes, it is helpful to find a time and place that works.
It is also helpful to be flexible in our family worship.
Family worship is an instrument of God’s grace.
Dealing with Feelings of Inadequacy
What if I am not gifted? What if I am alone? I found these words of great encouragement:
Though none of us is sufficient neither do we have any guarantees, God has equipped us with what we need. Let us be faithful and trust that God will make something great out of our feeble faithfulness. Family worship is a time-tested way of doing just that. In part two of this series on parenting, I will explore how parents can have conversations about God when faced with tough questions from their teens or young adults.
As goes family worship, so goes the family, as goes the family, so goes the church, as goes the churches, so goes the nationsJoel Beeke, How to Lead Family Worship