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The Father's Responsibility To Family Worship

community discipleship family Feb 25, 2022

I begin writing this today from a sensitive perspective. There was once a day when I was unaware of the importance of this topic, and I was failing in this area. There are still days and weeks where I fail in this area. But the topic is of such importance, that I can’t help but write and encourage other husbands and fathers to consider it.

Jonathan Edwards was one of the leading theologians of the 18th century, one of the key individuals in the revival we call “The Great Awakening”, and a well-known family man who actively chose to take seriously his responsibility in this home as being equally if not more important than his responsibility as a pastor of a church.

One of my favorite quotes from Jonathan Edwards is “Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church.”.

His point is, the family is actually the nucleus of the Church. The smallest expression of it. The core that helps the other expressions form, function, and grow.

In scripture we see the Church mentioned and categorized in 3 ways:

  1. The Oikos (the household - the center of which is the family of that household. Think Lidia, Priscilla and Aquila, etc.)

  2. The Church of the City (Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, etc.)

  3. The universal Church (all saints past and present)

In today’s world, we’ve largely abandoned the blueprint of scripture for the Oikos and family, and in most places, the Church of the City is unrecognizable due to denominations, consumer branding, theological debates on minor issues, unspoken turf wars, etc.

Now, the point of my thoughts today are not focused on the local church expressions, but rather the responsibility each man has for his home.

In 1647 the Assembly of Edinburgh issued this decree regarding families and the responsibility they had to engage in spiritual rhythms in the home.

“The Assembly further requires and appoints ministers and ruling elders to make diligent search and inquiry, in the congregations committed to their charge respectively, whether there be among them any family or families which neglect this necessary duty. And if any such family be found, 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.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith is considered the most orthodox (long-standing acceptance across the board of being true, traditional, and most faithful) in Christian history. And they have some pretty strong stances on the role of fathers and spiritual rhythms in the home.

My experience has shown that this concept is largely lost in the Western Evangelical Church, and the results are really speaking pretty clearly…

The Barna Group tells us “the percentage of young-adult dropouts has increased from 59 to 64 percent. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. 18–29-year-olds who grew up in church tell Barna they have withdrawn from church involvement as an adult after having been active as a child or teen.”

The reality is that children need so much more than the kids’ church on Sundays to form them spiritually. Liturgy (a standard repertoire of ideas, phrases, or observances of our beliefs) is one of the most important aspects of our faith in Jesus. This is because liturgy is like a constant practice and rehearsal of truth through regular habits. When liturgy and the grace of God in The Spirit meet us, we’re literally re-wired more deeply and in long-lasting ways.

When most kids go to school for 6+ hours a day, play sports, afterschool programs, etc. the time they spend in the home has actually become more valuable for spiritual formation, not less. 90 minutes of kid songs, a message about David and Goliath, and yummy snacks, are not going to help shape the hearts of our children when compared with the things they’re hammered with by the culture, at school, via not-yet-believing friends and their families, on TV, etc.

It’s worth noting that not only do our kids need our leadership towards worship, prayer, liturgy, etc in the home now more than ever, it’s also a key responsibility given to a man in scripture. It’s something we’re not told is an optional “add-on” but rather one of the foundational elements of being a husband and a father. Ephesians 6:4 highlights the OT truth of the matter in saying: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

I’ve worked with enough other men to know that the unfortunate reality is (and this was the reality for me) that most men didn’t have this modeled for them as children, and the Church is largely failing to equip men in this area. So to keep things super simple, here are a few basic ideas for spiritual formation liturgies with kids:

  1. Eat a family meal as often as possible, around the dining table. Few things are more formative than this. We haven’t mastered many things in our home, and admittedly dinners are still really messy with 4 little boys, but I can count on 2 hands the number of days in a year that we aren’t eating dinner together around the table. For our family, it’s that important.

  2. Take time to pray before the meal. This can be a simple 3 sentence prayer with key truth statements like: “Father, thank you for this day that you made, thank you that we can be glad in it. Thank you for this food and for mama (or dada) who helped prepare it for us, bless it to our bodies to give us strength. Bless our time together and help us to recognize more of you. Amen.".

  3. Read 1 short passage at dinner. Ask a few age-appropriate questions. Often these can be basic like “who is Jesus”, why did he say he was going to give us the Holy Spirit?”, “What do you think Paul was thinking about when he said “suffer”?”

  4. Pray for and with your kids every night at bedtime. Have them see and hear you talk to God.

  5. Read your Bible every morning, even if it’s only a few verses, and do it at a time that your kids are likely to wake up and interrupt you. Yes, you read that right, purposefully do it at a time they can interrupt. Can you imagine what years of waking up to seeing your dad reading his Bible would do for you as a child in reinforcing the importance of starting your day with God, before doing anything else? We often do what’s modeled for us. Or put another way, more is caught than taught. For years I would get frustrated when my kids woke up and interrupted my time with the Lord, but now they just sit with me, or they grab a book and sit on the couch quietly themselves.

Remember, these are starting points, not the fullness of father-led, home-centered worship habits. But, rather than being discouraged not knowing where to start or feeling ill-equipped, instead, I encourage you to just get started and start small. Consistency is more important than anything when it comes to liturgies.

As we think about the 7 ancient lifestyle pillars, this topic addresses aspects of 2 of my top 3: Family as a team on mission, and the Oikos model of community. If you’re curious to learn more about the 7 pillars, check them out here.

Starting soon I’ll be facilitating a cohort where men journey through 7-months together and dig into each of these pillars, dedicating a month to learning how to grow in each and develop some new habits. If that’s something you’re interested in, check out Project 7.