Today I have finished reading a book by Donald Whitney called "Family Worship." I first became aware of Dr. Whitney's ministry through his pivotal writing on discipleship, "Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life." I have also recently enjoyed reading his "Praying the Bible" that was released earlier this year. Dr. Whitney has been an inspiration a provided a challenge to my spiritual growth, and did not disappoint in his most recent release on the importance of family worship.
In his introduction, Whitney shows findings from a recent Barna Research Group survey that shows:
Eighty-five percent of parents with children under age 13 believe they have primary responsibility for teaching their children about religious beliefs and spiritual matters. However, a majority of parents don't spend any time during a typical week discussing religious matters or studying religious material with their children...
Parents generally rely upon their church to do all of the religious training their children will receive (Whitney, p 13-14).
With these statistics in mind, Whitney warns, "it is unlikely that exposure to the church once or twice a week will impress your children enough with the greatness and glory of God that they will want to pursue him once they leave your home" (Whitney, p. 14).
As a pastor, a daily schedule can sometimes be unpredictable. Mix in a marriage, two children (3 years old and 11 months old), and pursuing a doctorate, and you can imagine the challenges to developing a set routine for the family to gather for a time of devotion and worship.
However, I am here to tell you it can be done! As mentioned by John Piper, "You have to decide how important you think these family moments are. It is possible - for little ones and teenagers and parents. You may have to work at it. But it can be done" (Whitney, p. 42).
We must get past the challenge of seeing it as just another thing to add to the list, or even a burden to have to study God's Word with our family. Samuel Davies encourages, "consider family religion not merely as a duty imposed by authority, but as your greatest privilege granted by divine grace" (Whitney, p . 36).
As Jonathan Edwards considers the gathering of family so important that he believes, "Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church" (Whitney, p 42-43). Matthew Henry agrees commenting, "the reformation that we long for and pray for in our churches also involves the home. Since the church is comprised of family units - from singles to large families and everything in between - if the homes are changed through family worship, the church will be changed" (Whitney, p 35).
These men of history are not identifying something new, rather they are continuing a calling and tradition established in the Bible! Whitney spends an entire chapter working through the lives of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Job, Asaph, Paul, and Peter and highlighting the importance of family worship in each of their lives.
In the third chapter of "Family Worship," Whitney identifies three elements to family worship:
Read the Bible
This chapter is pivotal in beginning to understand family worship as it provides advice on how to incorporate these three elements at various stages of children's development. In addition to reading the Bible, praying, and singing, Whitney suggests other beneficial activities for family worship as time permits: to catechize, memorize Scripture, and read other books.
Each family's worship will be unique, but Whitney encourages readers to remember three things: (1) Brevity - be brief, otherwise the experience can become tedious; (2) Regularity - try to have a regular time each day for family worship; and (3) Flexibility - whatever time you choose, consider the wisdom of adapting a time when the family is already accustomed to being together, rather than trying to create another routine gathering during the day (Whitney, p 50-51).
All of this sounds good, but what if you have a unique situation in your home that you believe might make this practice more difficult than a "normal" family? Whitney addresses in the fourth chapter of "Family Worship" several situations that my be unique: What if the father is not a Christian?; what if there is no father at home?; what if the children are very young?; what if there is a wide range of ages among children?; and what if there are no children at home?
Whitney acknowledges the struggle, "we tend to think that we have unique problems and our flesh wants to excuse us from family worship on the false grounds that our situation is an exception...We need to accept the fact that in this sinful world, challenges to family worship arise regularly in every home. The blessings of family worship are too dangerous for Satan to let pass unopposed. Nevertheless, we must stand on this bedrock truth: God deserves to be worshiped daily in our homes by our families. And for that reason, start today" (Whitney, p. 57).
The final chapter, 'Isn't This What You Really Want to Do?', is by quite the inspirational call to action. If being informed of Scriptural defense, a historical walk through Christianity, and a simple breakdown of the family worship approach is not enough to get you motivated, then the testimony recorded in this final chapter should start you well on your way to being misty eyed by the end of the book.
As far as suggested readings are concerned, this 67 page book on family worship is a must read. Pick up a copy today.