Worship at Home!

The advent of coronavirus has brought a series of wrinkles to our Lent.  We are experiencing an unprecedented level of disruption to our daily lives with this pandemic.  It has affected workplaces, schools, and our worship life as well.

Two Sundays ago we radically modified our worship service, cutting programs to reduce person to person contact.  Last Sunday, we moved our services online and had only our core worship leaders present to live broadcast a worship service.  This Sunday we’ve gone a step further, pre-recording our worship service elements which will be posted on Sunday morning.  No one knows when this may end.

It is certainly a grievous blow not to be able to gather together corporately.  It is even a greater blow to think of not gathering together on Easter Sunday for worship (as seems likely as of the moment of this writing).  Of course, the glass isn’t only half empty.  There are blessings in the midst of these challenges.

One great opportunity in our current circumstances is the chance to re-emphasize household worship.  In the Reformed tradition, we have always held that the primary locus of worship is the home, rather than the weekly assembly.  Every home should be a little church – an assembly of the saints devoted to the worship, honor, and glory of our Lord. Every father and mother a priest, every hearth an altar.  If ever there was a time to recover this value, it is now.

Practicing family worship

When we reference family worship, many people will be intimidated.  “I can’t do that.  I don’t know how to do that.”  But, of course, you can.  People often don’t do important things because they think they can’t do them perfectly (which they can’t).  But the perfect is the enemy of the good.  It is far better to do imperfectly than to not do at all.  We don’t apply the perfection standard to our corporate worship (many times I’ve started in on verse 3 when we’re only on verse 2).  It’s okay if things don’t go perfectly, or even smoothly.  God isn’t dishonored if our best effort is flawed.  He knows we’re flawed people.  He is pleased when we seek to honor him.

Household worship will look very different because families look very different.  Widows, widowers, single-parents, parents with young children, parents with teenage children, empty nest couples – all very different situations.  How can we think about what worship looks like with such an incredible variety of household contexts?

Well, just as no two families look alike in terms of makeup, no two family worships will look the same.  For an elderly couple, family worship may be five minutes in the morning spent over coffee in a short devotion and prayer.  For a family of young children, it may look like singing a song and teaching to fold hands and bow heads for a few sentence prayer.  For older children there can be more substantive conversation, perhaps engaging a helpful book or even a catechism.  There is no cookie cutter right way to do this.  Don’t try to make it look like some pre-conceived notion of what it should be.

Here are some principles to pursue:

Interweave worship throughout the day – You needn’t think of family worship as being a single block of time.  It is probably not helpful to say, “let’s gather for an hour every day!”  Not going to happen.  But can you spend five minutes in a devotion and prayer together at breakfast?  Can you do a quick check-in with a catechism question and prayer before bed?  Maybe a longer time twice a week to read a scripture and discuss together?  Of course you can.  And a-little-bit-more-often is better than a-whole-bunch-a-once that never happens.  Even a simple grace at meal times – not a pro forma, rote thing, but a real prayer – can be a great opportunity to connect as a family with our God in worship.

Include the central elements of worship – Worship consists of several basic elements – Prayer, scripture, a catechism, song.

  • Prayer.  Anyone can pray.  Prayer can be catered to the age level and understanding of a child. There are many forms of prayer – confession, thanksgiving, petition.  We should utilize all of these.  Parents, you can help your kids.  A quick conversation – “What are you thankful for today?  Let’s thank God for those things.  Each of you thank God in prayer for one thing you’re thankful for today.”  The same can be done with confession – this even serves as an opportunity to confess to one another, to forgive, to model the grace of the gospel in our family.  And petition – “Who should we be praying for today?  What needs do you think we should lift up to God?  Let’s each go ahead and pray for one of those….
  • Scripture. Our time of worship should also include scripture – take a passage of scripture and read it. Ask if anyone has any questions about it.  Ask how we can apply what God says here to our lives – how should this affect how we speak to one another?  What would God have me to do with this?  Listen together to what God says.  You really don’t need to be a bible scholar to lead a conversation like this.  Embrace a posture of humility – you don’t need to have all the answers.  Just listen to what God is saying and try to be a humble disciple yourself.  Consider following a bible reading plan.  Even if the whole family doesn’t follow a plan together, you can highlight a text you are reading in your private bible reading time for consideration.  It could just be a verse or two, or a psalm, or a teaching of Jesus.  But, it’s vital we hear from God.
  • Catechism. One of the great tools for worship and education handed down to us from our forebearers is the catechism.  Catechism just means “teaching.”  It is a document written to help us teach the most important doctrines of the faith, especially to children.  Catechisms use a question and answer format.  I can’t recommend highly enough the use of a catechism for purposes of family worship.  A single question can be considered in a short amount of time.  Doing so over a period of months can help systematize the understanding of the bible and the Christian faith in a way that a hundred years of random conversations never will.  I recommend either the Westminster Shorter Catechism or the Heidelberg Catechism.  Both are absolute gold!!!
  • Song. Don’t be afraid to sing together!  Sing a hymn.  Sing a praise song.  Sing a children’s song.  Especially for young children.  Get down on the floor with them.  Look at them at their eye-level.  Sing Jesus Loves me.  Sing about the wee little man.

Gear Worship to your particular family

One of the most important principles of family worship is being flexible to adjust to the particulars of your family situation.  Worship doesn’t look the same with pre-vocal infants as it does with elderly family members, or with a teenager.  You have to be willing to mix things up a little bit.  You must be willing to move at the level that makes sense for all members of the household.

  • Young children (birth-4) – this is the easiest group to engage in worship. They will want to do it!  They’ll think it’s fun!  They won’t be bored; they won’t roll their eyes.  They will be excited to have your attention.  Kids like to sing and dance.  They like to clap their hands and stomp their feet.  They even like to pray.  Take advantage of this!  Get down on their level, and don’t be afraid to act silly.  Obviously you aren’t going to teach a one year old the Westminster Catechism, but you can read them a simple bible story and have them fold their hands for prayer.  Do this!  Train them when they are young.
  • Older children (ages 5-11) – kids in this age range are much more capable of engaging in conversation and discussion. They aren’t too old to want to spend some time with mom and dad talking together.  They are naturally curious and want to learn.  They may be less willing to sing silly songs (though they might), but they are little sponges who will soak up whatever you put before them.  Don’t be afraid to really engage them with the Bible.  Don’t think that a catechism is over their heads (they are usually getting far more than we might assume).  They can certainly pray, and they should be encouraged to do so.
  • Teenagers – let’s be honest – teenagers can be tough! They will duck out of these times, if you let them.  They’ll be disrespectful at times.  They’ll seem intensely disinterested and bored.  But, they are also growing in their capacities – they can understand so much more; they can read and interact with the whole of the biblical revelation; they can learn the content of a catechism; they can often stump us with difficult questions.  They will push back; they will express strong opinions.  Expect this!  Keep at it.  Don’t grow weary.  Show them through your actions that you believe this stuff, and that it makes a big difference in your life and will make a big difference in theirs as well.  Parents tend to be hands-off in the spiritual guidance of teens, but this is when they need it most!  The clay will soon harden, and they will become who they will be spiritually for the rest of their lives.  Don’t neglect engaging your teenagers in family worship.  Give them a chance to help lead, share, and teach.
  • Adults – sometimes as adults we fall into ruts. We tend to have a been-there-done-that type attitude.  We think we don’t have much new to learn.  We stop growing spiritually.  We lose the kind of joy and curiosity that characterizes children.  Don’t do this!  Regain your first love!  Pursue Christ with passion.  Recover the ardor of bygone days.  Read your bible, pray – with your spouse, with your family.  Worship corporately, with your family.  Don’t slack!  God has appointed you as a spiritual leader in your household.  You shirk this duty at your loved ones’ eternal peril!

Consistency – Worship is like exercise – it is a discipline we must persist in, even when we don’t feel like it.  You don’t always want to run, or lift weights, even if your conscience says you should.  What should you do?  Do it only when you feel like it?  No, then you would never do it at all.  Instead, do it even when you’d rather just flip through the TV channels, or take a nap.  Even a brief time is better than nothing at all!  A five minute time of family worship, even if on the way home in a van ride at the end of a long weary day, could be the most important thing you do that day.  So…do it.

When we are consistent in the disciple of household worship, God is glorified and we grow in our walk with him.  Not only so, but we grow in our marriage; we see our children spiritually grow; we are encouraged even when we can’t gather corporately.  Worship in your home, and do it today!