Family devotions (traditionally called “family worship”) are one of the most important things families can do together, if it is sincere and consistent with the rest of family life. Family devotions can actually be harmful when parents aren’t living in Christ throughout the week, repenting of their sins, and treating their children with love and grace. If children perceive their parents aren’t living in Christ, and the children are forced to go through religious motions, they will hate the contradiction and may even rebel. But when parents are living like Christians in the home (repenting of sins, trying to seek Christ), family devotions are an important way to point our children to Christ, to honor Him together, to grow in Him, and set a pattern of living in Christ’s presence though the Word and prayer in the home.
The Scriptures teach parents to train their children and assume that they will do so. From the very beginning, Cain and Abel knew to offer sacrifices to the Lord (Gen 4:3-4). How did they know to do that? They must have learned it from Adam, who learned it from God (Gen 3:21). The Old Testament teaches that parents are to pass down the faith to their children: “One generation shall commend Your works to another” (Ps 145:4). Fathers are particularly responsible to train their children in the Lord: “He commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps 78:5-7). Mothers, also, are responsible to train their children, according to Proverbs 1:8. And in the New Testament, Paul says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).
So, how should you go about having family devotions? There is no pattern revealed in Scripture, but here is how we try to do it in our home.
1. Tie family devotions to something you already do together. At our house, when we gather for supper in the evening, that’s my signal to begin family devotions. I highly recommend eating the evening meal together as a family. Too many families eat separately, around the television, or on their electronic devices. Studies have shown that regularly eating meals together is good for families. Even so, my family doesn’t eat supper together every evening. We usually eat something quickly on Wednesday nights, since we head to church that evening. We don’t have a meal together on Sundays, and I have work responsibilities Monday nights. We usually try to have 3-4 sit-down meals together per week. But every time we sit down to have a meal together, my family knows we will have a family devotion afterwards. The adults at the table are usually finished with their food before the children, and that’s when I get out my Bible, and we begin the devotion.
2. There are three basic parts to any family devotion. First, the family should read the Word of God together, and a parent should comment briefly on it. Second, the family should pray together. Third, the family should sing together. That’s it. It’s very simple and basic.
Family devotions should be relatively short. If you only do the three parts listed above, you can see how it might only take 15 minutes, or less. The devotion shouldn’t be a long sermon from dad, but one that tries to focus on a simple truth or two from the Scriptures. Consistency is much more important than the amount of time you spend in each devotion.
3. Involve the children in the family devotion. It’s important to include the children and try to get them to think, respond, and talk. There are many helpful resources for family devotions that have discussion questions for children. Asking the children questions about the Bible and about their thoughts and lives can make it a fun time. My kids absolutely love family devotions, and they frequently ask for it.
4. Family devotions are a great time to memorize and discuss key teachings. Consider including the catechism, the Ten Commandments, one of the ecumenical creeds (Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, etc.), and the Lord’s Prayer. The Second Helvetic Confession says pastors (and I think we could also say parents) “act most wisely when they early and carefully catechize the youth, laying the first grounds of faith, and faithfully teaching the rudiments of our religion by expounding the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the doctrine of the sacraments, with other such principles and chief heads of our religion.” This seems right to me.
5. How family devotions work in my home. Part of me hesitates to include this because each family needs to find what works for them. But maybe providing an example of what we do in my home could be a useful pattern you can adjust for yourself. I also mix things up and don’t do the same thing every time.
Usually, the first thing I do is pray and ask God’s blessing on the time. Then I’ll read from the Scriptures, and possibly from a book made for family devotions. After that, I make some comments about the reading, ask the children questions to make sure they’ve understood, and about how it might apply to them. Sometimes, the kids really get involved, and the devotion gets much longer. Other times, this part is pretty short. Then we take prayer requests, and I call on one of the children to pray. I look on this as a time for my children to learn how to pray, and I encourage them to pray for things the church is praying for, and for our missionaries, not just things that are personal to them. I’ll often help the little ones when they pray. After that, we all recite the Ten Commandments. Sometimes I’ll take one of the commandments and expound upon it. Then we’ll often sing Jaime Soles’s musical arrangement of the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. Other times, we’ll sing a hymn. Sometimes we recite 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 as the definition of the gospel. We’ll then often pray the Lord’s Prayer together.
6. Here is a list of resources I recommend for family devotions. We use Long Story Short by Marty Machowski, which is short devotions with discussion questions on selections from the Old Testament, showing children how it points to Jesus. Old Story New by Marty Machowski is similar on the New Testament. The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm is great for small children. The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones is great for young kids. The Dangerous Journey by Oliver Hunkin is a wonderful illustrated kids version of Pilgrim’s Progress. I also like Children’s Stories by JC Ryle.
Finally, may I encourage you that there is no reason to be intimidated by this? If you are trying to live like a Christian, to be faithful parent in your home, to raise your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, then God will bless your efforts.
The good works of parents are never perfect. But if you let your children see you pursue Christ and repent when you sin, and if you try to teach them of Christ’s great grace to you, and His good Word, the Lord will be honored. Frequently say, “Daddy (or mommy) is a great sinner, but Jesus is a great Savior!” And remember, that even perfect family devotions cannot cause your children to come to Christ. If you could do everything right (like Jesus), it would not guarantee that your children will turn out well (like Judas).
The salvation and sanctification of your children does not depend on you. It depends on Jesus and His great grace. So pray for their salvation. Preach the gospel to them. And trust them to the hands of the Lord. Your faithfulness to your children is more about your obedience to Christ and your growth in holiness for His glory than it is about your children. So, seek Him and glorify Him, no matter how your children respond. And Christ will be honored.