November 24, 2014

Home Team Huddle: Hints on How to do Family Devotions

by Clint Archer

I have mentioned previously how my wife helped me to man-up and start to lead our family worship times. It was embarrassing that I needed the help, but like with the lady in our GPS unit, I’ve learned not to argue with the voice of reason.

Let me issue this vital disclaimer: I am no expert. I seriously have little to no idea what I’m doing. We haven’t been at this for years, but for the past few months it’s been pretty consistent. And our kids love family worship. They ask for it. That can’t be bad, right?

Also, we’ve only test-run this on tiny tots. My kids are 4.5, 2.5, and newborn (he’s just there as eye-candy, and so the other two remember to pray for the baby).

We’ve been at it for about 6 months.

So here is what we do, which may be of some help…

  • We use a routine. This has been the key to our consistency. I need this as much as the kids do. Every night after bath, before bed time, we gather in the same place, the couch in our living room. The kids have come to expect this, and often prompt me as I;m deliberating whether or not to use the precious ‘exception’ for when I’m exhausted. Turns out, their beaming expectant faces cures all fatigue. Exceptions are for the rare nights I’m out before the kid’s bedtime. Then Mom fills in the gap.
  • Dad reads a short Bible story from a children’s Bible.  I try to be expressive and funny, with lots of voices and accents. We use the Big Picture Bible which emphasizes Christocentricity throughout the Scriptures. We also use the Jesus Storybook Bible, and the Word and Song Bible, and a couple of others. Select an age appropriate Bible. No ESV for 2 year olds. I hunt for Bibles that include the lesser-known passages like Naboth’s vineyard and the Witch of Endor.  I usually check the flood story to see why God wiped out the world. Some say “To clean the planet.” Yuk. If it says to wipe out wickedness, now we’re cooking.
  • Dad draws one application. I do this by asking some simple, multiple choice question that starts, “Do we learn…” as in “Do we learn that God doesn’t mind our sin, or do we learn that God hates sin and wants to punish it?” For my older boy (4) I ask questions that probe deeper insight and I have been repeatedly blown away by his comprehension. Kid’s aren’t just sponges, they are processors. He once responded, “But if God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, why didn’t he un-harden it and give faith to the Egyptians also trust in the Passover lamb?” Unconditional Election. Yikes. Mom?
  • We all take turns praying for one thing we are thankful for and one need someone else has. If one of the kids has a need, we let the other one pray for that need. I’m not against personal petitions, but if the prayers get too long, they tend to derail. So we keep it simple.
  • We sing a song or two, or three. We try to teach them a song they hear in church, and sing it every night for a week or so, as well as another song they already know. Now we take requests. Oh Lord My God, You are Holy, I Lift My Eyes Up, and other deep songs are favorites. But we also try to do one lighter song with actions. The-Home-Team-194x300
  • We keep it short. Seriously, this can make or break it. 10 minutes goes quickly with singing, praying, and story. And sometimes they beg for more. That’s a good sign. If they are gnawing  at their wrists to end the misery of your 45 minute exposition, you know you’re making no impact.
  • We keep it light. The tone is light, fun, and expressive. When the subject matter is more somber, like discussing the crucifixion, we are more serious, but we end on a hopeful, joyful note.
  • We mix it up. We use the same Bible for a few nights in a row, and then change to another one. We rotate through four. We sometimes sing first or pray last, or whatever.

Let me know what you do. We can use all the help we can get.

I cover some more of this topic in my book, The Home Team: God’s Game Plan for the Family (Kindle or hardcopy).

Clint Archer

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Clint is the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church. He and his expanding troop of Archers live near Durban, South Africa (and pity anyone who doesn't). When he is off duty from CGate, his alter ego blogs at Café Seminoid, clintarcher.com
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  • I’ve been looking forward to this after your post last week. it’s coincided well with challenges arising from watching “courageous”, and also the challenges laid down in donald whitney’s talks on family worship.

    thank you.
    If pastors aren’t universally doing family worship there is little hope that it is happening with any regularity among most of the “regular” members of the church. a sad state of affairs

    • I’m glad to hear the Lord is working in your life, as He is in mine, and I trust in others’ lives as well.

  • I’ve appreciated your articles, both this one and the one from last week but it brought up something that has bothered me for a long time.

    What about the families that don’t have children? Every article I’ve read about having family devotions always revolves around teaching our children. While my wife and I are older and the children have moved on, we know many couples who have either, 1) chosen not to have children or 2) have not yet had children.

    Isn’t it just as important that families that consist of a couple alone have family devotions?

    • What an excellent observation. The devotions that include young kids is a different animal to that of devos with teenagers (perhaps even unbelieving teens), which is a different species to the husband-wife devotional time too. My intention was to address the first of those breeds. But now you’ve got me thinking about another post on the 2-person family. In Africa we see a lot of a rare family dynamic, namely the older sibling needing to teach the younger ones about Jesus, as the parents are either absent, deceased, or apathetic. My post certainly doesn’t cover that family situation either. Give me some time to let your question mull, and perhaps we’ll see a follow-up article on that here at the C-Gate. Thank you for your input.

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  • Clint, thank you very much for your practical advice. “The Simpsons” picture vividly illustrates the point I was trying to make last week. Thanks for that.

    My kids are the same age as yours (4 & 2). Thanks in part to my church’s parenting class, my wife and I look for opportunities to share the Gospel with him and teach him about sin. We pray every night together and it’s amazing to hear the things he prays for, which sometimes leads into teaching. I should teach him more Bible “stories” but we do not neglect it (maybe that’s something I should begin to integrate more consistently). Tell me if I’m worng here, but my concern is that I want him to understand sin, hell, and the cross primarily instead of being preoccupied with “2-by-2.” I mean, how many church kids could tell you every story in the OT, but can’t even articulate the Gospel!? Case in point: recently, while praying, my son prayed for grandma’s dog, Jack. Jack was put down months ago. It was an excellent time to “teach” my son about death and why death exists and that we all will die someday. Therefore, we need Jesus. Like you said, as he was processing the idea that Jack is gone forever, you could clearly see the shock, sadness, and pain in his eyes. As you admitted, I’m also by no means the expert, but that’s how I’ve been shepherding my kids. Some guy scoffed at “lifestyle discipleship,” but when my son sees me loving my wife (with words and actions), it teaches him far more than Jonah and the whale ever could ever teach him at his stage in life. Just sayin….

    One area where I’m not yet convinced it that why do you think we should only use “kid” versions of the Bible? It’s funny to me that Christians like to accuse other Christians of “sheltering” their kids (especially in regards to homeschoolers) when they haven’t even taught the biblical account of David and Goliath… My 4 year old son knows what Davis did to Goliath after he killed him. Why is that bad? Another example, is that in one “Kid” Bible (or book?), it simply said that the Jews “didn’t like Jesus.” C’mon, man….

    • Thanks Karl. My take is that the Bible stories provide a vocabulary/framework/worldview in which God is the main character (if they are told right!) So I love teaching stories to kids, but you are right that the truth needs to be there and the main message must always be the focus. That’s why in the previous post I said I look for the flood narrative’s description when picking a Bible. If it says “God washed the world clean,” I gag. If it says “God destroyed the evil generation but showed grace to Noah,” then we buy it on the spot. I like kid Bibles for little ones b/c they have illustrations which helps kids grasp and remember the story. Thanks for your comments.

      • Thanks for the discernment tool. Looks like now I need to go through my kids’ bookshelf….

  • I’m grateful for these posts, Clint. We also use the Storybook Bible and the Jesus Bible (although in the latter, Jesus looks strangely like an OWS protester…). We use our church hymnal for a song, and let our daughter choose a second song of her liking.
    Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Yeah that Jesus Storybook Bible’s illustrations sometimes need a bit of explanation. A bit more artsy than what we’re used to; but there’s something appealing about it too.

  • William

    I struggled with this for years. We would start, stop, get side-tracked, change directions, change books, etc. And as our family grew, the distractions grew. To make matters worse, thinking like an engineer I was always trying to figure out the best method and plan. We have finally settled upon three basic rules for family worship in our home; keep it short, keep it simple and be consistent. Besides possibly teaching outright heresy, doing nothing is the absolute worst course of action possible.

    Evening devotions were never successful in our home. We have six little ones all under the age of 8; including 2-year-old twin boys that really keep us busy. So, inevitably there was always someone too exhausted to handle an evening devotion (usually me). However, we do have prayer together as a family each night before bedtime. And 2 or 3 nights a week I will break out the guitar and sing some songs with them. But I am blessed with a job that allows me to have breakfast with my family, so most days we have a family devotion at the breakfast table.

    • Thanks for sharing that William. Six under eight takes it to a whole new level! I love the guitar idea. Keep it up.

  • Eric Davis

    Clint, good stuff man. Thank you for serving us.

    How have you thought through teaching unregenerate kids to pray?

    • Hey Eric, my take on teaching kids to pray is that it’s a step in the right direction. I want them to develop a habit and worldview that includes talking to God. I always make sure they are praying about spiritual things, confessing sin etc. as well as physical provision, and intercession for others. I never want to discourage behavior in my kids that is commanded of believers in Scripture. I want to nurture any desire they have to line their lives up with the Bible. In doing that they will discover that it’s not possible without a saving relationship with Jesus. That’s my take. Your thoughts?

      • Well said. A good answer to a tough question. I 100% agree. If we neglect to allow our children to pray, why not neglect allowing them to be self-controled, kind, honest, ect. because only regenerated people can display “fruits of the Spirit,” right? I don’t think so. “I never want to discourage behavior in my kids that is commanded of believers in Scripture.” I use that next time….

      • Eric Davis

        Thanks Clint. That’s helpful. It’s funny (not really), sometimes my 2 year old will pray a 2-yr old version of Luke 18:11. Good shepherding opportunities.

        • Mark Lind

          Often I am amazed at how well accuarte and somewhat deep my little ones can pray, even my 4 year old. That said, I have to constantly guard against getting fooled that just because the words and concepts are headed in a good direction, they come from a redeemed heart. Somewhere in thes edays or years, each little heart may get truly changed by Christ, but my job is to constantly praise wise thinking on spiritual matters and not give false assurance. Anyway, teh danger is that they learn all the right words, but the core isn’t really Christ’s…yet. Thus my questions for them come back to heart level stuff, constantly.

  • Thomasflouw

    We do ours just after dinner, before anyone jumps up and gets busy. It is much easier than going after lost sheep after bath time. All of us are already in one place, already “calmed down” all news of the day are already shared.

  • Rachel

    Like Karl, I don’t think we have to stick to children versions of Bible history when having devotions. I got rid of all our dumb downed versions of Bible stories (I really dislike the term “stories” as it can imply that they are not real historical accounts) and the only one we kept was The Illustrated Bible For Childrens by The Old-Time Gospel Hour. It was given to me by my Grandmother, so there is sentiment there, but also, it’s not dumbed down nor sugar coated. I’ve always said that kids understand way more then we give them credit! We switched from reading short Bible accounts written by a homeschool curriculum to reading directly from the ESV Bible this year in our schooling and my 4, 6 & 8 year olds love it! They beg for more! If we need more information to help explain what we read, we go to trusted commentaries.

    Thank you for your post! It’s given me some ideas that I look forward to sharing with my husband 🙂

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