This article is part of the Help! series.
A Common Problem
Do your kids try to avoid family worship? Do they find excuses not to be there? Do they obviously dread it and groan when you reach for the Bible? Do they ask you to do it quickly because they’ve got so much else to do? Are they bored and checked out as you try to engage them? When you ask if they have any questions about the Bible reading, or any requests for prayer, are you met with silence?
Welcome to many (most?) Christian families. We dream that family worship will unite and excite our loved ones with the gospel, and we set out with great expectations. But soon the grim reality dawns and the dream turns into a nightmare. No wonder few try it, and even fewer keep it up.
Let's try to understand some of the reasons for this and then look at some ways to transform this discouraging picture into a much brighter and better one.
Kids Have Good Reason to Be Disinterested
We must begin by recognizing that there are good reasons why are our kids may be zoned out in family worship.
First of all, they are young—some of them very young. Therefore, just sitting still and concentrating on anything is a challenge. Our kids don’t turn into focused students just because it’s the Bible that we’re reading. Some of them would struggle with Star Wars, so forget about mini-sermons. Wisdom is required.
Second, they are not used to it. If we are just starting out with family worship, and our kids have not done this before, it will take time for them to adjust. It’s hard enough for them to sit still at school and listen carefully. Home is the place to relax and chill, so asking them to enter “school mode” while at home is challenging. Patience is required.
Third, they are not converted. Obviously, if our kids are born again and God has given them new appetites and desires for him and his word, we would expect that hunger to be reflected in how they participate in family worship. However, if they are still unbelievers, if their hearts are still at enmity with God, we cannot expect them to love hearing about God and praying together. Plus, the devil is going to be blocking their ears and hearts as well. Prayer for the Holy Spirit is required.
So there are good (meaning, “understandable”) reasons for their disinterest. But these are not the only obstacles. Ask yourself, “Am I the cause of their disinterest?”
We May Give Them Good Reason to Be Disinterested
While we can find reasons for disinterest in our kids, we also have to look at ourselves and ask if part of the reason for their disengagement are mistakes we are making ourselves. Here are the most common ways we can help our children check out:
- Too long: We may drag it out so long that even older Christian kids can get frustrated, never mind the very young and the unconverted.
- Too monologued: No attempt is made to involve the kids in reading the Scriptures, commenting on them, or praying. It’s just one voice throughout.
- Too complex: The readings are from obscure and difficult Bible passages.
- Too dull: We are not excited about what we’re doing, so why should our kids be? It’s just another habit or routine like washing the dishes.
- Too predictable: We just do the same thing over and over, day after day. There are no surprises. There’s no spontaneity. Yesterday’s prayer could be today’s prayer, and will probably be tomorrow’s prayer.
- Too hypocritical: If we are living ungodly lives, or we’re in conflict with our spouse or our kids, our kids will be cynical and skeptical when we try to be a worship leader.
Go through this list and think about how you can take away reasons for disinterest that you may be contributing to. But perhaps you’re now looking at all the reasons our kids have to be disinterested and you’re wondering, “Is there any point in even trying? Is there anything I can do to make this work?” So let’s take a positive turn and see how to turn disinterest into interest.
We Can Give Them Good Reason to Be Interested
Let’s begin the fightback then. What steps can we take to re-engage our kids with family worship? I want to give you one big spiritual step and then a number of smaller practical steps.
The most important step is prayer—personal, private prayer. Just as we would pray for God’s help and blessing if we were going to lead a Bible study, or teach or preach at church, we should do the same for family worship. Make it part of your daily prayer to pray for God’s blessing on family worship, that he would work both in your heart and your kids’ hearts so that it will be a profitable and mutually beneficial time. Pray especially that God would give your kids spiritual interest and spiritual life.
Make it part of your daily prayer to pray for God’s blessing on family worship.
As for practical steps, here are the actions that have made the biggest difference in my own family:
- Keep it short: Perhaps the biggest mistake I’ve made is excessive expectation that is unsustainable. Better do it every day for five minutes and keep it up, than aim for twenty minutes and make it impossible for your kids and yourself.
- Keep it simple: Start with easy narratives in the Old and New Testament. You can get to doctrinal Epistles and Prophets eventually, but begin with the Gospels and other familiar Bible stories.
- Keep it interactive: Turn the monologue into a dialogue. Have one of your kids pray for God’s blessing on the worship, or pray at the end. Have them each read a verse or two. Ask them questions or ask them if they have any questions. Ask them if they have any prayer requests. The more interaction, the more interest you will generate.
- Keep it regular: Try to find a time of day that will suit the family and then stick with it. This will be different for each family, but in general we’ve found it best after breakfast or after the evening meal. We also do it in the same place so that we will all have Bibles available.
- Keep it varied: Regularity of place and time is important, as is reading systematically through books of the Bible. But within that, there’s room for variation. On a Sunday we will often read the passage we heard a sermon on in church. Or if there’s a family situation that is addressed by a particular Bible passage we will read that. We usually sing a few verses of a hymn or Psalm (sometimes with the help of a YouTube video).
- Keep it joyful: If you approach it with dread, so will your kids. If you do it legalistically, so will your kids. If you are bored, so will your kids be. Try to lift their spirits with your own enthusiasm for worshipping God, communing with God, hearing him, and speaking with him. Exhibit your love of God’s grace in the gospel. Remind your kids of previously answered prayers.
- Keep it helpful: Always try to have one practical gospel application from the passage. Show how the word of God connects with daily life. Sometimes a brief look at a simple commentary or study Bible can help. Remind them continually of Christ’s offer of salvation for them.
Let’s give our kids good reason to be interested. But ultimately, the biggest help is that you have good reasons for family worship.
We Must Have a Good Reason to Keep Them Interested
Why do we do what we do? Why do we want to establish family worship as a holy habit? If it’s a work to please God or salve our conscience, or if it’s because everyone else is doing it, it won’t last, or it won’t be profitable.
But if it’s done out of gratitude for God’s grace, and a desire for our kids to taste and see that God is good; if we do it out of faith in God’s word to save our kids; if we do it out of our longing for our family to enjoy God in worship; if we do it for their good more than ours; if we do it not for immediate results but in hope of God watering what we will sow over many years; if we do it not just for this generation but in the hope that such holy habits will be passed down over many generations; if these are our reasons for family worship, it will change our family worship for ourselves and our kids. Indeed, it will change their lives and their eternities.
David Murray is the author of Exploring the Bible Together: A 52-Week Family Worship Plan.
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