A Problem with Families
Some time ago, I was in England and heard a report on BBC radio about a government study there which indicated that as a result of TV, technology, and the like, families rarely spend time together. The study observed that conversation between family members has “degenerated into an indistinguishable series of monosyllabic grunts.” And what was the recommended solution to this dilemma? The government should teach a series of classes instructing families how to talk and play together.
I immediately thought of at least two responses to this report. First, things are really bad when the government believes that the family is in trouble. Second, God has a much better plan for family time together than anything presented in classes taught by the government.
I had gone to England to speak at a conference. Around the table there one evening, I heard the story of a minister’s family who had not acted as though God has a better plan until it was too late. The minister’s widow told me that the greatest regret of her life was that her late husband had not begun leading their family in the daily worship of God together until after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Contrast that with a story sent to me by a friend describing what he and his four siblings said at their parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration. He wrote,
All five of us children decided to express thanks to our father and mother for one thing without consulting each other. Remarkably, all five of us thanked our mother for her prayers and all five of us thanked our father for his leadership of . . . family worship. My brother said, “Dad, the oldest memory I have is of tears streaming over your face as you taught us from Pilgrim’s Progress on Sunday evenings how the Holy Spirit leads believers. [When I was only] three, God used you in family worship to convict me that Christianity was real. No matter how far I went astray in later years [though today he’s an elder in his church], I could never seriously question the reality of Christianity and I want to thank you for that.”1
The Lasting Value of Family Memories
Various studies, as well as our own experiences in local church ministry, bear witness to the reality that a high percentage of churchgoing teenagers leave the church once they finish high school. One of the leading problems with this issue is that, unlike the siblings at the fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration, most of these young people have no early, sweet memories of family worship. Such recollections, if they had them, might help prevent their departure from the faith in the first place. Or if they do walk away, the memories might be the means to turn their hearts to seek God again later.
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.
The great British Baptist preacher of the 1800s Charles Spurgeon spoke to this issue, saying,
Brethren, I wish it were more common, I wish it were universal, with all [Christians] to have family prayer. We sometimes hear of children of Christian parents who do not grow up in the fear of God, and we are asked how it is that they turn out so badly. In many, very many cases, I fear there is such a neglect of family worship that it’s not probable that the children are at all impressed by any piety supposed to be possessed by their parents.2
I am persuaded from my own ministry experience in hundreds of churches that so little family worship regularly exists in Christian homes today, that even in most of our best churches, most of our best men do not even pray with their wives (and children if they have them) much less lead them in ten minutes or so of worship as a family. A survey by the Barna Research Group supports that claim. According to this report,
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 materials with their children. . . . Parents generally rely upon their church to do all of the religious training their children will receive.3
Having your family in a Christ-exalting, gospel-centered, Bible-teaching local church is crucial to Christian parenting. But it is not enough for conveying to your family all you want to teach them about God and your beliefs. Moreover, 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. This is why family worship is so important. But even more importantly, God deserves to be worshiped daily in our homes by our families.4
- Joel Beeke, Family Worship (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 2002), 3.
- C. H. Spurgeon, “A Pastoral Visit,” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 54 (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1908; repr., Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim, 1978), 362–63.
- Barna Research Group (May 6, 2003), quoted in Current Thoughts and Trends 19, no. 7 (July 2003 ), 21. As time increases between this survey and the reading of this book, may we assume that research done today would reveal a statistically significant improvement? Regardless, the most important question is not one about what parents in general do, but whether we ourselves spend “time during a typical week discussing religious matters or studying religious materials” with our families and whether we are among those who “generally rely upon their church to do all of the religious training” of our families.
- Do not read the word “family” in this article and think only of parents with small children. While the emphasis here is indeed upon families with children living in the home, this includes children of all ages, from newborns to older teens. Moreover, this book is also for those without children in the home, from couples who do not have children to empty nesters. In addition, this also applies to singles in terms of preparation for marriage someday.
This article is adapted from Family Worship by Donald S. Whitney.
Anytime we spend time gazing at who God is as he’s described in the Scriptures, we cannot help but be drawn into worship.
Parenting is not a behavior-control mission; it is a heart-rescue mission. The only hope for a lost child is a radical transformation of his heart.
We won’t love God’s word until he helps us to do it. And the beautiful thing is that he will.