A Primer on Family Worship

I.         What is family worship?

A.    What is worship?

A Working Definition:

“To worship the triune God is …

                                    to quicken the conscience by His holiness

                                    to feed the mind with His truth

                                    to purge the imagination by His beauty

                                    to open the heart to His love and to devote the will to His purpose.

B.        What then is family worship?

  • “The joint worship rendered to God, by all the members of one household.”
  • To lead one’s household in the worship of our great God with prayers, praises, and the reading of Scripture.
  • “God is to be worshipped everywhere, in spirit and in truth; as in private families daily, and in secret each one by himself” (WCF, Chap. 21:6).

 II.   Why is family worship important?

 A.  An Overview of the Biblical Mandate

The Torah

  • Genesis 18:19 —  For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
  • Deuteronomy 6:4 —  Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

The Psalms —  Psalm 78:1-8

O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old—

3 what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.

5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, 6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. 8 They would not be like their forefathers— a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.


Malachi 4:5  See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.  6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”


Mark 9:33-37 —  They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”  34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” 36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them,  37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”


Ephesians 6:4 —  Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14-15 —  I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you… But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,  15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

B.  A Specific Case Study:

1.         Joshua’s Call to Family Worship (Joshua 24:14-15)

“Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if you be unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

 2.        The Parent’s Failure in Passing the Baton of Faith to the Next Generation

Judges 2:6-14 — When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. 7 And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work which the Lord had done for Israel. 8 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten years. 9 And they buried him within the bounds of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. 10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them, who did not know the Lord or the work which he had done for Israel.

11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals; 12 and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were round about them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They forsook the Lord, and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them; and he sold them into the power of their enemies round about, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies.

Another generation grew up

Who did not know the Lord.  

They did not know God’s redemptive work or His covenantal faithfulness.

b.   What went wrong here?

 Children are worshippers.  They like us will either serve the Lord or the idols of our culture.

By your day to day actions and words, what are you communicating to your children about your values, your priorities, and commitments?

C.    The Historical Reality  (Taken from the November 1997 issue of Ligonier Ministries’ Table Talk, author Kerry Ptacek)

  1. The Ancient Church
    • Ignatius, who as a boy in Antioch saw Paul, said fathers should teach their children the Bible.
    • His contemporary, Clement of Rome (30-100) reminded the Corinthians to teach their wives the Bible.
    • Clement of Alexandria (153-217) preached that the husband and wife should practice united prayer and Scripture reading every morning.
    • The North African elder Tertullian (142-220), in a book dedicated to his wife, spoke of the spiritual unity of Christian marriage through prayer, the word of God, and singing.
    • The Apostolic Constitutions (200-400) emphasized the need to examine a candidate for the office of overseer as to “whether he hath a grave, faithful wife, or has formerly had such a one; whether he hath educated his children piously, and has ‘brought them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.’” The Apostolic Constitutions paraphrases Paul’s command: “Ye fathers, educate your children in the Lord, bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
    • John Chrysostom (347-407), Bishop of Constantinople, witnesses to the continuation of the Biblical view in urging that every house should be a church, and every head of a family a spiritual shepherd.

 2.     The Reformation

  • The revival of family worship became part of the Reformation’s agenda of restoring the life of the church on a Biblical basis. The practice especially was developed among British Puritans and Presbyterians.
  • In 1557 John Knox wrote to his congregation as he went into exile: “you are bishops and kings; your wife, children, servants, and family are your bishopric and charge. Of you it shall be required how carefully and diligently you have instructed them in God’s true knowledge… And therefore I say, you must make them partakers in reading, exhorting, and in making common prayers, which I would in every house were used once a day at least.”

 3.     Puritans

  • The first settlers of Salem entered into a covenant in 1629 “Promising also unto our best ability to teach our children and servants the knowledge of God, and of His Will, that they may serve Him also.”
  • Cotton Mather recounts many examples of prominent New Englanders leading their households in family worship. With the rise of Christian state education, family worship began to decline in New England at the end of the 17th century.
  • In the Westminster Confession of Faith daily family worship is taken for granted (XXI.VI). Thomas Manton’s preface to the Confession spoke entirely of its use by heads of families in the home. However, only a Directory for Public Worship was adopted by the Assembly. The Church of Scotland fulfilled the Assembly’s intent in adopting a Directory for Family Worship in 1647.
  • English Puritanism after Westminster continued to emphasize the distinctive features of Biblical spiritual leadership in the home. Richard Baxter stated that “The husband must be the principal teacher of the family. He must instruct them, and examine them, and rule them about matters of God.”
  • Three decades later, Matthew Henry preached in his 1704 sermon “On Family Religion” that “Masters of families, who preside in the other affairs of the house, must go before their households in the things of God. They must be as prophets, priests, and kings in their own families; and as such they must keep up family-doctrine, family-worship, and family-discipline…”

4.         The Church in America in the 18th & 19th Century

  • In 1733 the Synod of Philadelphia, in seeking “some proper means to revive the declining Power of Godliness,” recommended “to all our ministers and members to take particular Care about visiting families, and press family and secret worship, according to the [W]estminster Directory.”
  • During the Great Awakening George Whitefield preached that “we must forever despair of seeing a primitive spirit of piety revived in the world until we are so happy as to see a revival of primitive family religion.” He reiterated that “every governor of a family… [is] bound to instruct those under his charge in the knowledge of the Word of God.”
  • Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) stated in his “Farewell Sermon” that “family education and order are some of the chief means of grace. If these fail, all other means are likely to prove ineffectual.”

5.         The Church in America in the 20th Century

At the beginning of this century the Southern Presbyterian General Assembly still affirmed that “God requires in the home daily instruction of the children in the Scriptures and the training of the children in all forms of Christian service. God lays on the man, as the head of the family, the chief responsibility for the performance of these requirements… and will not sanction the delegation of this responsibility to the wife, the Sabbath school, or to any other agency.”

D.            A Current Assessment

1.         How are you doing with the vow you made at your child’s baptism? 

“Do you now unreservedly dedicate your child to God, and promise, in humble reliance upon divine grace, not your good intentions, that you will endeavor to set before him a godly example, that you will pray with and for him, that you will teach him the Word of God, and that you will strive, by all the means of God’s appointment, to bring him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? 

 Parents, God has placed you in the role of preacher, evangelist, worship leader, intercessor and shepherd of your children.

(Hebrews 13:17 —  Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.). 

Two things:  Their souls have been entrusted to you.   All of us parents will give an account to the Lord concerning how we shepherd our children.

2.   Are you up for this and adequate for this?  No one is.  Jesus makes you a competent servant of the new covenant.  2 Corinthians 2:17; 3:4-6

Working It Out


  • From this brief word on Family Worship, what did you learn about God, yourself, and the gospel?
  • For what do you need to trust God?  Pray back to the Lord the promises of His Word.
  • It has been said that modern people:  Worship their work, work at their play and play at their worship.  Would you agree?  How can believers counteract this strong undertow of our culture?

Praying It In

  • Choose one of the above Scriptures and pray it for yourself as a parent.
  • Choose another and pray it for your child (ren), children yet to be, or grandchildren as the case my be. 
  • For what sins of omission or commission do you need to repent of and believe the gospel?

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