A few weeks ago Lindsay and I had the opportunity to attend the “Reformed Family” conference in Chino, CA. One of the speakers that we especially enjoyed was Dr. Joel Beeke, the president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Michigan. During the conference he gave a presentation on family worship which was without a doubt the most helpful presentation I have heard on the subject in some time. After the presentation I bought a small booklet he authored on family worship, from which his conference presentation was taken. What follows is a summary of the material in this booklet. Lindsay and I were both challenged and encouraged by this material, and my hope in relaying it is that (1) families will be encouraged to begin or renew their commitment to worship together on a regular basis, and (2) families will get some help from a “seasoned pro” on how to do family worship and how to navigate the many practical difficulties that often surround it.
Family Worship by Joel Beeke
Dr. Beeke divides his booklet into five sections: (1) Theological Foundations for Family Worship; (2) The Duty of Family Worship; (3) Implementing Family Worship; (4) Objections Against Family Worship; and (5) Motivations for Family Worship.
Theological Foundations and the Duty of Family Worship:
In the first two sections Beeke makes a biblical case that family worship is not optional, but commanded by God. He is concerned that one of the major reasons that current polls on the retention of children in the church are so dismal is because of the lack of stress on the vital importance of family worship. Fathers have the privilege and the responsibility (Deut 6:6-7; Josh 24:14-15; Eph 6:4) to lead their families in daily instruction in the Word of God, daily prayer to the throne of God, and daily singing the praise of God. He concludes: “We are more than friends to our children, we owe them prophetical teaching, priestly intercession, and royal guidance.”
Implementing Family Worship:
In this section Beeke gives practical guidance on how to “do” family worship. He breaks it down into three categories: (1) preparation for family worship, (2) during family worship, and (3) after family worship.
With regards to the preparation for family worship, he makes several suggestions:
1. Each child who can read should have their own Bibles in front of them
2. Use “helps” such as Bible commentaries, devotional books, Confessions/Catechisms to help you lead and plan the worship
3. Decide on portion of scripture to be read and memorized as family
4. Decide on the place and time for family worship. Make this a place that is as free from distractions as possible, and make every effort to not let anything interrupt you during this time.
Next, regarding what to do during family worship:
1. Be Brief. If you go too long it will be counterproductive and may provoke your children to anger. If you have younger children, 10 minutes may be the max. With older children you may be able to go as long as 20-25 minutes. He suggests 10 minutes for Scripture reading and explanation, 5 minutes for reading a daily portion of edifying book, 5 minutes for singing and 5 minutes for prayer.
2. Be consistent. Don’t allow for excuses not to do it. If you lose your temper, for example, don’t use that as an excuse to skip family worship but rather start the worship by asking for forgiveness from your family and leading them in prayer. Even when you are exhausted after work, pray for the strength to carry out this fatherly duty.
3. Involve every member of the family. Have your children take turns reading the scripture. Get them their own study Bibles with different explanatory notes that you can ask them to read as well. If you have a child who cannot read, take them on your lap and whisper a few words at a time so they can repeat it. Ask age appropriate questions to your family to encourage dialogue: 5 year olds should be asked 5 year old questions and 14 year olds should be asked a 14 year old question. Ask older children to think of possible applications to what you have read. (See objection # 5 below).
4. Bible Reading: be plain in meaning and help your family make applications. Don’t be afraid to share how a particular passage has impacted and shaped your own life. Be affectionate in your manner towards your family as you carry out this task, but require attention as this is God’s word and it deserves to be heard.
5. Praying: be short, simple, direct, natural, and varied.
6. Singing: teach them the great psalms/hymns of the faith
After family Worship:
Pray for God’s blessing on your family worship.
Objections Against Family Worship
In this section Beeke interacts with the common objections against family worship that he has encountered in his 30 years as a pastor and teacher.
1. There is no explicit command
a. Answer: See his section on theological foundations and the duty of family worship.
2. Our Family does not have time
a. Answer: If you have time for recreation and pleasures but not time for family worship, something is wrong. Time taken to seek God’s blessing is never wasted. He quotes Samuel Davies: “Were you formed for this world only, there would be some force in this objection, but how strange does such an objection sound coming from an heir of eternity! Pray, what is your time given to you for? Is it not principally that you may prepare for eternity? And have you no time for what is the greatest business of your lives?”
3. There is no regular time when all of us can be together
a. Answer: Even if all of your family cannot be together, do not cancel family worship. Change or cancel the activity that threatens worship, if possible. Family worship should be a non-negotiable in your home, everything else is secondary.
4. Our family is too small
a. Answer: Matt 18:20
5. Our family is diverse for everyone to profit
a. Answer: Have a plan for all ages. Read from a bible story book for little children; apply a proverb for the older ones; read a page or two from a book for teens. A wise plan can overcome a diversity of age. Remember also that (1) age diversity only affects about a third of worship - it does not affect praying and singing, and (2) you do not have to directly apply biblical instruction to every child present all of the time. As you teach older teens, litter children are learning to sit still. As you teach younger children, the teens are learning how to communicate biblical truth to younger children.
6. I’m not good at leading family in worship
a. Answer: There are plenty of resources that can help you. Also, ask for guidance from church leaders and fathers. Ask them to visit your home and show you how to do it or observe how you do it and make suggestions. Also, start simply.
7. Some of our family members won’t participate.
a. Answer: No family worship = No food.
8. We don’t want to make hypocrites of our unconverted children
a. Answer: An unconverted person may never plead an unconverted state to neglect duty. God may use this means of grace to convert them.
Motivations for Family Worship:
In this final section Beeke provides several motivations to encourage us in the duty of family worship:
1. The eternal welfare of your loved ones
a. God uses means to save souls. Most commonly he uses preaching, but he also uses family worship. Proverbs 22:6 makes this point. See also Psalm 78:5-7. We don’t know the secret will of God, but we do know that God binds himself to means. We are called to labor in hope.
b. Furthermore, the thought of children spending eternity in hell must be overwhelming to any God-fearing parent. Imagine also facing eternity having to confess that we have not seriously labored for the souls of our children. Fathers, use every means to have your children snatched as brands from the fire. Pray, teach, sing, weep, admonish, plead.
2. The satisfaction of a good conscience
a. Who can bear the reproach of a stinging conscience that condemns us because we failed to bring up our children in the fear of the Lord? What a shame to have failed to take seriously the vow we uttered at our children’s baptism to raise them in our concessional doctrines. How happy is the man who can say to his children on his deathbed “I do not believe that one of you will dare to meet me at the tribunal of Christ in an unregenerate state.”
3. Assistance in child-rearing
a. Family worship establishes closer bonds as a family.
4. The shortness of time
5. Love for God and his church
If you are interested in getting a copy of the booklet, contact me by email and I will get you a copy. Also, for those who are interested in hearing the presentation, he gave it in essentially the same form at the Bethlehem conference for pastors a couple of years ago, available at the following link: