What are Family Devotions anyway?

If you’re a parent, you need to understand a hard truth. The church is not your children’s primary spiritual teacher and discipler. You are.

With that said, it is the church’s job to equip you to disciple your children. Though that’s a different discussion from what I want to address today.

Instead, I want to encourage each and every one of you to consider making ‘family devotions’ a regular part of your lives. If you’re like many people I know, you may not even be sure what I’m talking about. Is ‘family devotions’ prayer as a family? Is it reading the Bible together? What exactly do I mean by ‘family devotions’?

To put it as succinctly as possible, ‘family devotions’ is a significant, regular, family-engaging, Christ-focused time of worship. It’s significant since it takes time, 15-30 minutes; regular since it can’t effectively be done sporadically; family-engaging because it addresses the spiritual needs of every family member; and Christ-focused because Christ is the center of the spiritual life.

‘Family devotions’ is the classroom where children learn basic doctrine, how to pray, how to read the Bible, how to worship, and how the Gospel impacts our lives. When children see their parents doing these things, they’re much more likely to do them and to do them well.

So, how can you have more effective ‘family devotions’?

The following five components are key.

1. Prayer

Prayer is the foundation of a growing spiritual life. Thus, it must be the foundation of any attempt to have effective ‘family devotions.’ The greatest need of young Christians (or any Christians for that matter) is a more robust prayer life.

Many churches give corporate prayer little time during normal worship services. As a result, prayer needs to be modeled at home. Fortunately, this isn’t hard to do. It just means that we, as parents, need to have solid prayer lives so that we’ll have something to model.

I would encourage you to include both ‘pre-written’ and ‘off-the-cuff’ prayers in your ‘family devotions.’ Written prayers (like the Lord’s Prayer or St Patrick’s Breastplate) help us to see aspects of prayer that we otherwise may miss. They serve as a clear and simple model for what prayer should sound like.

In addition, they’re easy to learn and make prayer fun for young children. My two daughters both knew the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ by the time they were 2 or 3. They still occasionally pray this prayer (as well as others) but now they often pray ‘off-the-cuff’ as well (they’re 6 and 8 now).

By praying at the beginning and end of ‘family devotions’, your children will intuitively understand the importance and value of prayer for the spiritual life.

2. The Bible

The Bible is indispensable. Through it, God speaks to us – convicting us, encouraging us, and directing us. Just as children need to see prayer modeled at home, they should also see scripture-engagement modeled at home. If they don’t see this, the silent lesson that they’re learning is ‘The Bible is for Church.” It creates a spiritual-material division in their minds that isn’t true. God desires to be involved in every aspect of our lives.

There are a lot of ways that you can engage with scripture, no matter your children’s ages. There are some great Bible storybooks out there (Egermeier’s Bible Story Book and The Jesus Storybook Bible are two of my favorites for young children). In addition, you can use the very simple NIrV translation once you decide to begin reading the actual text of scripture. And if you’d like to incorporate Bible study, I’d recommend Kay Arthur’s Discover 4 Yourself Inductive Bible Studies for Kids series. As your children age, you can use the Life Change Bible Studies series to spark conversation about what you’re reading and studying together.

You don’t have to have in-depth Bible studies every night with your two-year old.

But you can regularly model healthy scriptural engagement by reading and studying the word of God together.

3. Singing

Singing has been part of Christian worship since the very beginning. Even if you aren’t musically talented (or your children aren’t), you shouldn’t be afraid of worshiping God together through song.

We normally allow each of our girls to pick one or two songs that we can sing together. We’ve sung just about every kind of song during our times of worship – from ‘Jesus Loves Me’ to ‘Amazing Grace’ to ‘10,000 Reasons.’ Sometimes I’ll play a CD. Sometimes I’ll play a guitar. And sometimes (most of the time, actually) we’ll just sing acapella. But we sing.

Too often, in modern church services, all of the singing is done up-front on the stage. Incorporating singing into times of ‘family devotions’ teaches children that singing is an act of worship, not performance. It also encourages them to see singing as something all Christians should do – not just the most talented.

In addition to singing songs that we’re familiar with, I’m hoping to start using metrical psalms during our times of ‘family devotions.’ You can read more about them here.

4. Catechesis

The words ‘Catechism’ and ‘Catechesis’ have a bad rap among some evangelicals. When I’ve used the word before, people have asked, “Isn’t that a Catholic thing?” Well, yes and no. Catholics do catechize their young people. But so do we – though we often do it unsystematically (and thus unsuccessfully).

Catechesis is simply systematic religious instruction – teaching young believers the basics of the faith.

Traditionally, catechesis has made use of a question and answer format where students learn the answers to particular questions. After going through the process of catechesis, a young person will have a basic understanding of Christianity: who is God, what is man, what is sin, what is salvation, etc.

A few years ago, I picked up a Methodist Pictorial Catechism that was printed in 1886. I was planning on using it for my girls but then found out that someone at SeedBed had found the same catechism, updated the language, and was making them available as a $4.95 booklet. If your child has never gone through a form of catechesis like this, I can’t recommend it enough. This particular book is well-written, scripturally-founded, and includes several other classic passages that have been memorized by Christians for millennia.

As Crosby, Stills, and Nash once sang, ‘Teach your children well…”

5. Christian Conference

When John Wesley was a child, his mother Susanna would meet with him once a week to discuss the state of his spiritual life. They would talk about challenges, concerns, needs, etc. And they would pray together.

This picture has stuck in mind ever since I read my first biography on John Wesley. This is a powerful – and underused – tool for us, as Christian parents, to use in the raising of our children. By including Christian conference in our times of ‘family devotions,’ we are teaching our children that our spiritual state is worthy of regular examination.

And it doesn’t have to be complicated. I ask my girls two questions (almost every night):

1. Did you do anything to please God today?

2. Did you do anything that might have made God sad today?

And then we talk about it. It’s that quick and simple. But the effects will be profound and long-lasting.

Make ‘Family Devotions’ a Regular Part of Your Lives

‘Family Devotions’ don’t have to last two hours. It can be a song or two, a couple of prayers, reading a passage of scripture, going over a question or two from the catechism, and briefly discussing your day. But those 15 minutes will add up over the course of a year – or 18 years.

And in all of these minutes, hours, and days, you will be training up your child in the way he (or she) should go so that when he is old he will not depart from it.

I’d love to hear how you do ‘Family Devotions’! Comment below and let us know! Or if you try some of the ideas above, let us know how they went!

I don’t claim to have all of the answers to anyone’s questions about the Christian faith (not even my own). But I’m genuinely looking. If you’d like to look alongside me, I’d invite you to subscribe to my newsletter below. It goes out twice a month – with a focus on deep thinking at the beginning of the month and deep living in the middle.

So, that’s about it for me. Though if you have any questions or comments, don’t be afraid to send me an e-mail or leave a blog comment.

I look forward to getting to know you and to growing with you in grace and knowledge.