The lost art of the family devotion

One of the most important responsibilities for the Christian family is to pass on the faith to the children. But the thought of leading a family devotion sounds about as fun as a root canal. Schedules are busy, kids get antsy and hard to keep still, and  activities pull the family in a hundred different directions. Is it even possible?

I believe it is, and its not as hard as you might think. I have four kids. One girl (10 years old), and three boys (ages 8, 6, and 4). Life is chaotic and busy, and yet we’ve been able to find a weekly rhythm where we do a family devotion. It doesn’t need to take a lot of time, the parents don’t need to be theology experts, and the kids will enjoy it more than you may expect.

Three ingredients in a family devotion

I was first challenged to do family devotions while in seminary by my spiritual disciplines professor, Dr. Don Whitney. He suggested that every family devotion should have three main ingredients: singing, reading, and prayer. Simple.

Wednesday night is family devotion night at the Clary house. The kids even look forward to it and make sure to remind me of it.

For the singing part, I ask each kid to choose a worship song and then find it on YouTube with the lyrics (like this and this). My oldest son and I grab guitars and play along, but everyone sings along. We turn the volume up loud and have fun with it.

Next, for the reading part, we choose one Bible verse or story and then talk about what it means. Sometimes I’ll ask one of the kids to read, sometimes my wife or I will read it if its longer or harder to read. This time is challenging and humbling because kids are always thinking and they have excellent questions. Even as a pastor, I often find myself without answers, and I’ll just tell them, “that’s a great question; I don’t know the answer.” That’s OK. We don’t have to have all the answers, we just need to provide a space where the kids can ask.

Finally, we pray. Usually by this time, my four year old is losing his mind and can’t sit still any longer. The others are getting antsy, too, and that’s fine. We ask each child for something they want to ask God for and then we pray. Sometimes we give each child time to pray, and sometimes my wife or myself prays for everyone.

Don’t expect it to be magical

What I’ve described above can take just a few minutes or could go much longer, depending on how many kids and what comes up. ¬† Honestly, sometimes I look forward to this and we have a great time together. But more often, it tests my patience as kids fight over songs and say unkind things to each other. And on occasion, by the time we’re finished I’m more frustrated than when we began. Trying to herd cats for 15 minutes can try anyone’s patience. It’s not magical, its often an exercise in discipline to just get through it. But as the kids grow older, the prayers, the songs we sing, and the scriptures we read give the Holy Spirit kindling to burn. It helps them to hear mom and dad confessing sin and thanking Jesus for his grace again for another week.

It can be amazing or exhausting. Either way, we’ve invited God to our home and worshiped him together as a family. And in these few minutes we recognize that Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of the Living Room.