Catherine Stewart is a wife, mother of 6, author and pastor’s wife. She currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is the editor and a contributing author of “Letters to Pastor’s Wives: when seminary ends and ministry begins” which can be purchased here on amazon.com. And she is currently working on a second book for pastor's children.
I dare say it would be nothing short of a practical victory to say that after 6 children, we have got this family worship “thing” down. I wish I could relish the opportunity of you coming into our home and spectating our efforts to show you how perfect family worship works and how we have accomplished all of our desires for our children’s spiritual learning. Alas, having considered our first daughter to be the proverbial family worship guinea pig, we find ourselves wondering if we will ever “arrive” and produce that picture perfect scenario where we all gather around the kitchen farm table, singing with jubilant joy, with every child hanging on every word their daddy says.
In reality, it hasn’t quite worked that way. However, we have not yet ‘thrown the towel in', because our long-term goals remain unchanged. All of our efforts in family worship are simply a desire to attain a little picture of an orderly Sunday morning worship service. Why? Because, as believers, that is where our souls are most fully nourished and where we meet Christ to worship him with the gathered body of his people. Naturally, we want our children to share in those blessings that come to them as covenant children. But is it realistic to expect our little ones to walk into a church service, plop their little derrières onto the pew, sing, pray, confess their sins, listen to a 40 minute sermon, and not launch a small child size ballistic missile in the process? Well, actually, yes!!!! And it is attainable; not without considerable planning on both mommy and daddy’s part, and not without a little sweat and much fervent prayer. But family worship is the perfect training ground for our little ones to taste something of the glory of the bigger, better place of Sunday worship. So how does that work? Undoubtedly, cultivating a methodology isn’t necessarily going to lead our children to Christ, and yet the most effective ground in which to plant their foundational experiences of worship, is found in the mother of all learning; repetition. If I might add Zig Ziglar’s addendum to that quote it will perfectly convey our desire;
“Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.”
Training our children from a very young age, even from the moment we walk out of those hospital doors with that newborn baby in our arms, leaves them with an inestimable legacy. Instilling predictable habits from their earliest moments provides a framework for limitless understanding of God’s Word as they mature in the faith.
Let me throw out a few practical guidelines to spare you the trial and error that we took 21 years to work through. At the end of it all, while you may not have your perfect scenario, you might just have a little more order to your worship table and thus facilitate a place of worship and spiritual growth.
Mommies, be sure, the process of this effort does not lie squarely on your shoulders. It is of course primarily in the hands of your husband, and yet reality dictates that many mommies are going this journey alone, either as a single mommy or with an unbelieving husband or with a man who simply doesn’t share your passion. Don’t lose heart! Many women have gone before you and many great men and women of the faith owe their spiritual nurture entirely to the tender teaching of their mothers. Read on!
Keep it simple: Please don’t begin this journey by taking out your church bulletin from the previous Sunday and attempt to embark on a full blown worship service at the kitchen table. Your children are little and you are not throwing enough mud in the hope that some will stick! Pick a time that works for everyone. For our family that is first thing after breakfast in the morning. Fellowship is so much sweeter over a meal and worship easily becomes a continuation when it’s done around the meal table.This is true of adults and it is also true of children. If that doesn’t work, be flexible and work out a time that is going to be a good fit for your family.
So where do you begin? For some of you this will sound radical, but why not begin by singing a hymn or a psalm? Granted, our family singing is not always very melodic, in fact sometimes it sounds more like a squawking cat than a hymn, but it is a joyful sound, and after all, that’s what the Lord wants us to bring to him. If you have only recently come to a desire for family worship, your older children may find this “uncool” or awkward. Singing is rarely a passion for children once they get into the middle school years, but along with all of the other insecurities that age entails,“this too shall pass!” Persevere!
Secondly, keep it short. No one wants to live with the burden of endless “sermonettes” or clock watching while trying to worship. Let the older children know what time you are planning to start and what time you will finish. And for the sake of your little ones you, remember their capacity for attention and dwell with them with understanding.
Thirdly, if you aren’t comfortable opening up the Word and sharing some truths from it yourself, there is no harm in utilizing the wisdom of others. A couple of excellent books that we have used are “The Children’s Storybook Bible” by Sally-Loyd Jones, and you might also consider using, “Leading Little ones to God” by Marian Schoolland? This latter book also incorporates catechism questions which are a fabulous tool for teaching snippets of theology to unwitting hearers! These two books will be sufficient for up to a 1st grade level.
Fourthly, when you have finished singing and reading, be sure to pray around your table, whether it is simply a one sentence adoration or a brief supplication, teach your children to pray out loud from a young age. This is incredibly helpful in bypassing the later challenges that so many children dread when asked to offer up a prayer if it is anything other than giving thanks for a meal.
Fifthly, when you have little ones in diapers or at their mother’s breast, the easiest way to keep them settled is to nurse them. And yes, it is possible to nurse and do worship at the same time: We mommies are superstars at multitasking right?! And sometimes those wriggly little arms and legs are best stilled with a soft small toy, no bells and whistles, but something that their hands can hold while training their bodies to be still.
Oh, a thousand other ideas run into my head as I write this: it’s a subject worthy of a lot more attention, but for now, suffice it to say that I hope this will at least set you on the first rung of the ladder.
P.S. Be real with yourself, we are literally in the middle of the craziest season of the year, so don’t go doing any heroics by trying to start implementing all of this first tomorrow morning. Give yourself a bit of grace and take some time to plan and in the meantime, why not start with simple memory verse work or even wait until things settle into a workable rhythm.