Since the recent coronavirus, COVID-19, hit the world, I’ve been thinking deeply about how we families must respond to this crisis. We must be faith-filled, not fearful. While we may be tempted to fear, we can still choose to have faith in God during moments—and seasons—like these.
My main concern in writing this is for the church: How will we respond to crises in a way that builds, and even beautifies, the church during this difficult time?
Since we’re not meeting in public anymore—nor for the foreseeable future—and many churches are turning to live-streaming services, the question of family worship and spiritual practices rises to the top of my thoughts.
Our church has been live-streaming, and mediums like that have their place, no doubt. They are even good!
But what about family worship? What about spiritual leadership in the home? I have not heard many people talking about these important topics, so that’s why I’m writing about them here.
I believe church leaders need to double down on equipping their people for leading their families spiritually.
While we’re on lockdown, quarantine, or “sheltering in place,” we’ll be spending a lot of time with our families, so family spiritual practices should be important to us.
My friend and our church’s Children’s Minister, Julie Bryant, teamed up to write a similar article with me for this occasion. You can read her article “Family Discipleship: Start Small for a Big Impact” on our blog too. She serves as Children’s Minister at Harpeth Christian Church, where she is able to use her background in education and behavior to help kids learn to trust and follow Jesus and better equip parents to disciple their kids. Julie lives in Franklin, Tennessee, with her husband and two sons.
As a young husband and father, I’ve made the effort to lead my family spiritually in various ways, like praying the Psalms and singing and studying together.
Sometimes, I do well; sometimes, I struggle.
But I inherited a strong spiritual family culture from my mom and dad, so whatever good I have replicated in my little family is what I have received by example from my parents, and from stories of friends, authors, and influencers, as well. I believe the Holy Spirit has guided me along the way, too.
Also, my dad asked me to join him, with Jason House of Seeds Family Worship, to publish a book through Zondervan that overlaps with this very topic: Dedicated: Training Your Children to Trust and Follow Jesus, which you can order from this site here.
All that to say: I’ve learned from great people, experimented with my own style of family spiritual practices, and tried various disciplines over the years.
While I care about the church as a whole, my greatest concern is for family units during this time.
So, I’ve distilled down what I believe are the most important insights and practices you can implement to lead your family through this time. Even more, if you’re a church leader, please pass this content on to your church so we can work together toward equipping our families to trust and follow Jesus together—even in quarantine.
The greatest barrier to spiritual leadership at home is fear:
We fear that we’ll do it wrong.
We fear that we don’t know enough.
We fear what our spouse will think.
We fear our own shortcomings: Singing? I can’t sing!
We fear not knowing know how to handle Scripture.
Let me say this, though: the God who expects us to lead our families spiritually, also gives us grace as we grow in leadership.
You don’t have to get it all right to start, but you do have to try at the start.
If we have faith to act, by his grace, our efforts will produce fruit.
Here are some practical tools I’ve found to be effective, broken down into daily and weekly practices.
*Note: Don’t try these all at once! I recommend you pick one daily practice and one weekly practice to start. Then, once you get those going, you can add others.
Read the Psalms together
The songbook of the church must include the Psalms. While we can rightly add new songs, the Psalms have always been the Christian’s prayer book. We must learn to utilize these prayers and songs.
So, I suggest you read the Psalms together as a family, just one Psalm a day.
My wife put together a one-page PDF of the Psalms (and Proverbs) so we can keep track of where we are in reading these together. You can instantly download this by clicking here. Once you download, print it off.
Keep this sheet by your kitchen table, for example, and read a Psalm or a Proverb (or both) every day at breakfast. Or perhaps dinnertime will work better for you.
Whenever you read a chapter, mark it off so you can track your progress.
Pray the Psalms together
This is different than just reading the Psalms. While we’ve been reading the Psalms as a family for some time now, on a recent retreat, I was convicted to not just read the Psalms, but also to pray them.
This is a very different practice; it’s a more personal experience for you as a leader, and it can be for your family, too.
Praying the Psalms takes you into the depths for which the Psalms were written.
When we pray the Psalms, instead of just reading them, we enter into the world of the Psalmists. We join their cries, praises, pleads, petitions—and even their teachings.
My conviction to start praying the Psalms came from a book I happened upon during the retreat I mentioned, at the Abbey of Gethsemani (in Kentucky): Praying the Psalms by Thomas Merton. Note: I highly recommend this short book.
As a family, name your personal high and low of the day
My mom used to do this with me before I went to bed … as a kid, of course. 🙂
Now, my wife and I practice this with our family, too.
It’s a great way to relationally connect with everyone and to share how you’re doing.
And it’s simple: Make it part of your nightly routine—and nighttime does work better than morning time—to ask, “What was your high and low of the day?” Everyone can share, but no one is obligated to share (especially if you have small kids, or your kids aren’t cooperating).
This is where it gets fun. Yes, singing together, at least for the not-so-talented singers like me, can be daunting.
But, you know what? I like singing with my family! Because it’s beautiful, and because it’s good.
We don’t do this as much as I’d like to, but we’re working on it.
We have a song list, which you can instantly download with lyrics here and print it off at home.
This should help you go ahead and start singing with your family right away (assuming you know some of the songs I listed on that sheet!).
Of course, it’s totally okay to make a playlist on Spotify—like of Seeds Family Worship, Rend Collective, or Phil Wickham, just to name a few—and just rock those songs with your family.
Hopefully, we all become families who naturally sing together, as God’s Word expects of us (Eph. 5:19). It’s a tall order, I know, but there’s life in it. This one is challenging for me, but it’s been so good to grow in this.
Say the “Our Father Prayer” together
You probably call it the “Lord’s Prayer,” but I prefer to call it the “Our Father Prayer” (because it’s not really the Lord’s prayer anyway). It’s Jesus’ prayer for us (while I’m sure he used it, too). Plus, it starts with “Our Father,” which is beautiful and important, so it’s fitting to name it accordingly.
Here’s my suggestions for families:
- Say this prayer in unison together
- Say it at the same time every day
- Use a translation that makes sense to you!
This may feel technical, but stick with me because it’s an important point: I want to offer you my translation of the “Our Father Prayer” because I think it’s faithful to the text and it also uses up-to-date phrases. I taught my family this translation because I’ve simply not found a translation that makes good sense in modern English. Phrases like “hallowed be your name” just aren’t natural for me, and that archaic (yet common) translation, actually misses the point for people who don’t know what “hallowed” even means: that our prayer is welcoming God’s holiness, not declaring his holiness or praising him. I have incorporated into my translation other nuances from this compact prayer that I’ve found to be important.
So, I suggest using The Message paraphrase.
Or a translation like mine:
You can download this print in various sizes—5×7, 8×10, and 11×14—here. It’s designed for you to print off from your home, frame, and place somewhere for your family to pray it together.
Feel free to use my translation here, or another modern-language translation that makes sense to you. Either way, pray it together with your family!
Ask open-ended questions together in prayer
To build off of the last point: When you finish saying the “Our Father Prayer” in unison, ask a family member (you should probably ask them before you start praying though) to pray a specific prayer out of one of the lines of the “Our Father Prayer.”
For example, you could pray (after you recite the whole prayer), “God, let your kingdom come. What does that look like in our lives today?”
Then, as a family, listen to what the Lord might say to you. If you’re really bold, you’ll lead your family to say out loud what you sense the Lord might be saying to you. Your out-loud words aren’t necessarily God’s voice to you, but it’s what you’re thinking about as you try to listen to the Lord. This is a helpful tool for teaching your kids to hear the voice of God, because you’re modeling what you do (assuming this is a practice of your own).
This leads to a bigger task, which is seeking the will of God. Prayer is a key that carries the potential to unlock some hidden pathways into God’s heart—especially for you and your spouse as you try to connect with the Lord together.
Prayer is vulnerable—there’s no doubt about that—but there’s nothing more powerful to me than praying to God with open-ended questions.
Dan Rather, the former CBS anchorman, reportedly asked Mother Theresa about her prayer life (The Other Journal: Prayer, 2013, ix):
“When you pray, what do you say to God?”
She said, “I don’t say anything. I listen.”
“What is it that God says to you when you pray?” Rather asked.
She said, “He doesn’t talk. He simply listens.”
Prayer is mostly about listening, I’ve come to learn. So, practice this on your own a few times, then try it with your family, too.
This becomes especially important when praying with your spouse about major decisions. You can ask God, “What do you think about this [insert major decision]?”
Then, just pause together in silence and listen.
If you’ve not done this before, you might be surprised at what you hear.
Use discovery questions to read Scripture
Do you struggle with knowing how to read Scripture with your family?
Let me share with you the basic framework of what is sometimes called the “Discovery Bible Study” method. The method is really best taught in person, but the basic framework of questions is simple to learn and to try:
Step One: Read a short passage of Scripture twice (e.g., Luke 15:11–32).
Step Two: Ask, “What does this say about?”
… the nature of God?
… the nature of people?
Step Three: Ask two follow-up questions.
1. How do you think God wants you to respond this week? (Think about any actions you could take.)
2. Do you want encouragement to follow through with that?
I suggest using this for shorter passages—like 3–20 verses (yes, that broad range is correct!)—but not more than 25–30 verses most of the time, since that becomes cumbersome to get through all the readings and questions.
Employ long-form Scripture-reading
This is an area of weakness for me, but I like the idea of it. Especially right now, since at the time of writing this, it feels like we’re just beginning the pandemic.
We all have plenty of time on our hands.
Try reading an entire book of the Bible as a family, in one sitting.
Start with James, or 1 John, or Ephesians.
Then, you can stretch yourself—and this is not something I’ve done yet!—and perhaps read an entire Gospel together. I’ve done this by myself, but not with my family. I’m a work in progress!
Doing so might take longer than one sitting, but perhaps in a whole day, with breaks, you could do it. It might only take an hour or two to read Mark, for example.
What a powerful experience.
All of what I’ve written so far are things I have practiced often, but this one, while I’ve done this on my own, is not something I’ve actually done with my family. So, I’ll let you into my secret ambition to try this with my family. Shhh, don’t tell my wife. 🙂
Intimidated by thinking about reading that much Scripture in one day? Well, that’s one thing you can do on the Sabbath, which is a corporate discipline that needs restored.
Intentionally keep the Sabbath
In college, I read a book called The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring the Sabbath by Mark Buchanan, and it changed my life. Lots of stories on that one, but the short of it is this:
In order to truly dig deep into the treasure troves of the Spirit, I believe—of all the Ten Commandments—we as Christians have grossly neglected this important practice above the other Ten Commandments.
Now, you might say, we’re New Testament Christians, so we don’t have to practice the Sabbath!
But I challenge such a conclusion.
Let me just say this, for now: Jesus and the New Testament writers do not tell us we should not practice the Sabbath. Instead, Jesus redefines what the Sabbath means. He and the other writers do not make it null and void. Instead, Jesus fulfills it for us like he does every other command (see Matt. 5:17). We must not reject it but live in the redefined Sabbath.
So, I believe we’re called to practice Sabbath even today, and Americans are usually not very good at this. I’ve heard from others, and when I lived in the Middle East, I observed first-hand how much we Americans often neglect rest for achievement and progress.
Here’s my recommendation to you—and I know this feels conservative and traditional—but it’s been one of the most life-giving practices I’ve experienced on a regular basis for the last ten years of my life:
Take a literal 24-hour period every week and practice Sabbath.
During this time don’t do your normal work activities.
And here’s the kicker: Don’t just relax, don’t just “veg”. Engage the Lord through prayer, Scripture-reading, and fellowship.
These three core practices—prayer, the Word, and fellowship—are the three core practices I see Jews in the New Testament practicing (Christian and non-Christian alike), specifically in the book of Acts.
You’d be amazed at how great this is.
Sabbath-keeping is not a new “law”; it’s a liberation from the tyranny of constant work.
Practicing it will liberate your family to truly rest, truly seek God, and truly connect with each other in the Lord.
Nothing’s like it, and if you do it right (by the overtures of God’s graces), the immense peace of God you experience on that day, will bleed into the rest of the week.
The Jews would say Shabbat Shalom (or “Sabbath peace”) for a reason. 🙂
During this time of quarantine, you may not be able to fellowship with anyone else besides your family, but make sure to gather your little flock together, even if you’re small in number. This will be such good practice for when we’re reintegrated back together again!
Another great thing about long periods of time together as a family is food.
The Old Testament texts emphasize the beauty of feasting together as the people of God, so while you’re with your family, make sure to enjoy food together.
Paul says, in the context of food in particular, “Everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks” (1 Tim. 4:4, NLT).
Plus, when we’re not able to have the Communion Feast with all the saints of our congregations, we must still feast as a family.
Jesus did it, too.
This important spiritual practice of feasting with your family can be a communion with each other, but also with God, as we remember not only what Jesus did but also what he will do: One day, when he returns, he will invite those who have trusted and followed him into the marriage supper of the lamb:
“Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’”
And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
That is a meal we can all look forward to enjoying together—no matter what happens on this earth.
One final word about leading your family in worship at home: don’t lose heart.
Three words of encouragement to close us out:
Just start learning how to do it.
If you’re scared or intimidated, that’s normal! Press through, and give it a go. Just start, and learn as you go.
Don’t wait until you have it all figured out. Use at least one of the tools I’ve mentioned above to give you a jump start.
Ask for grace from your family.
As you begin, ask your family for grace and patience as you learn how to lead.
Start now, and don’t give up.
Don’t wait; begin now! And don’t stop.
Until we meet again, Shabbat Shalom, y’all.