‘Religion was established first in families, and there the devil seeks to crush it… The family is the training ground of Church and State; and if children are not well instructed there, both will fail. Families are societies that must be set apart for God just as Churches; and parents have just as much responsibility for the souls in the family, as pastors have of the Churches.’
updated from Thomas Manton’s ‘Epistle to the Reader’ in The Westminster Confession of Faith 1643
I was privileged to be brought up by parents who established a pattern of daily Bible-centred family worship. In turn I saw it as part of the function of our family time around the word to give our children wisdom for the world.
This article includes reflections from three sets of parents with varying convictions as to their children’s education, each seeking to fulfil their scriptural responsibilities. Then there is an account from my son with his own retrospective take on our family devotions.
God requires regular family worship (Deut. 6:1-7)
Our children need training to equip them to stand in a hostile world. Everyone benefits when there is daily sharing together around God’s word and at the throne of grace. The family members are knit together in love and unity. Our churches gain children and young people who know how to behave.
It requires positive effort and planning. Do we spend more time, energy and money developing our children’s potential in sport, music or academic matters than we do in teaching them to love and use their Bible, how to pray and apply biblical principles into daily life?
Pray for your children before they are born and forever afterwards. Pray with them from birth. Husbands and wives should be in the regular habit of praying aloud together. This simply continues with baby present. Give gentle guidance as the children learn to pray too. They can learn that God hears and answers even a child’s prayers. When you pray in turn, don’t be too long, but also don’t be over childish. Let your children hear you be honest with your God and real in prayer.
Choose a Bible passage to work through. Ask questions if appropriate. Let the children question you as well. Show them God has given us a book which is relevant in today’s world. Train them to effectively apply it to all areas of life. Memorise a verse or passage together. Young children have memories far better than we imagine. When children are young, teach helpful songs that reinforce what you are studying. As they get older, teach psalms and hymns.
Catechisms are a great way to express the foundational truths we hold to. They are backed up with Bible verses, which can also be learnt if you wish. There’s a children’s one, a Baptist one or the shorter catechism to choose from. All can be found online or in books.
Colette Harding is a member of Milnrow Evangelical Church, Lancashire.
The parent’s privilege
For us it is really important that we come together as a family to worship and to learn and pray together. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says we should teach our children diligently, when we sit in our house, walk by the way, when we lie down and when we rise up.
In other words ‘family worship’ for us is something that happens continually and involves reading the Bible together, praying, and teaching our children biblical truths, allowing them to talk through how these things relate to their lives and our life as a family. For us it’s vital too that our children see and hear us praying and reading the Bible, to experience the personal relationship between God and His people.
Our set time together is usually at breakfast. It is a joy to be able to teach spiritual truths to children and watch them develop and grow in their understanding and their faith. It is the best thing about being a parent.
Nichola Napper has three children under ten. She is a member of St Mellons Baptist Church, Cardiff.
‘Clare and John’
On most days in the morning we read a portion of the New Testament using the New Children’s Version, and think about how we can apply the lessons learned to our lives. After we’ve all prayed we sing along to various Christian songs which have excellent lyrics set to contemporary music.
Each evening we alternate between the following: reading a portion of the Old Testament, discussing and applying it, then praying; read a chapter from the Chronicles of Narnia and discuss some of the key incidents and illustrations; read a chapter from the superb children’s version of Pilgrim’s Progress and discuss – it was amazing to see the children figuring out how the illustrations pictured even them at times in their young walks with the Lord; or I tell the children a ‘Clare and John’ story.
‘Clare and John’ stories are ones that I’ve made up involving children that bear a remarkable similarity to each of my five children who end up in sticky situations and call upon the Lord for help and find deliverance; or discover that they have some unfortunate character trait for which they end up asking the Lord for forgiveness and help to overcome it by His Spirit; or evangelise their school friends and discover various responses to the gospel amongst their peers. The list of possible stories is endless! In short, ‘Clare and John’ stories have become a creative tool to respond to heart issues we see emerging with the children and to point them in the right direction as well as a way to guide them in how to apply scripture in their daily lives.
However, we’re not under the law in this household – today we’ve just got back from a week camping and so all five children have gone straight to bed after their bath!
Dan Owen is an elder at Newtown Evangelical Church.
Learning from good habits
Family life is often full to the brim. Growing up as a Curnow, it was no different. Meal times were often squeezed in where possible. When I wasn’t at football training, my sister was at an after school club, or there was a church meeting to rush off to mid-pudding. Plenty of reasons not to have much quality family time!
But it was obvious amidst the busyness of life that time together as a five was paramount; each day where possible we would sit down together after a meal time to read the Bible and pray together.
As a younger family we read through Pilgrim’s Progress, and we read through the Bible together so many times that it makes me feel old when I think about it! These times would typically last for no more than fifteen minutes, but it was their regularity which was key. Through it I learnt the full picture of the God’s word, how to understand passages of scripture and the importance of prayer.
Being honest with myself, there were many times where I totally switched off during the Bible reading or prayer. But these family devotions played a major part in my conversion as a nine-year-old. I remember feeling like we were trudging unnecessarily through the minor prophets, when the passages gradually became real and relevant to me. I really became convicted of my sin and how hopeless I was as a human being without God’s saving grace. Becoming a Christian did not happen instantly for me, but I believe God used our daily family readings to start transforming my heart and turning it lovingly towards Him.
Continuing this routine helped to prepare me for my departure for the ‘greener grass’ of life at university over two years ago. Jesus is Lord of everything, including family life, and stopping the day in this way taught me just what that means.
Huw Curnow is studying physics at Southampton and a member of St Mellons Baptist Church, Cardiff.
Collated and introduced by Tim Curnow, a member of the editorial board of The Evangelical Magazine.