Updated January 25, 2023
“If you have no desire to worship the LORD, then choose today whom you will worship…But I and my family will worship the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15 NET)
Nearing his death, Joshua appealed to the Jewish people to put away false gods and worship God. Amidst Israel’s pervasive idolatry, Joshua made it clear. His family will worship God.
The Hebrew verb עבד1 in Joshua 24:15 often connotes worship. This word is used when God told Moses, “when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.”2 God had delivered the Israelites from Egypt for worship.
What about us? Following Joshua’s example, are we leading our family to worship God?
To gain a better appreciation on the blessings of family worship, we will cover the following.
- Biblical examples of family worship
- History of family worship
- Content of family worship
- Benefits of family worship
- Helpful suggestions for family worship
1. Biblical Examples of Family Worship
During the time of Genesis, family worship was practiced. After exiting the ark with his wife, his sons, and their wives, Noah “built an altar to the LORD... and offered burnt offerings on the altar” (Gen 8:20). Noah thanked God for saving his family by offering a family sacrifice. In response to Noah’s leading of family worship, “God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’” (Gen 9:1).
Abraham and Jacob
Abraham requested Isaac to travel with him to Moriah to worship God together as a family. Isaac was not alarmed by this request since this was unlikely the first time he had worshipped God with his father. The only difference that Isaac noticed on this occasion was the absence of a lamb typically used for their burnt offering. (Gen 22:5–7) This account suggests that Abraham had established a pattern of family worship with his son.
When Jacob was divinely instructed to go to Bethel and worship God, he commanded his family, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments” (Gen 35:2). Before in Genesis 32, Jacob sent his family away before his private meeting with the angel of God. Now in Genesis 35, Jacob commanded his family to remove theirhousehold idols, change their garments, and purify themselves so they could worship God together with him as a family.
Moses and Joshua
In Exodus, God instructed the Israelites to prepare for their first Passover meal saying, “On the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household” (Exod 12:3). God required each family to obtain its own unblemished lamb. In its inauguration, Passover was observed by each family. The meal had to “be eaten in one house” (Exod 12:46) and not taken out of the house. The Israelites ate and worshiped with their immediate family in their separate homes.
Nearing his death, Joshua pleaded with the Israelites to put away their false gods and worship the true God. “Now obey the LORD and worship him with integrity and loyalty... If you have no desire to worship the LORD, then choose today whom you will worship... But I and my family will worship the LORD” (Josh 24:14–15 NET). The Hebrew verbעבדused three times in Joshua 24:15 can connote worship in a religious sense. Before his death, Joshua gave a final exhortation to his fellow countrymen to follow his example of obedience and worship God with their families.
1 Samuel introduces a pattern of family worship when Elkanah led his family with a “yearly sacrifice” (1 Sam 1:21). David’s family followed a similar pattern. David asked Jonathan to tell King Saul, “David earnestly asked permission of me that he might run over to Bethlehem, his city, for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family” (1 Sam 20:6 NKJ). David’s alibi was believable because David had likely worshiped God on a regular, scheduled basis with his family who still resided in Bethlehem. David continued that tradition when he became head of his family. James Alexander, referencing 2 Samuel 6:18–20, demonstrates, “David, after public services at the tabernacle, where he blessed the people in the name of the Lord, returns to bless his household.” David led worship with his family.
Job, “blameless and upright” (Job 1:1), also led family worship. “His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sistersto eat and drink with them. When the days of feasting had completed their cycle, Job would send and consecrate them, rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all” (Job 1:4–5).
Commenting on verse 5, Robert L Alden explains, “Job would summon his children and ‘purify’ or ‘sanctify’ them. It simply may have been a prayer of absolution or some ceremony in conjunction with the sacrificing that the next clause describes.” Job served as a priest and worship leader with his family.
Further elaborating on Job’s role as priest, Elmer B. Smick argues, “Job, like the
patriarchs, functioned as a priest for his family. He took his sacrificial obligation seriously, viewing it as expiation for sin. To Job this included even sins of the heart, for he made special offerings just in case his sons had secretly cursed God.” In the Old Testament, many of God’s faithful followers served as worship leaders for their families: Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joshua, Elkanah, David, and Job.
2. History of Family Worship
Many throughout church history have written on the blessing of family worship: Tertullian, John Chrysostom, Martin Luther, John Knox, and Jonathan Edwards.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Brethren, I wish it were more common, I wish it were universal, with all Christians to have family prayer…In many, very many cases, I fear there is such a neglect of family worship that it’s not probable that the children are at all impressed by any piety supposed to be possessed by their parents.”3
Another man wrote, “Nothing will spur a father toward godly, spiritual discipline in his own walk with Christ more than leading his family in worship.”4
The Westminster Standards state, “If he be found still to neglect family worship, let him be, for his obstinacy in such an offense, suspended and debarred from the Lord’s supper, as being justly esteemed unworthy to communicate therein, till he amend.”5
I’m not suggesting a legalism of family worship, but Christians should understand that our predecessors took family worship seriously. Over the last 2000 years, Christ’s followers have desired to model family worship and biblical instruction found in Scripture.6
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)
3. What Is Family Worship?
“Family worship consists of prayer and praise, reading the Scriptures, and edifying conversation.”7 It is a reserved time led by the head of the household when the family gathers together to worship God. In my home, our family worship (yours may differ) has three components.
A. BIBLE READING
- In the setting of worship, Paul had commissioned Timothy: “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim 4:13).
- Leading Israel, Ezra committed to the public reading of Scripture “from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand” (Neh 8:3).
- Teaching often accompanies Bible reading. God directed Abraham to teach his children, saying, “For I have chosen [Abraham], that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice” (Gen 18:19).
- Later in Deuteronomy, God extended this command to all Israelites: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut 6:7).
How you read and teach the Bible may vary. With young children, you may read a few verses from a simplified Bible translation.8 You may choose a read from a children’s story Bible.9 With my family, I read one to two chapters of Scripture. Afterward, I’ll give a brief explanation.
Another option to consider is going through a catechism. For younger children ages 3 to 9, I recommend the “Catechism for Boys and Girls.” For my school-aged children, we are studying the Baptist Catechism.10
Don’t pressure yourself to prepare a formal lesson. If a family member has a question about the text, try to answer it. If you don’t know the answer, research one to share during your next family meal or worship time.
- In the Old Testament, Jeremiah writes, “Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not know You and on the families that do not call Your name” (Jer 10:25 LSB). God expects Christian families to call on Him in prayer.
- God also desires believers to be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph 6:18).
- Paul reminds Timothy that God’s creation is good, “for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:5)
The second component of family worship is prayer. Our family prayer time is short, but we allow every family member to pray aloud. I try to keep our prayers terse but not shallow. I also try to pray incorporating what our family had just read.
“Sacred song is an instituted means of giving expression to every high religious emotion.” (James Waddel Alexander)
You read correctly. Our family sings. The Bible is replete with exhortations for worshippers to sing.11 The Psalmist declares, “Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous.”12 Songs of worship are heard not just in church gatherings but in tents and homes. Wherever and whenever the word of God is taught, it is appropriate to worship God through song. (Col 3:16)
"The Lord is to be worshiped daily by the singing of psalms. God is
glorified, and families are edified." (Joel Beeke)
When I first told our family that we would sing, my family groaned. They had good reason. No one in our family sings well. They did not want to hear any cacophony.
We purchased the Hymn of Grace hymnals for each member of the family including Luke, our 3-year-old son. By the end of the first week, singing had become the favorite part of our family worship. With our new hymnals, we could choose to sing over 300 different songs. Each song is packed with God-exalting doctrinal truth. The hymnals also facilitate singing in harmony.
Early on, to play music as we sing, we purchased a Bluetooth speaker.13 Now we would gather around the piano and have myself or one of our children play the musical accompaniment. Try not to stress about the musicality but rather focus on the corporate singing. What bliss to hear each family member singing in unison.
4. Benefits of Family Worship
- Family Worship brings glory to God.
- Family Worship reinforces the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Family Worship brings Christian joy to the home.
- Family Worship deepens family relationships.
- Family Worship promotes quality time with our children.
- Family Worship models godly examples to our children.
- Family Worship fosters personal and corporate worship.
5. Helpful Tips for Family Worship
Richard Cecil wrote, “Let family worship be short, savory, simple, tender, heavenly.”14 Start by singing one or two songs. Read a short Bible passage, and keep your prayers concise. Aim for 10 minutes when you first start. You can always extend your time when your family is willing and ready.
Some families may add additional activities like catechism, Scripture memory, and the reading of other books like Christian biographies. To keep our time brief, we have focused on just Bible reading, prayer, and singing.
Better to have 10 minutes of regular family worship than an occasional hour. My family worships God together in the evening after dinner. Recently, we designated our living room away from the meal table as our dedicated place for family worship. After singing, we read a chapter in the Bible. We then read the corresponding commentary from the Family Worship Bible Guide. Finally, we end our time with group prayer.
Make sure you select a time that works for your family. By incorporating family worship into your regular family’s schedule, you will less likely set family worship aside because of life’s busyness. The goal is regularity and consistency, not perfection.
Family worship is not recreation. Worshipping God is joyous, but it should be respectful, dignified, and solemn. We are meeting God with a spirit of adoration. I want my family to feel a sense of awe, fear, and reverence when we worship.
Special Challenges to Family Worship
It is usually assumed that family worship would be lead by a Christian father. In families where the father is not a believer, the mother will need to assume this role. Mothers will need wisdom and discernment to lead with humility and respect with the father still present in the home.
Each child in the family may have a different goal in family worship. The goal for young children is not understanding of all matters of doctrine found in hymns and Scripture. A more “modest” goal is just showing them the importance of family worship (and God).
Most young children can pray and sing or at least listen. Allow younger children to read when possible. To maintain the interest of the older children, involve them in the Bible teaching and in the leadership of prayer and music worship.
Special Needs Children
Having children with special needs participate in family worship is possible and beneficial. Depending on your child’s abilities, cater your family worship to your child's strengths. Use visuals, and act out the Bible story. Shorten components of your family worship if your child has a limited attention span.
Final Thoughts on Family Worship
- If your family already devotes itself to family worship, protect it. Guard it. Don’t let worldly busyness distract you from the primacy of worshipping God.
- If you are inconsistent with family worship, rekindle your desire and commit yourself to worship God continually as a family.
- If your family has never engaged in family worship, begin today. If you are a newlywed, start now. To empty nesters, it’s never too late to commence.
- If you are single, prepare to be a family worship leader. Pray for a spouse who will worship God with you in the home.
- If you are the only Christian at home, pray for the salvation of your family. Remember that “missions exist because worship doesn’t.”15
Don’t think of family worship as an obligation. Rather, consider God-centered worship with your family as a unique privilege and a sweet blessing.
Further Study on Family Worship
- Family Worship 101
- Worthy of Family Worship
- The Blessing of Family Worship [Book]
- Family Worship [Book]
- ESV, NAS, and NIV translate עבד with “serve.” NET and CSB use “worship.” ↩︎
- Exodus 3:12 NAS95 ↩︎
- C. H. Spurgeon, “A Pastoral Visit,” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 54 (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1908; repr., Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim, 1978), p.362–63. ↩︎
- David Wegener, “The Father’s Role in Family Worship,” Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Vol. 3, Issue 4, 1998. ↩︎
- The Directory for Family Worship, Westminster Standards, Preamble, August 24, 1647 ↩︎
- Genesis 22:6-7; Deuteronomy 6:4-7; Joshua 24:15; Job 1:4-5; Psalm 78:1-8; Ephesians 5:25-26; 6:4; 1 Timothy 3:4-5; 1 Peter 3:7 ↩︎
- The Directory for Family Worship, Westminster Standards, Article II, August 24, 1647 ↩︎
- New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) ↩︎
- “The Child’s Story Bible” by Catherine Vos ↩︎
- Benjamin Keach’s 1695 Baptist Catechism and the “Catechism for Boys and Girls” are both found in “Teaching Truth, Training Hearts” by Thomas J. Nettles. ↩︎
- 1 Chronicles 16:9, 23; Psalm 30:4; 33:3; 47:6-7; 68:4; 105:2; Isaiah 24:14; Jeremiah 20:13; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; James 5:13; Revelation 5:9-10; 14:3 ↩︎
- Psalm 118:15 ESV ↩︎
- Accompaniment music at https://worship.lifeway.com ↩︎
- Gilbert, Josiah Hotchkiss. Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers, 1895, p.471 ↩︎
- Piper, John. Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions, 2010, p.15 ↩︎