The single most important factor in helping kids grow up loving Jesus and the Adventist church is Interesting Family Worship.
That is probably the most important and useful finding from the Valuegenesis study, conducted in 1989 of over 13,000 Adventist youth, their parents, pastors and teachers.[i]
When I read a summary of the research about 1990 I told my wife “If we don’t do anything else right as parents, we’ve got to do this right. We have got to ask God to help us have regular and interesting family worship for our little kids.” At that time we had two little boys, ages five and 2 ½, and a couple years later, a little girl.
Children can choose to reject the God of their parents. But out of the 41 factors considered in the Valuegenesis study, it is clear that Interesting Family Worship is the single most effective way of reducing that risk.
The more we can teach these principles to the families in our congregations and communities, the more likely we will see the promise fulfilled that “I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”[ii]
During the past seventeen years our family has found a pattern that works for us, and if you like, you can adapt it to work for you and the families within your circle of influence. Here are some of the key ingredients–
- Talk with the family about a time. Begin with 10-15 minutes. Find a time that works for all the family, and adjust it every year or so if needed. Since I was a pastor, we had family worship for many years just before or after supper so I could spend the rest of the evening starting Bible study groups, making visits with elders and planning soul winning with my church leaders. Our family worship has grown to be 30 minutes each evening and 60 minutes on Friday evening to welcome the Sabbath.
- Have it alone at first if necessary. Sometimes the family is not ready to join you. When we first got married family worship with my wife and I was quite irregular. One day I asked her why it was so difficult for us to have it and she said, “Because every time we have it, it seems like you are trying to preach to me.” I said “No I’m not.” But the more I thought about it the more I had to admit she was right. I struggled as a young pastor to know what to do about that. Finally I was impressed to be consistent in my own worship and let God change me and help my wife build trust in my spiritual leadership in the home. In a very remarkable way God solved the whole situation (but that is another story!).
- Take turns with who leads out.I set up a rotation so each family member had a week to lead out in worship. One week I would lead out, another week my wife would lead out, and another week our oldest would lead out. When a child turned three years of age we added their name to the weekly rotation. It’s amazing how letting children be in charge of worship makes it far more interesting to them. They pick the stories, the songs and the activities. We only require that some time during the 30 minutes that we hear directly from God through the Bible and talk directly to God in prayer.
- When it was Danesa’s turn for worship as a little child she told us “Tonight we are going to do a craft for worship.” My wife and I had never thought of doing a craft for worship. She handed out sheets of paper and told us to each draw a picture of Jesus coming again. As we all drew and colored little four year old Danesa gave each of us pointers on how to improve our pictures!
- One time Jacob said “For worship tonight we are going to play Bible Freeze Tag.” I thought “Is that really worship?” Jacob went on to explain “When you are tagged you are frozen until you say a Bible verse from memory. And you can’t use a verse that has already been used.” We raced around the house getting frozen and unfrozen. The easy texts like “Jesus wept” were quickly used up and we had to start reaching into our memories for Bible verses that had long ago been “hidden” in our hearts!
- When Dustin was in academy he loved playing the guitar so much that for his worship we would sing for 28 minutes then have a Bible verse and prayer.
- We had plenty of challenges along the way. One night one of the kids was having a rough time behaving. “You can’t make me stay in worship!” he said defiantly. I told him that one of the expectations of being a part of our family was to be at family worship. “You’re forcing religion down my throat!” he retorted. “You can sit in the next room quietly if you don’t want to see us, but you are not allowed to go to your room, read or play games while the family is having worship,” I explained. He sat in the next room that evening. Evidently that gave him enough space to assert his independence but also let him know how highly his parents valued family worship.
- Another night one of the boys prayed “Dear Jesus, help my brother to not be so mean to me.” “I’m not mean to you” his brother responded. The other brother continued praying “And help him to not interrupt me while I am praying.”
- It is hard to gather for family worship and still hold on to a hard heart. Regular family worship has had a softening influence on every member of the family.
- Through it all, family worship became the main “point of contact” for the entire family each day. It was the spiritual leadership laboratory for our children. When our boys come home for Christmas break from college this year they will ask for their week to be in charge of worship and we will be happy to give it to them!
- Have variety– songs, Bible reading, memory verse, thankfulness, prayer, mission stories, character-building stories, etc. Through the years, during family worship, we have read My Bible Friends, The Bible Story Books, Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories, Great Stories for Kids, The Forever Stories, Sam Campbell stories, Christian biographies, mission stories and dozens and dozens of other books from Camp Meeting specials and the Adventist Book Center.[iii] We have read completely through the Bible a number of times. We have sung a huge variety of Christian songs, from Cradle Roll songs (e.g. all fifty verses of “Animals, animals, Jesus made the animals”!) to camp songs to praise songs to hymns. We have made lists of what we are thankful for, written songs, and prayed for our relatives, neighbors, community, missionaries, colporteurs, potential future spouses, pastors, teachers, pets, “owies” and “the burnt biscuits Daddy forgot to take out of the oven because Mama is at Grandma and Papa’s house.”
- Invite others, especially your children’s friends and families, and your neighbors, to join you from time to time. This wonderful insight is shared in Ministry of Healing-“Our homes should be a place of refuge for the tempted youth. Many there are who stand at the parting of the ways. Every influence, every impression, is determining the choice that shapes their destiny both here and hereafter. Evil invites them. Its resorts are made bright and attractive. They have a welcome for every comer. All about us are youth who have no home, and many whose homes have no helpful, uplifting power, and the youth drift into evil. They are going down to ruin within the very shadow of our own doors. These youth need a hand stretched out to them in sympathy. Kind words simply spoken, little attentions simply bestowed, will sweep away the clouds of temptation which gather over the soul. The true expression of heaven-born sympathy has power to open the door of hearts that need the fragrance of Christlike words, and the simple, delicate touch of the spirit of Christ’s love. If we would show an interest in the youth, invite them to our homes, and surround them with cheering, helpful influences, there are many who would gladly turn their steps into the upward path.“[iv]
Whenever I share some of these principles of Interesting Family Worship I have some who say “Where were you 15, 20 or 30 years ago when my children were young?” My response is, “Don’t focus on the losses or sadness of the past but the possibilities of the future. Consider what families you can share these things with and make a difference where you are at now.”
During evangelistic meetings I share with the people how to begin or strengthen family worship. One title I have used is “True worship, False worship and Family Worship.” After spending some time looking at the destructive nature of prophetic Babylon we look at what the Bible says about faithfulness to Jesus in all areas of life. Then I share briefly how family worship can help prepare family members, the church family and the community for the soon return of Jesus. As I greet people after the presentation they are thanking me for helping them have stronger homes rather than getting angry at me for exposing the deceptions of prophetic Babylon! I believe this is an important part of the preparation for becoming a part of the Adventist Movement.[v]
We didn’t need to wait for the Valuegenesis research to know that Interesting Family Worship is a high priority. Eighty five years before (1905) we were given this clear counsel and these helpful insights in the book Ministry of Healing chapter #28 titled “Ministry of the Home.”[vi] They can still help us as we begin or add variety to our family worship this month–
“The restoration and uplifting of humanity begins in the home. The work of parents underlies every other. Society is composed of families, and is what the heads of families make it. Out of the heart are “the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23); and the heart of the community, of the church, and of the nation is the household. The well-being of society, the success of the church, the prosperity of the nation, depend upon home influences.“[vii]
“It is by the youth and children of today that the future of society is to be determined, and what these youth and children shall be depends upon the home. To the lack of right home training may be traced the larger share of the disease and misery and crime that curse humanity. If the home life were pure and true, if the children who went forth from its care were prepared to meet life’s responsibilities and dangers, what a change would be seen in the world!“[viii]
“The mission of the home extends beyond its own members. The Christian home is to be an object lesson, illustrating the excellence of the true principles of life. Such an illustration will be a power for good in the world. Far more powerful than any sermon that can be preached is the influence of a true home upon human hearts and lives. As the youth go out from such a home, the lessons they have learned are imparted. Nobler principles of life are introduced into other households, and an uplifting influence works in the community.”[ix]
“Our time here is short. We can pass through this world but once; as we pass along, let us make the most of life. The work to which we are called does not require wealth or social position or great ability. It requires a kindly, self-sacrificing spirit and a steadfast purpose. A lamp, however small, if kept steadily burning, may be the means of lighting many other lamps. Our sphere of influence may seem narrow, our ability small, our opportunities few, our acquirements limited; yet wonderful possibilities are ours through a faithful use of the opportunities of our own homes. If we will open our hearts and homes to the divine principles of life we shall become channels for currents of life-giving power. From our homes will flow streams of healing, bringing life and beauty and fruitfulness where now are barrenness and dearth.”[x]
Blessings to you,
[An abbreviated version of this article was published in the Adventist Review on March 24, 2011]
[i] Project Affirmation: Valuegenesis: Report 1: A Study of the Influence of Family, Church and School on the Faith, Values and Commitment of Adventist Youth; Peter Benson, Ph.D. and Michael J. Donahue, Ph.D.; Search Institute, Minneapolis, Minnesota. October 1, 1990. See especially pp. 17-19
[ii] Malachi 4:5-6 NIV
[iv] Ellen White, Ministry of Healing, pp. 354-355
[v] See Seventh-day Adventist Fundamental Beliefs #11- “Growing in Christ” and #23 Marriage and the Family found at http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/fundamental/index.html
[vii] Ellen White; Ministry of Healing, p. 349
[viii] Ibid, p. 351
[ix] Ibid, p. 352
[x] Ibid, p. 355