“It is a sin to bore people with the Gospel.”
—attributed to Howard Hendricks
What first comes to mind when you read these two words placed side by side—family devotions? Reluctance or intrigue? Frustration or encouragement? Guilt or joy?
If you’re like most busy Christian dads and moms today, the thought of personal devotions is challenging enough but less intimidating than that of family devotions. Many parents feel they should have in place a consistent time of strengthening their family spiritually, of bringing the Bible into their everyday family life, but often they just don’t know where to begin or how to continue with it.
- Am I supposed to preach or teach the Bible at home?
- What if I’m uncomfortable praying out loud?
- How can we keep family devos from becoming boring?
Often the biggest roadblocks standing in the way of a parent initiating a meaningful devotional time at home is what he or she assumes about such an experience. In fact, there are some common misconceptions about family devotions that can hold us back and sometimes keep us from even trying. We call these the Family Devo Myths.
Family Devo Myth 1: Family devotions have to be led just like a church service.
Says who? Those notions are more traditional than they are biblical. Jesus certainly was not bound by any rigid structures or imposed orders of worship in the manner in which he trained the Twelve. He incorporated an array of diverse object lessons and teaching tools to inspire and equip them. He generally preferred a parable to a podium, a conversation to a lecture, and a short story to a full sermon. And He used questions, lots of questions—fifteen in the Sermon on the Mount alone. Parents can do the same. The methods for instructing your family in Christ are quite simple, and there are multitudes from which to choose.
Family Devo Myth 2: Dad must always lead the devotional time.
After all, isn’t that the only way to be a “spiritual leader” in your home? Not necessarily. Perhaps more important is a dad who makes sure every week that a devotional time takes place, that it is led—whether by him or his wife. There may be weeks in which a husband, or wife for that matter, is simply overloaded at work. In those instances, we urge husbands and wives to ask your spouse to lead the family devotions. In many cases, you may choose to rotate weeks as a couple to share that responsibility.
Family Devo Myth 3: Everybody has to sit still and be quiet for family devotion times to be really effective.
Still and quiet are not synonymous with toddlers or teenagers, at least not ever in our home! Toddlers, for example, not only want to engage everyone around them conversationally, but they also want to touch and experience life in its many forms. The best learning experiences for children are those in which they are not only inspired to consider truth cognitively but also challenged to demonstrate and experience it physically.
There was actually a time in the gospels when the disciples wanted the children around Jesus to “keep their seats” and “remember their place.” Apparently, the kids were all clamoring to get close enough to touch Jesus and perhaps even sit in His lap. The disciples reacted to their “childish behavior” and saw it as inappropriate and bothersome; Jesus, in contrast, saw it as an irresistible invitation to influence their young lives and shape their souls.
In the face of the stiff and restrictive behavior of the “more grown-up” disciples, Jesus corrected them. He insisted, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14 niv). Then Jesus engaged the children wholeheartedly: “And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them” (v. 16 niv).
From Reading to Engaging
The first time we ever sat down with our firstborn two-year-old to share in family devotions, I (Robert) was determined that we would start at the beginning. We would begin with Genesis 1:1 and read through the Bible together. After all, I was the dad, the spiritual leader of the home, right? I had to take charge and lead the way for family devotions! Well—it didn’t quite go that way that day.
There I was, sitting at the kitchen table … just me, my wife, Pamela, my beautiful little daughter, and my Bible. What else did we need? I had reasoned that if we just read the passages “dramatically enough,” being really excited, expressive, and motivated, then Kristin, our daughter, would pay attention and eventually start comprehending it.
My wife had her doubts about my plan of attack. Still, I plowed ahead.
I had a lot to learn. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.
Between Kristin’s oblivious sound effects and my frustrated instructions—“Listen to Dad!” “Pay attention!” “Don’t interrupt!”—the tension escalated. We didn’t quite have our family devotions; rather, we had something more like our family emotions! Within five minutes I felt like a complete failure at leading devos and was ready to throw in the towel and go watch Jeopardy instead.
We soon discovered that making family devos more effective by simply reading differently was yet another myth. In order to get our little girl involved and interested in family devotions, we would have to do much more than merely engage her ears. The Word for her needed to be more than the read-out-loud print on a page; we needed to allow it to be demonstrated, to breathe, to talk, to walk, to live in front of her. So we started to act out stories in the Bible. We simply dramatized them, casting our kids as the characters. As the kids grew, they were able to play different parts in these little family devo dramas.
As it turned out, our daughter needed us to not just read the passage but rather wear it. Her eager eyes, inquisitive mind, and moldable spirit needed something more than Dad or Mom’s mere creative intonations. In a fresh way, the Word came alive for our family.