Understanding Family Worship

Author: Terry L. Johnson

Publisher: Christian Focus

Year: 2022

All Christian parents want to raise their children to know the Lord Jesus Christ. The main challenge concerns how to do this. Terry Johnson addresses this vacuum of theology and practice by presenting a robust and practical framework for what family worship is, and how to implement it.

In Understanding Family Worship, Johnson collates the writings of key figures throughout church history on the topic. The end-product is this 90-page, no-nonsense primer which explains what family worship is, why we must do it, and how we can practically implement it in our families.

  1. Defining Family Worship

While the term ‘family worship’ will be foreign to many contemporary believers, it was not so for believers throughout history. Indeed, the family is set forth in Scripture as the central training-ground from which disciples are matured and sent out. Johnson writes:

…th[e] divine method of transmitting the faith from one generation to the next is by family-based instruction…The family is at the center of God’s kingdom program, Old Testament and New Testament, from Abraham to Moses to David, to the Apostle Paul, to today (pp. 42-43).

Commenting on Abraham’s example, Johnson highlights the father’s responsibility for ensuring that family worship happens:

[A man] must teach his children comprehensively the things of God…There is no school to which he may turn. There is no church to which he may delegate the responsibility. There is no Sunday School to which he may send his children (p. 29).

Family worship is a non-negotiable which we cannot palm off to any church or parachurch ministry, however valuable their supplementary roles.

  • Why Family Worship?

Standing on the shoulders of pastoral giants, Johnson presents the reasons we ought to engage in regular family worship. In addition, he presents the Biblical case as to why believers ought to take the practice seriously. He cites the great American Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards who saw family worship as central to discipleship:

Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church, consecrated to Christ, and wholly influenced and governed by his rules. And family education and order are some of the chief means of grace (p. 19).

Undoubtedly, the Reformers were the champions of family worship, and Johnson recognises this:

Luther’s marriage and family became the ideal which many followed. Home, wife, and children came to be seen as positive benefits, not grace-inhibiting burdens…Against the medieval tendency to either denigrate women as temptresses (like Eve) or exalt them as virgins (like Mary), the Reformers praised their divine vocation as wives and mothers (p. 12).

Thus, Johnson shows that a Biblical understanding of the nature of the family leads us to recognise the significance and primacy of family worship for the spiritual nourishment of its members.

  • How to do Family Worship

Johnson presents practical and tangible ways to implement the three core elements of family worship: 1) prayer, 2) the singing of praises, and 3) instruction from the Bible. Moreover, he recognises that it is crucial to develop family worship which is joyful, and pleasurable for both parents and children.

Additionally, he recognises that it is a daunting task to implement family worship, particularly if one did not grow in a home where it was practised, or where it was monotonous. Commenting on J.W. Alexander, he writes:

Alexander urges brevity in family worship, especially in relation to prayer. ‘Few things are more hardening and deadening in their influence,’ he warns, ‘than the daily recurrence of long and unawakening prayers’ (p. 51).

To do this, Johnson urges parents daily to be filled with the grace of the gospel, that their leading of worship would not be dull or burdensome, but lively and compelling.

The Bottom Line

For those living in Western societies which implicitly view children as a burden and careers as liberating, Johnson’s book is sorely needed. Understanding Family Worship addresses this void, not merely by critiquing our culture, but by setting forth a positive vision for how worship can be restored in the home.

Particularly for fathers, this book helps us grasp the magnitude of the responsibility God has entrusted to us. At the same time, Johnson gives us guidance as to why and how we can lead our families according to His Word.

No matter who you are, this compendious little book is a must-read as it radically challenges our cultural and evangelical presuppositions about the nature and role of family worship in discipleship. It will only take a couple hours to read, but it could yield a lifetime of fruit.

– James Jeffery