Nicole and I have found a little structure and routine to be very helpful to our family of six. The spiritual life of our family is anchored in family devotions. Here’s how we do it.
As far as when, we do family devo most school days; not every and not on the weekends or holidays. If that sounds loose to you, good – then I came across as I intended. We are not rigid about doing it every single day. Many weeks we get in five out of five days, some weeks we get in three or four, some weeks just two. If the kids stayed up late to watch the Super Bowl, we aren’t getting them up early for family devo the next morning. If Colton and I went to a weeknight Rocket’s game, there isn’t family devo the next morning. You get my point…most school days. There is no intentional reason we skip Saturday, we just do. On Sunday we have Lord’s Day worship as a family.
What works best for our family is in the mornings before the day gets going. I get up early and have my personal time with the Lord. Then I go through the newspapers I scan each morning. Then I wake up Nicole and the kids and we all meet in the living room for family devo.
As far as how long, we’ve worked our way to a total of 15-25 minutes for family devo and family meeting (more on that later,) depending on how much traction the conversation gets. Notice I said we worked our way up to 15-25 minutes. When we started, it was five minutes max. Our oldest is eleven years old and has grown over the years into being ready for more, as has the nine year old. On the other hand, the five year old has about 2-3 minutes of attention span (ongoing sidebars between Nicole and Chloe are routine.) It is a balancing act with the age spread between our two pairs of kids.
As far as structure, it is pretty simple: there is a brief teaching time (5-10 mins), group discussion (5-10 mins), and then prayer (3-5 mins.) I mix up the teaching time content by “seasons.” For a season I’ll do major stories of the bible to help them grasp the big picture of the bible. Then I might switch to talking about international missions for a while. Then we’ll switch to spiritual disciplines: prayer, Scripture reading, evangelism, Scripture memory, fasting, giving, serving, the ordinances, etc. We’ll switch to doctrine and theology: creation, the Trinity, the nature of sin, atonement, substitution, the second coming, etc. Then we might do a season on the church and talk about membership, pastors, deacons, unity, corporate worship, the sermon, small groups, etc. Then we might do some of the parables, then some of the miracles. The beauty of the bible is that it is a never ending menu of delicious nourishment for one’s family. If there is a really big current event in the news and Nicole and I think teachers will be talking about it at school, then we will address it in family devo to make sure we, as their parents, shape their thinking about the current event.
Regularly, there are heavy doses of “what is the gospel?” We explain the gospel for salvation to them over and over and over. Even though three of them profess to be saved and one is even baptized, we are relentless. We do group presentations where the four of them together have to explain the gospel to us. We do timed gospel presentations to see who can explain the entire gospel for salvation from start to finish in less than two minutes. We share false gospels with them, such as works-based gospels or cheap grace gospels, to see if they can discern the errors. We make arguments as to why the gospel can’t possibly be true and watch their responses. All of these are different approaches for Nicole and me to discern their understanding of the gospel. Lots and lots of gospel.
Prayer time is pretty simple: everyone prays briefly. When the kids are younger, we give them one thing to pray for related to that morning’s discussion. This teaches them to pray through bible teaching they receive; a necessary discipline for head knowledge to become spiritual fuel. We also give them one evangelistic item to pray for – one of our neighbors, a people group, an extended family member, a missionary, an NEHBC missions initiative, etc. The older two have reached a point they can discern some aspect of the morning’s discussion to pray about and who they want to pray for evangelistically.
The key to the whole thing is being loose and flexible. Many mornings will not go as you hope nor planned. If everyone is having a grouchy morning, shut her down. If the conversations shifts and you feel it is a good shift, just go with it. If you make it too rigid and strict, they will hate family devo. If your “teaching time” isn’t getting off the ground, just laugh and say, “well, that didn’t make any sense, whatever, we’re done” like I do, and be done with it.
The benefits to family devo are enormous. Not only does it establish a regular pattern of God’s voice in our home, but we have found it heavily influences all of our time together as a family. The kids are now used to the six of us sitting around discussing things and they even enjoy it. They are learning to discuss topics and issues properly and to think critically, both of which are lost arts. This will really pay off when they are teenagers. Family devo has also made spiritual conversations a normal pattern in our family. It is now inevitable that conversations in the evening and on the weekends will turn to spiritual matters.
We wrap up family devo every time with “family meeting.” After we pray we go right into reviewing the entire day and any logistics that need to be worked out, and then a brief overview of the rest of the week. We have found it to be very helpful to our children if they all know what everyone is doing that day and how all the logistics will work out. Anyone can ask questions, seek assistance with a matter, or brief the family on something they think is important. Family meeting lasts 5 minutes, maybe ten minutes on a really long day. The long term benefit to “family meeting” is that it has become the culture of our home that the family unit is more important than any one individual and that we all have a responsibility to do what’s best for the family as a whole.
How do we keep it up? It is simple: you have to be intentional as the parents. If you are a dad; it is on you. Unity requires intentionality and effort. If you are waiting for your family to be excited about sitting down for family devo or if you are waiting for them to come and ask for it, it isn’t going to happen. You are there to shepherd your family.
Here are some key phrases to guide your efforts: be sincere and earnest; shoot for effectiveness, not impressiveness; start small; have a long-term view; be loose and flexible; laugh a lot–if you are never silly, you are doing it wrong.