Interesting family worship is the single most important factor in helping kids to grow up loving Jesus and the Adventist Church.
This is one of the most useful findings of the Valuegenesis study, conducted in 1989 of more than 13,000 Adventist youth, their parents, pastors, and teachers.1 When I read a summary of the research, I told my wife, “If we don’t do anything else right as parents, we’ve got to do this right. We have to ask God to help us have regular and interesting family worship for our children.” At that time we had two young boys, ages 5 and 2, 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’s clear that interesting family worship is the single most effective way of reducing that risk.
During the past two decades our family has found a pattern that works for us, and it’s one that easily can be adapted to other families. Here are some of the key ingredients:
1Talk with the family about setting a time. Begin with 10 to 15 minutes. Find a time that is convenient for everyone in the family, and adjust it every year or so if needed. Because I was a pastor, we had family worship just before or after supper so that I could use the evening hours to meet with Bible study groups, visit with elders and church members, and plan soul-winning programs. We would spend about 30 minutes together for family worship, except for Sabbath. On Friday evenings it often would extend to 60 minutes in order to fully welcome the Sabbath.
2Have worship alone at first, if necessary. Sometimes the family is not ready to join you. In the early years of our marriage family worship with my wife and me was quite irregular. One day I asked her why it was so difficult for us to worship together, and she said, “Because every time we do, it seems like you’re trying to preach to me.” After giving that some thought, I had to admit she was right. In a very remarkable way God solved the whole situation—but that’s another story!
3Take turns leading out. I set up a rotation so each family member had a week to lead out in worship. When a child turned 3 years of age, we added their name to the weekly rotation. It’s amazing how allowing children to be in charge of worship makes it far more interesting to them. They would pick the stories, the songs, and the activities. We required only that some time during the 30 minutes we would hear directly from God through the Bible and talk directly to God in prayer. The activities they chose were often very creative:
Our daughter, Danesa, once decided, “Tonight we’re going to do a craft for worship.” She handed out sheets of paper and instructed each of us to draw a picture of Jesus’ second coming. As we all drew and colored, 4-year-old Danesa gave us pointers on how to improve our pictures.
One time Jacob said, “For worship tonight we’re going to play Bible freeze tag.” I wondered, Is that really worship? He then explained, “When you’re tagged, you’re ‘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 such as “Jesus wept” were quickly used up, and we had to start reaching into our memory banks for Bible verses that had long ago been “hidden” in our hearts.
When Dustin was in academy, he loved playing the guitar, so for his worships we often would sing for 28 minutes and then have a Bible verse and prayer.
4Have variety. Worship can include songs, Bible readings, memory verses, expressions of thankfulness, prayer, mission stories, character-building stories, and so forth. Throughout the years we have read countless stories from dozens of books purchased at camp meetings or from Adventist book centers.2 We’ve read completely through the Bible a number of times and have sung a huge variety of Christian songs. We’ve made lists of what we are thankful for; written our own songs; and prayed for our relatives, our neighbors, the community, missionaries, colporteurs, potential future spouses, pastors, teachers, pets, and “the burned biscuits Daddy forgot to take out of the oven because Mama was at Grandma and Papa’s house.”
5Invite others, especially your children’s friends and their families and your neighbors, to join you from time to time. This wonderful insight is shared in The 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. . . . All about us are youth who have no home, and many whose homes have no helpful, uplifting power, and the youth drift into evil.
. . . 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. . . . 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.”3
Not Without Challenges
We had plenty of challenges along the way. One night one of the kids was having difficulty 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. I then said, “You can sit in the next room quietly if you don’t want to see us, but you’re not allowed to go to your room, read, or play games while the family is having worship.” That evening he sat in the next room. That seemed to give him enough space to assert his independence, but it also let him know how highly his parents valued family worship.
Another night one of the boys prayed, “Dear Jesus, help my brother not to be so mean to me.”
“I’m not mean to you,” his brother retorted.
The other brother continued praying: “And help him not to interrupt me while I’m praying.”
It’s 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 my family.
Preparing for Jesus’ Return
During evangelistic meetings I share with attendees ways to begin or strengthen family worship, and 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 thank me for helping them to have stronger homes. I believe this is an important part of the preparation for becoming a part of the Adventist movement.4
Ellen G. White recognized the vital role that family worship plays in our homes. Again in The Ministry of Healing she wrote, “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. . . . The well-being of society, the success of the church, the prosperity of the nation, depend upon home influences.”5
Let’s heed this inspired counsel and prayerfully consider implementing a creative, enjoyable family worship time every day in our homes.
1 Peter Benson and Michael J. Donahue, Valuegenesis Report 1: A Study of the Influence of Family, Church and School on the Faith, Values and Commitment of Adventist Youth (Minneapolis: Search Institute, 1990). See especially pp. 17-19.
2 See www.adventistbookcenter.com.
3 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, pp. 354, 355.
4 See Seventh-day Adventist Church Fundamental Beliefs 11 (“Growing in Christ”) and 23 (“Marriage and the Family”), found at www.adventist.org/beliefs/fundamental/index.html.
5 White, p. 349.
Dan Serns has a passion for helping people find their place in God’s work. Currently he is senior pastor of the Richardson Seventh-day Adventist Church in Texas. This article was published March 24, 2011.