In my 8 years writing and speaking for Focus Press, I’ve spent a good deal of it researching and discussing the youth exodus from the church. The reasons for the precipitous dropout statistics we see are many, but one common factor that comes up over and over is the family’s Bible habits in the home.
In our 2013 survey here at Focus Press we found that 61% of church dropouts attended Bible class regularly growing up. Only 13% said that they rarely or never attended Bible class. Among that same group, however, 74% said that the Bible was opened in the home 1-2x per week or fewer. Nearly half (48%) said their families opened the Bible together at home 1-2x per month or fewer.
In other words, the majority of church dropouts were Bible class regulars. But, despite their regular attendance, their families did not have any kind of regular devotional habits in the home.
Biblically, that shouldn’t be the case in any Christian home. The men of Israel had the duty of teaching their families the law put squarely on their shoulders in Deuteronomy 6. In Ephesians 5:25-26 Paul expected husbands to emulate Christ and sanctify their wives “by the washing of water with the word.” A few verses later (6:4) he commanded fathers to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
The question we have to ask, then: what are we doing about it?
In his book on the what, why, and how of family worship, Donald S. Whitney shared a number of quotes from the history of Christendom that show just how highly family worship has been valued over the centuries. Prominent names from eras past talked about how the home should be a “little church” where the father must serve as the shepherd.* The one point that especially stood out to me came from The Directory for Family Worship, a companion to The Westminster Confession of Faith.
Church elders were charged for establishing accountability with the heads of household regarding their family worship habits. Failure in that area would be admonished privately. Refusal to change would lead to being reproved by the church. Further refusal would see him forbidden from partaking the Lord’s Supper.
These people weren’t just asking Christian men to maybe, possibly try to spend some time with the Bible that week, if they got a chance and it wasn’t too inconvenient. They took it seriously and weren’t going to let anyone show an attitude of indifference.
We might not go to the lengths The Directory for Family Worship outlined, but it’s hard to argue our approach is any more biblical than what they prescribed, and theirs certainly put priorities in the right place.
So… what expectations do we have of ourselves? What expectations are our congregations putting on men? And what are we doing to follow up and make sure that it’s getting done?
If you’re a Christian husband and/or father and your family doesn’t have a regular devotional habit, I challenge you to start one today. It won’t be free of challenges, though. Here are a few you may encounter.
- What? What do we do? How do we spend this time? Just keep it simple. Read a chapter a day, or work on a memory verse/section that you can discuss and challenge each other on through the week. Maybe take notes from the Sunday sermon or Bible class and go over the points through the week. Then, sing 1 or 2 songs. Say a prayer. That’s it!
- How? How do I teach my family the Bible? What if I don’t know enough? While we always want to be growing in our knowledge and ability to study, you don’t have to know much to start. Just pick what section of Scripture you want to start in and read it together. If questions come up, take the time to explore them through more study or through asking a fellow Christian.
- When? It’s hard to find an opportunity day in and day out to sit down and have unhindered discussions for 10-20 minutes. The more people there are in a house, and the older the kids get, the more difficult it becomes. But we still make time for what’s important. It’s unfathomable for us to skip work or for kids to be exempted from school because the schedule is busy. Long-term though, what’s more important – work and education, or growing your family’s relationship with God?
So, to get it done it’s going to take prioritization. Beyond that, I’d recommend consistency. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, but try to make devotional times the same time each day, whether it’s first thing at breakfast, after dinner, before bedtime, or whenever works on your schedule.
- The biggest challenge might be telling your family you’re going to start. If you haven’t done it before, or if it’s been sporadic, it might feel awkward. Just explain what you’re wanting to do and why it’s important. The awkwardness wears off fairly quickly after you’ve gathered everyone around the Bible a few days.
I don’t write these things as an expert with a perfect record, lecturing people that they need to be like me. I neglected study and worship with my family for a long time before starting, and since then I still haven’t been as consistent as I know I should be, so trust me when I say that I know it’s difficult. However, if we truly believe it’s that important, it doesn’t matter how challenging the task may be – we’re going to get it done.
Churches, part of faithfully teaching the word means helping each man understand his duty to his wife and children, namely that he is responsible for making God the center of their home. But don’t just put the responsibility on him and send him on his way. Be willing to answer questions and provide guidance. If needed, pair him with a minister, an elder, or an experienced Christian who can help him learn what to do.
Men, if you don’t have an established daily habit of gathering your family around the Word, please make plans to start today. Don’t view it just as a duty but as a privilege to bring your family before the throne of the holy God and introduce them to Him and all of the blessings of knowing Him. That decision will have both an immediate impact in the daily interactions in your home and an eternal impact on each soul.
Again, don’t get too overwhelmed. Keep it simple. Ask someone in your congregation for guidance and ideas. Pray about it. Then, get it done.
1 See Donald S. Whitney, “Family Worship.” Crossway, 2016. Kindle Edition. Pages 28-42.
*I know that many in the churches of Christ are quick to dismiss material from various denominations, but if you’re inclined to do so, shouldn’t that be an impetus to not let them take family worship more seriously than we do? In other words, if they had such high standards, why would we be content with less?