Maybe you’ve heard the term “Family Devotions” before but don’t really know what it means. Or maybe you’ve tried them before but haven’t been able to maintain a routine. This article is meant to give you both inspiration and practical ideas to get started—or start over again—with family devotions in your house.
What are they?
Family devotions means setting aside time to focus on our children’s spiritual development. For some families, this may mean reading from a devotional book, including the scripted prayer, without further discussion. For others, it may mean following an age-appropriate Bible study with questions for each family member to answer. For still others, it may mean an open conversation about a Bible passage and prayer time. The format and depth will be dependent on your child’s developmental stage, as well as your own faith’s maturity.
Why do family devotions matter?
We want to give our children all the tools they need to later go off on their own and succeed. That includes everything from tying their shoes to cooking a meal. For a Christian parent, this also includes teaching our children how to study the Bible on their own. If we neglect to teach our children how to engage with God’s Word, we’re not equipping them for a lifelong relationship with the Lord.
In Deuteronomy 6:6-7, God commands His people to pass down their faith to their children, and research shows that just taking your child to church with you is not enough. A parent is the most influential role in shaping a teenager and young adult's religious faith.
The other big reason to do family devotions is for your own relationship with the child. When applying the lesson to daily living, both children and parents can share honestly (but appropriately) what God is teaching them or what their prayer needs are.
Tim Challies wrote in his article on the topic some other benefits he has seen by maintaining consistent family devotions.
How often should I have family devotions?
There seems to be an assumption that family devotions must happen daily. I commend any family who makes this a daily habit. However, I also think there’s some room for grace here, since, unlike the concept above, there is no direct biblical commandment as to how often we have family devotions.
At a minimum, I believe, to be effective, family devotions should at least be weekly, since it provides an important regular touchpoint for children to discuss spiritual topics.
When children can read fluently, you might also consider a schedule where they read on their own daily, and you come together as a group weekly to discuss and pray. This helps children to develop a personal daily habit but also creates regular opportunities to engage with the adults in their home.
Consistency is key. If meeting daily, do it at the same time of day as much as possible—perhaps breakfast, dinner or before bed. If weekly, find a day that works and stick with it. As with most things we want to be disciplined at, we tend to keep up with things that are scheduled consistently.
What age can they begin?
Parents and caregivers could start as early as they please, just being aware of age appropriate limitations. Here’s an article about family devotions when the kids are young.
What age should they end?
Until your child has moved out of the house, there’s a good reason to do devotions together. Maintaining family devotions during middle or high school can be challenging for multiple reasons: your schedules may not align well, or your teenager may be going through a developmental stage that makes them question what they’ve been learning their whole life. But as our children get older, the issues they encounter become more adult-like, and having time to guide them Biblically through those issues is critical.
Where can I find good resources for devotions?
If you belong to a denominational church, you might start with your denomination’s online bookstore. This article by Melissa Kruger on The Gospel Coalition has suggestions for family devotions for various ages. This article by Ann Marie Mo on the EnCourage blog recommends a book that studies The Heidelberg Catechism.
Finally, I have a free downloadable pdf available on my Resources page that suggests a variety of ways to approach the content of your family devotions.
What if my family members really hate this idea or my family has special needs?
If your spouse doesn’t agree with your faith, or your children are obstinate or have special needs, descriptions of the “perfect family devotions” may feel discouraging and impossible. Hang tight. I plan to come back with separate articles for you with information from experts. In the meantime, I encourage you to pray daily for a softening of hard hearts and for opportunities to guide your children spiritually even in the absence of a scheduled devotion time.
What if I keep failing?
It's important not to get legalistic about family devotions. There is no tally sheet in heaven where hash marks identify how “good” or “bad” you are at family devotions. Set a schedule that you believe will work for your family. However, don’t beat yourself up each time you miss your goal. If you’re unable to meet the schedule you would like, take some time to honestly assess what’s hindering that.
If your family is overscheduled and there are activities or habits that should be eliminated in order to make time for the Lord, then do it. If laziness is hindering your consistency, ask God for the strength and perseverance to overcome that obstacle.
If situations beyond your control are making this impossible, then I repeat the advice above: pray daily for your family, being prepared to resume regular devotions together when you’re able.
If you’re struggling to get this off the ground, you might find it’s easiest to begin a regular family devotion time around one of our holy days—Easter or Christmas. As churches focus on Lent and Advent, it would be a natural time to introduce the idea to your family that you want to be fully prepared to celebrate the holiday in worship.
If you have children ages 12-15 (give or take a year!), check out my devotional book The Advent Investigator, which combines Biblical and historical knowledge of the birth of Christ with personal application and prayer time. You could use it together daily throughout December, or give it to your children for their personal devotions and discuss some big ideas each Sunday during Advent.
Any day is a good day to start this habit in your family.
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