What’s the Secret to Family Devotions?

As Christian parents, we firmly believe that one of the most important jobs we have is teaching our four children about our faith. For centuries, parents regularly engaged in the practice of systematically teaching their children biblical truths, often from manuals of Christian doctrine called catechisms. But that formal way of educating our children fell out of favor gradually, and today, many Christian families don’t have any form of regular teaching to pass on to their children the essential elements of our faith.

Too many times, we expect the church to be the primary teachers of our faith and its scripture. Debb Hacket, a mom in Northern Virginia, has devotions with her two girls before school. “I’m not always consistent but I try. I do it so they head into school armed and reassured by the Word and in the knowledge that they are perfectly loved by Jesus, no matter what the day throws at them. It’s also a way to encourage them to make good choices and be kind to others.”

We have family devotions after dinner, as that best fits with our schedule of having different school start times and work obligations first thing. We sometimes have discussions based on topics that came up in school as well as viewing current events through the lens of Scripture.

Family devotions should be a top priority in our homes over sports, music or other lessons. What could be more important than teaching our kids about God? Here are some thoughts on how to get started or continue your own family’s devotions.

It only takes two. When we were first married, we made family devotions a priority. In addition to our own private devotions, my husband and I read through and discussed books like Henry Scudder’s The Christian’s Daily Walk as well as books of the Bible. Incorporating family devotions into the fabric of our lives together before we had kids made it so much easier to continue once we started welcoming little ones into our family. Don’t wait until you have kids to have family devotions.

Understanding grows. Another stumbling block to family devotions is young kids or babies. But you don’t wait until your kids are “old enough” to teach them about God. While you’re not going to reach for John Calvin to read to your toddler, you also don’t have to merely rely on sanitized Bible story books, either. Let your kids grow into devotions by giving them more meat than fluff.

Have a plan. If you rely on pulling together family devotions after dinner each night, you will soon find yourself floundering (and yes, I speak from experience!). Take some time to talk with your spouse about what you want to study together as a family. It might be a book on Christian living, or it might be a topic, like servanthood. But knowing what you’ll study each evening help you overcome the post-dinner (or breakfast!) lull.

Mix things up. You don’t have to do the same thing every time. We had a rotation in our home for several years, alternating memorizing Bible verses, learning catechism questions and answers (My article “Teaching Your Faith Through Catechesis” has details on how to use catechisms to impart doctrine truths to our kids), reading from the Bible, and singing a hymn together. Having different things on different days kept us on track and made the time together more fruitful. One family told me recently that they had a family brainstorming session and came up with 17 different devotion ideas or exercises. “After dinner, we have Alexa randomly select a number and we do whatever that devotion idea is.” Ideas range from praying (for leaders, missionaries, friends, etc.), reading from one of the kids’ devotionals, discussing the Sunday sermon, making a movie about a Bible story and writing a psalm.

Go for substance over flash. Make sure you don’t obliterate the message or truth you’re trying to convey by the means you’re conveying it. In other words, don’t let flashy methods obscure the essential truths. Sure, have fun with devotions but keep your eye on the what you’re trying to impart instead of the how.

Start small. Begin with one day a week. Aim for consistency on that, then add a second, then a third. Soon, you’ll be up to five, six or seven days.

Allow for life happens. Sometimes, you’ll miss a day here or there, but pick up the next night and move forward. Don’t let a particularly crazy week derail your devotions entirely.

Include prayer time. We started a practice several years ago of rotating who would pray for the family when devotions were over. We would each have a chance to give a prayer request, then the child or parent would pray out loud for the requests. This has been very precious to us as parents, hearing our children pray for one another and for us.

Above all, don’t let your own lack of knowledge or feeling of inadequacy stop you from teaching your children about your faith. You are their mom or dad—you are already well-equipped to share the Gospel and its truths with your kids.

Until next time,
Sarah

Sarah’s Favorite Family Devotional Aides

Want to have family devotions but aren’t sure what to read? Here are a few of my favorite family devotion resources.

The Life of Christ for the Young by Richard Newton. All ages. Charles Spurgeon called Richard Newton “The Prince of Preachers to the young.” You’ll see why in this three-volume work that shows children (and adults!) the work of Christ from Genesis to Revelation. Don’t let the nineteenth century language stop you from adding these volumes to your devotional library. My children were captivated by the stories and truths that shine throughout this work.

The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos. Up to 13. This retelling of the Bible doesn’t dumb down scripture. Catherine Vos uses biblical stories to show kids what’s really important—what’s going on in their own hearts—and how God used circumstances to bring about his ultimate plan of salvation through his son, Jesus Christ.

Great Bible Question & Answer Book. Up to 13. There are a lot of versions of this type of book, but this is the we used as a family to go through the Old and New Testaments in question form. Our kids loved reading the questions aloud, asking for answers, then reading the correct answer from the book.

Bible Memory Verses. All ages. My pastor put together a list of verses that represented the major theme in each book of the Bible. For the Old Testament, there’s roughly one verse for each book. For the New Testament, there’s approximately two verses for each book. We’ve found this very handy when thinking about which Scripture to have our children know by heart. Contact me for a PDF of these verses.

Developing Family Devotions

By Karen Whiting

My daughter Rebecca remarked, “My earliest memories all center around family devotions. They were my favorite times.” Devotions became the heart of our family life. Through the years I realized family devotions provide many hidden benefits.

Devotions build cognitive and communication skills. Reading the Bible enriches vocabulary and builds reading comprehension. Discussions help children think analytically. They learn to share ideas.

Family bonds grow strong with devotions. When we faced the devastation of Hurricane Andrew and $99,000 in damages, my children faced it with courage. We studied Nehemiah as we rebuilt, which covers both rebuilding the wall and the hearts of the people, and that bridged our needs too.

How we actually do devotions and keep going? There’s no set format but generally you’ll share scripture or a passage and discuss it. It’s more fun with hands-on fun added. We used a lot of materials and developed our own. When something didn’t work, we changed direction.

During our children’s elementary years, we included drama, science experiments, games and cooking. The object lesson format worked well. We invested in good materials.

As the children hit teen years, they wanted to dig deeper with adult studies on topics relevant to their lives. We used concordances, a biblical cyclopedic index and other resource materials. We responded to their needs.

What can you do? Here are some tips to make devotions work for your family.

  1. Buy a family devotional, journals and appropriate Bibles for each child.
  2. Be enthusiastic. Make a treasure hunt to let children find the new materials.
  3. Set some ground rules, like no phones or technology during devotions.
  4. Schedule time. Start slow, with 15 minutes twice a week and expand that when your family finds what works well.
  5. Use an incentive if needed. We stated, “Since God’s word is sweeter than honey, we can’t have dessert if we don’t have time for the best sweets.”
  6. Involve your children. Praise children for contributing. Include activities that appeal to each child, such as drama for the outgoing child, maps for the quiet thinker, and hands on fun for the kinesthetic learner. If a child states something incorrectly, don’t scold. Ask them to read the scripture out loud and talk about what it really means.
  7. Bridge time between devotions. So, if you studied Bible people who cooperated, plan a family project that takes cooperation and chat about how you’re doing something related to what you studied.
  8. Capture the memories with some photos or a family spiritual scrapbook. Post the photos in your home to show you value devotions.
  9. When things don’t work, discuss what can be changed or improved.
  10. Remember that children really want their parents to invest time in them and they will respond when you make sure the devotions are positive times and not lectures.
  11. Pray for God’s Holy Spirit to guide you.
  12. Be consistent.

I pray that you’ll find family devotions valuable.

About Karen Whiting
Karen Whiting is an international speaker, former television host and award-winning author of 25 books for women, children, military and families. She’s also a mom of five (including two rocket scientists) and a grandmother. She writes to help families thrive. She has written more than 700 articles for more than 60 publications. Karen writes for Leading Hearts, The Kid’s Ark, a radio network. Awards include the Christian Retailing 2014 Best Award, children’s nonfiction (The One Year My Princess Devotions) and the Military Writer’s Society of America Gold Medal (Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front).