Family devotions are notorious for giving migraines to parents and causing children to groan. Formal family devotions at home can range from breakfast Scripture readings, bedtime prayers, or even “sermonettes for Christianettes from the dinette.” But even these can come across as irreverently artificial, canned, and hokey, further creating a gap between church and home. Christian parents realize the value of time at home spent with God — but how do we do it? Family faith-building need not always be structured to be effective. Whether the setting is formal or impromptu, the purpose is a conscious effort to strengthen communication, to experience communion, and to build community.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 suggests the best way to meet these goals. Moses says that “these commandments…are to be upon your hearts.” We are told to “impress them on [our]children.” How? By talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” WOW! Here’s movement; crafts (gee, we should even write on our doorframes — get out those stencils!); conversation; and creative, hands-on teaching at its best — all to be done with our children.
Activities that are natural yet directed, routine yet imaginative, personal yet spiritual, nurture faith at home. A spiritual home will produce a spiritual child who matures into a spiritual adult. Here are specific activities to help parents build their children’s faith at home.
- Worship Preparation — Prepare for formal “at church” worship before you leave home. Wake up earlier than your
kids so you’re not rushed. My mom diffused the Sunday-morning-rush stress by waking us up to the soft sounds of Christian music. Music sets an emotional tone wherever it’s heard. It worked for King Saul, and it worked in our madhouse also.
- Prayer— Have you ever passed by someone broken down on the side of the road but you just couldn’t stop? Why
not pray aloud for that person? Or when you spot an ambulance or squad car speeding to the scene of a problem, pray for the people involved, their safety, and their relationship with God. You’ll find that children fight over who gets to pray. Another time for prayer is just before kids run off to school. My wife commits our children to the Lord and challenges them to stand up for the things that are right and against the things that are wrong.
- Bible Reading/Study — Read a key verse at
breakfast. Read or tell a Bible story in your words before bedtime.
Bible reading should be a social, bonding opportunity, not a dry
discipline devoid of purpose. Remember: Short passages for “short
people,” long passages for “long people.”
- Meals Together — Mealtime is family
together-time. Even if you regularly don’t eat meals together, you
can still create activities that nurture faith during mealtime.
Assign table-setting chores and the before-dinner prayer to
different family members. My daughter loves to have everyone pray
with her when she prays. Encourage conversation. I like to ask
open-ended questions at the table. Ask each person, “What’s the
best thing that happened to you today? the worst?” Instead of
asking, “What did you do at school today?” get specific: “Who did
you play with at recess? Who did you sit with at lunch and what did
you talk about? Who was your friend today at school?”
- Family Fun — Television, the newspaper,
Nintendo, shopping, and the telephone can interrupt or effectively
eliminate opportunities to build faith. Pull the plug on these
things. I like to join my daughter in cleaning up her room. She and
I have a great time singing the cleanup song and sharing. Or set up
craft or coloring books on the kitchen table as kids get home from
school. This will give them an opportunity to be creative and will
give you an opportunity to talk with them. Board games have become
one of our family’s favorite activities. Around the Monopoly board,
we dream about what our homes will look like someday on the inside
- Celebrations — Birthdays in our home are
all-day events. One child is special, and we emphasize that. On
holidays we try to focus on giving to others. We encourage each
child to learn the value of giving by picking out a gift for
siblings. On Easter we decorate together and invite another family
to help. We tell the stories that make the holidays meaningful and
focus on others in practical ways. Traditions are powerful ways to
bond and cement what’s important. My grandfather would tell the
story ” ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” each Christmas morning.
Before packages are opened, we read the Bible’s account of Jesus’
- Vacations — The best part of a vacation
is the memories it gives family members. Planning, packing, sitting
in a car for hours on end, sleeping in a strange bed, and having
unexpected breakdowns produce stress and conflict. But no sooner
have we returned from a vacation than we’re planning the next one.
Why? Because of the intense togetherness of these excursions. My
wife and I were surprised to learn that our children prefer driving
to flying. Our children (11, 8, and 5) prefer driving because they
have our undivided attention for hundreds of miles. To a child
those dull stretches of highway look great when you have your
parents all to yourselves. We play road games, stop for treats
(a.k.a. potty stops), and have crazy conversations. Prayer for the
journey is standard, but what about prayer at the restaurant so
others will know that God is important? What do you do on Sunday
away from your home? Try sitting together in a different church for
the first time — maybe even a church from a different
- Service Projects — It’s been wonderful to
hear my kids pray each night for the last four years for Mariamu in
Zimbabwe. We sponsor this little girl and pray specifically for her
food, water, education, and family. We feature her picture
[rominently in our home. She has literally grown up with us.
Visiting convalescents’ homes as a family, helping a new neighbor
move in, bringing lunch to Habitat for Humanity workers, or
assisting in a park cleanup gives kids the valuable experience of
seeing faith with works.
- Sacrificial Giving — Allowance time is a
perfect opportunity to demonstrate sacrifice and giving. Set up
three cups: one for God, one for saving, and one with your child’s
picture on it. Allow children to determine who gets what, and help
them stick to it. Let their savings be for a specific project. Turn
in their “God” cup once a month at church (once a week for younger
- Rest — Spiritual nap-time? Sometimes a busy
family needs a break. God knew we would fill our time with busyness
and commitments. Rest doesn’t come naturally, so God had to command
that we take a break. A family pause is an ideal time to regroup,
reconnect, and recharge.
- Family Mission Statement — Stephen Covey
introduces an important concept in the life of a family by
encouraging families to come up with mission statements. Covey
writes that there’s a “supreme value in the process of long-term
thinking and planning in building strong families. Deciding as a
family what your worthy purposes, worthy visions, and worthy values
are will unite your family in ways you’ve only dreamed of. Your
mission statement will embody principles everyone has participated
in choosing and that everyone has committed to live, both publicly
and privately.” In the process of writing your statement, everyone
gives input into the “big picture” of your family. God is placed at
the center of your home not by chance, but because you’ve purposed
it to be that way.
- Family Conference — We have family night
every Saturday. We take turns planning an activity. If it costs
money, then Dad has to be consulted to see if it’s in the budget.
We also have three or four family conferences each year to assess
our assigned chores and responsibilities, to evaluate family
nights, and just to connect in a formal way.
- Conflict Resolvers — Sometimes siblings can
get on each other’s nerves. What better way to redirect tension
than to think about the good qualities of one another. Whenever
someone in our family is mean-spirited to another family member,
the offender has to say or write four things he or she appreciates
about the other person. This makes us thankful for one another and
tenderhearted. It’s also fun to watch the other person take in the
compliments. We conclude with all of us chiming in a good quality
Times when we have to discipline our children become great
opportunities to share God’s forgiveness and unconditional love.
Last night my two boys had a water fight in the basement with their
friends. They were in their rooms awaiting the punishment, and
their contrite hearts melted my wife and me. They were truly sorry
and said, “I wish I could take it back.” What a wonderful time to
share the forgiveness that resembles God’s forgiveness.
Conflicts, as with all family situations, provide clear
opportunities to put flesh to Jesus, put teaching into practice,
and make Christ the center of our homes and therefore our
— Keith Johnson is a children’s pastor in Eden Prairie,
Excerpted from Children’s Ministry Magazine.