Dr. J. Ligon Duncan has written about family worship and so I passed the question along to him for his advice. He kindly responded with this excellent perspective:
My own answer is you start family worship as soon as possible, as soon as one is married, and continue it after children come along, no matter how young the children are (and the younger the better). The point is not for the youngest children to be able to comprehend (or even to sit still during it!). The point is impress upon them, by paternal example the priority of God and his word in all of life. They learn this, even if they comprehend nothing in the reading, praying and singing, simply by seeing a father pausing day after day to read the word with his family.
Here is what I said in Give Praise to God (P&R):
“Now there is a whole host of practical questions and problems that come to mind once we determine to begin family worship. How long should it last? It should be regularly brief, as little as 10 minutes when the children are very young. Gradually, it will run a little longer as they grow older and conversations strike up. Don’t kill it by trying to go too long. Pace yourself. Regularity and repetition is the key. When should we do family worship? When it works – morning/breakfast, suppertime or bedtime are the three most common times.
“… There are dozens of potential hindrances: a lack of discipline, a lack of sense of the importance of family worship, a lack of experience of family worship in one’s own upbringing and more.
“But above all, there is the enemy of idealism. You have this picture of a Puritan family sitting around the table attentively and reverently reading the whole book of 1 Chronicles at a sitting, singing half the Psalter from memory, and praying for ninety minutes, and then you look around your table and your wife is rolling her eyes, your two-year old is throwing left-over spaghetti around the kitchen, your eight-year old is making faces at her sister and your teenager would rather do calculus. Don’t let the gap between the ideal and the reality stop you! Those unattentive children will grow up and thank you for persevering, and the memories of a father who loved them enough to make that kind of an effort will etch a permanent affection in their hearts.”
J. Ligon Duncan
First Presbyterian Church
Excellent advice! Thank you Dr. Duncan. For more insight on family worship see Duncan’s chapter in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship (P&R: 2003). Duncan lays the foundation for family worship – Scripture reading, song and prayer – and then addresses several other common hurdles to success.