The Anyabwiles and family worship (interview)

Series introduction: Family worship doesn’t save; only Jesus can do that. But I’m convinced that the practice of coming together as a family to worship God in the home is sorely needed in our homes today. Because there’s no specific to-do list in the Bible about family worship, I’ve struggled this year to work out what it looks like for us when I’m leading my own growing family.

To encourage myself and others about this, I’ve interviewed a few families that Cheryl and I respect and look up to, learning from them what they do, what they don’t, how they struggle, how they persevere with intentionally leading their families to know and love Jesus Christ.

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A couple of months back, Thabiti Anyabwile (Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands) and his family came over to New Zealand for our church’s STAND conference.

Joe explained in the conference report:

The Anyabwiles came to New Zealand about 10 days before the conference. This gave them some enjoyable family, holiday time and an opportunity to see a small part of New Zealand. (You can read some of Thabiti’s reflections on his blog herehere, & here.)

Sure, Thabiti is a popular blogger, preacher and author in reformed evangelical circles. But in hanging out with them during meals, and chatting over conversations between conference sessions, the impression I got was that they’re a regular family like rest of us… with similar concerns, hopes, and desires for their children to grow up with their own faith in Christ.

Pastor Thabiti kindly offered to share, as he put it, “words from a fellow struggler”.

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1. Tell us a bit more about your family.

My wife and I have been married 22 years. We have three children, ages 15, 13, and 6.5.

2. Could you describe what happened the last time you worshipped with your family?

At our last time of “family worship” (a term I find incurably burdensome!), we finished our meal together, talked about our day and prayed together.

In discussing our day, I try to ask different questions to each member of the family. “What was most surprising about your day?” “What was least enjoyable about your day?” “Did you have any occasion that made you pray today? What happened?” “How were your friends today? Is there a way we can pray for them?”

The mix of questions usually leads to rich back-and-forth and engagement, a lot of laughter, and not a few things mom and I need to note in our teenage daughters’ lives. We then prayed and blessed the children individually.

If you subtract all the little rabbit trails our discussion takes, it probably took us about 15 minutes (though the rabbit trails have prizes of their own!).

3. Did your parents practise any sort of family worship when you grew up?

I was raised in a nominally Christian home. We never had family worship. That’s one thing that contributes to my difficulty in being consistent and creative. We had no models and I’m usually plagued with thoughts like, “Am I doing this right?” In God’s grace, we continue with fits and starts and we give ourselves permissions to start over or try something different every so often.

4. So how did you come to find it important? What convinces you to persevere with it today?

Well, I think I’m mainly convinced by the portions of Scripture that call me to teach my children the faith and promise God’s blessing on their lives. In that sense I’m motivated by obedience and hope in God.

But depending on what you mean, “family worship” can be from the pits of hell! If it’s perpetually guilt inducing, drudgery, leads to self-righteousness, or provokes the children to wrath then it’s not actually worship. So I want to be cognizant of both my motive and the effect of our times together.

And I’ve also found that too much emphasis can be placed on “family” in family worship. Sometimes it’s better to have spiritual exercises with the members of the family individually. My six year old boy is in a totally different place than my 15 year old girl. With my boy, a great account from the Old Testament engages and grips him. My girl needs her daddy’s ear and prayers. But it’s all with members of the family and it’s worshipful when we’re on our game.

5. Depending on what you mean… so is “family worship” the best term to use then?

On the one hand, “family worship” is a fine term for training our children. Yet it’s not a biblical term or a required term, so we might call it a variety of things. Whatever works for you. And if “family worship” puts you in a rigid, formal frame of mind, it might not be a useful term.

Also, the term can suggest that this is something we do at a set time for a set period rather than something we’re to always be doing as we “walk by the way” (Deut. 6). Perhaps it’s helpful to remember that “worship” is never used of a NT time of gathering but used of our entire lives. Worshipers is what we are and therefore what we’re always doing.

6. Have you done these things the same way since you started?

No, definitely not! We’ve changed everything several times over!

If I could start over I would have fun play a more active role. I would work harder to transfer to the children the idea that they should enjoy God. For children that means play, creativity, activity and the like—not just sitting on the couch while we read or pray. I want them to learn to focus and sit while we read and pray, but I also want their imaginations and hearts engaged in a developmentally appropriate way.

I was so eager to “give them the word” that I failed to stop and think, How will they best receive the word? And I suspect that if our times of spiritual play were fun for the kids, then it would be fun for me, too. And the truth is, I need more fun in my life!

7. How do you guard the time to worship together as a family?

Well, this is an ongoing battle. Between travel and the schedule of the church, we realistically set a goal of some form of spiritual exercise 3-5 nights a week. The easiest way we’ve found to preserve the time is to link it to meals. When we’re good about having our meals at the dinner table, we’re usually pretty good about family devotions.

That being said, having meals at the table has been a struggle because my wife and I grew up with really different habits around meal time. My family gathered in the living room around the television, plates on laps, laughing and talking with the show. Her family had dinner about the same time every day, sat at the table, and mostly talked to each other. We’re a cross-cultural marriage in that sense. So we’ve gone back and forth between the two. Her way is better for our family and for spiritual devotion.

8. Do you use the Bible, or other books?

Both. We’ve used different things depending on interest. Right now, we’re reading The Action Bible with my son. I love that Bible! And so do my teenage daughters. Wonderful graphic novel level illustrations, faithful to the text, and engaging story telling.

At other times we’ll also include a chapter from a classic like The Chronicles of Narnia. We have a great time reading different characters in different voices and talking about the lessons we gleaned from the readings.

9. What advice would you give to parents who don’t have anything going yet?

For getting started, don’t forget to make it fun and engaging. “Finishing” the Bible or the study isn’t the main thing. Engaging the family’s heart is. Deuteronomy 6 seems to envision lively conversation about the things of God during the ordinary course of life, not a staid curriculum and forced routine.

Think about the natural anchoring points of your family’s routine (which will be meals for most people), remove the distractions (which will be some kind of screen for most people), and have fun talking about the things of the Lord.

10. Any tips for those of us struggling with leading family worship?

If you’re finding it difficult to keep going, take a break. Have a week where as a family you cook dinner together and watch a movie. Let each member of the family determine the menu and choose a movie each night of the week. Let the bad experience perish in the fun of a “free” week.

Meanwhile, think about how to make it fun and natural when you resume the following week. Try something different. There are no rules here. If you aim at doing something fun for the family, you’ll find it easier to keep going.

And by the way, if you’re starting this with teenagers, don’t be thrown off by that look of great disinterest or boredom. They’re listening. They’ve simply trained their faces to make you think they’re not. Hang in there. They’re training you in perseverance, patience and hope. That’s why God gave them to you! You’ll reap if you don’t faint.

11. Could you recommend a go-to resource for folks to find out more about family worship?

The best resource is your family! Ask them what interests them spiritually. Even if someone says “Nothing,” you’ll be talking about spiritual things! Listen for what they enjoyed and what they thought failed. Make adjustments and keep engaging and listening.

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Other posts in this series:

  1. “Here the reformation begins” – my introduction
  2. The Richardsons and family worship
  3. The Davisons and family training
  4. The Fleeners and family worship

 

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