If I fancied myself an expert on family devotions, the fantasy couldn’t last longer than 24 hours. Because every evening my children happily remind me that I don’t know what I’m doing.
Nevertheless, because I’ve been asked twice in the last month where to start with family devotions, I’ll take a stab at it. My kids are 2 and a 4 so this is a recommendation for very small children. Someone else will have to write about the other age groups.
1. Use lots of object lessons.
My kids’ toys are the standard boy stuff. But they are actually ideal props for Bible stories. We’ve done the wise and foolish man with Lincoln logs, Samson destroying the temple made of blocks, and Jonah getting swallowed by a toy fish. Stuffed animals regularly roleplay for us how to be kind or resolve conflicts. Elijah calling down fire from heaven involved Mendlesson’s Elijah, a stack of pillows, a stuffed cow and lots of noise. The triumphal entry brought actual big branches into our house. Noah’s Ark had us on the couch with their entire collection of stuffed animals. There’s no end of things you can do, many of which are nearly indistinguishable from play. And why not? Listen to your child chatter as they play and you hear an active imagination pulling in elements of nearly everything they’ve heard and learned. Bring true stories into that world.
2. Ask good questions.
Kid’s love answering questions. Makes sense—it’s way more fun than just listening to a monologue. Granted, this one requires us to think. Bad questions are pointless. But good questions turn the excitement on like a light bulb. Try to avoid every question being a “yes” or “no” and see if the answer can be something besides “Jesus.” Depending on your kid’s age, asking “why” can really go far to get them thinking. Be prepared for shock—your kid’s will come up with some really impressive answers (and some goofy ones).
3. They can learn more than you think—with repetition.
The average 12 year old church kid knows a ton of factual content from the Bible. People saved as adults won’t catch up to that for years, if ever. But somewhere between birth and 6th grade every bit of that was learned bit by bit in Sunday school classes and classes. Don’t underestimate the power of a young brain. They can do it. Aim high.
The biggest trick, though, is thinking like a kid instead of an adult. You don’t need three points; just one big idea per day, repeated over and over. At the end of every daily Bible time I end with a one phrase statement I want them to learn. It’s as simple as “Jesus is really strong” or “God is in charge of everything.” Every family member says it out loud at least once.
As much as you can, replace ideas with things or even better, with actions. Instead of “Jesus rose again” have them act it out. They can lie down with their eyes closed, while everyone else “mourns” their death, until they stand up again, to much loud rejoicing. Instead of “sin has consequences,” how about “sin hurts”—as in just like that spanking they got yesterday. Where you can, concrete examples beat abstracts and chains of reasoning every time. Just repeat over and over. They’ll forget… and learn it again.
4. Use natural opportunities.
Moses talked of teaching the truth “diligently to your children” and talking about it “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise (Deuteronomy 6:7). The goal, in other words, is for my child to be literally surrounded by the truth. So when inevitable problems come up, take the opportunity.
Living in an apartment complex with unsaved families, my son was invited one night to watch a racy music video. Devotions that night was on the counsel of the wicked (Psa. 1). The day I had to pull him out after he fell into a pool we talked about salvation. And there are endless opportunities to talk about being kind to your little brother.
5. Have fun.
Most of all, do something. It doesn’t have to be a wonder. Family devotions could be simply reading one section of the Big Picture Story Bible or the Read-Aloud Bible Stories. That’s a tremendous start. From there you could try your hand at telling Bible stories, personalizing for your kids.
One of the biggest struggles here is that it’s suddenly bedtime and we forgot to pick a story. Don’t turn family devotions into one more suffocating burden for you and don’t stress out about preparing something big every night. If you enjoy it, they will too. Keep a bookmark in a bigger resource like The Child’s Story Bible to keep you on track. Take two minutes to scan the story beforehand and then retell it to your kids on their level. Just have fun with them!
There aren’t many things in life that government studies actually agree on. But I think I know of one. Everybody agrees that one of the best things you can do with your kids is read to them, talk to them and give them focused time. Life, work and reality limit what all of us can do. But 5-10 minutes of focused time telling a life-changing story from the Bible is worth it. Annualize that across an entire year (even with a lot of days left out) and you’re easily cracking 30 hours a year reading the Bible with your kids. What would that do for their lives and yours? Do it, enjoy it, love it.