Whitney, Donald S. Family Worship. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016.
Donald Whitney has earned a reputation as a first-rate author who writes sound and practical books for the church. As the author of the standard evangelical book on the spiritual disciplines (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 1991), Whitney has unceasingly called the church toward daily pursuit of Christ through worship. One year removed from his helpful and much-needed call to Christians to make the actual words of the Bible central to their praying (Praying the Bible, 2015), Whitney’s latest project again provides a helpful and much-needed call for the church. In Family Worship, Whitney makes the biblical and historical case for family worship, provides practical advice on the “how to” of family worship, and successfully motivates his readers toward actually implementing family worship in their homes.
Family Worship consists of an introduction and five brief chapters. After introducing his theme, Whitney explains why he has written the book. He believes that “even in most of our best churches, most of our best men do not even pray with their wives (and children if they have them) much less lead them in ten minutes or so of worship as a family” (13). Just in case the reader doubts the importance of the practice being advocated, Whitney then uses chapter one to make the biblical case for family worship. Whitney here shows convincingly that, not only do we find examples of family worship being practiced by key biblical figures like Abraham and Moses, we also find clear calls to parents (particularly fathers) to teach their children about the ways of the Lord (Dt 6:4-7; Ps 78:1-8; Eph 6:4; 1 Tim 3:4-5). God expects parents to be the primary means of passing knowledge about himself from generation to generation. Chapter two follows nicely by providing examples of family worship from church history.
After laying the biblical and historical foundations, Whitney uses the final three chapters to teach readers how to do family worship. In chapter three, he advocates three practices that should play a part in family worship: reading the Bible, praying, and singing. He also provides some additional suggestions to be used only if time permits: catechizing, memorizing Scripture, and reading other books. At the conclusion of the chapter, he encourages readers to remember to keep it short, do it regularly, and be flexible. Chapter four answers practical questions from unique situations. Here Whitney answers the following questions: What if the father is not a Christian? What if there is no father at home? What if the children are very young? What if there is a wide range of ages among the children? What if there are no children at home? Finally, chapter five concludes the book by exhorting readers to begin today.
I love practical books for the church that are short and to the point, and Family Worship is just such a book. When the goal is to motivate busy families to add a vital activity to their busy lives, the last thing those families need is a long, drawn-out book. Whitney makes family worship accessible to the masses by keeping the chapters short and practical.
Chapter four is the most unique feature of the book. Whitney understands that you cannot write a one-size-fits-all book to the Christian family because every Christian family is unique. What about single moms? What about homes with unbelieving husbands? Chapter four provides biblical and sensible answers to these types of practical questions. There is truly something for everyone in this book. Most importantly, this chapter effectively takes away the excuses that so many of us begin to formulate when we are confronted with a failure we need to address. Whitney says, “We tend to think that we have unique problems and our flesh wants to excuse us from family worship on the false grounds that our situation is an exception” (57).
Whitney’s book is realistic, and this is perhaps its greatest strength. Whitney keeps family worship simple, highlighting only three ingredients (although I believe a case could be made for eliminating singing, leaving Bible reading and prayer). Whitney does not deny the awkwardness of beginning something like family worship. He never promises that its easy. He does, however, make a convincing case that its necessary, regardless of the difficulty. This book should go a long way in encouraging fathers to get started: “The same Father who gave you the gospel and who drew you to Christ will strengthen you by his Spirit to put on this badge of godly manhood” (65).
I highly recommend this little book to pastors and parents. It is brief and to the point, but it addresses a major need in the church today and it does so powerfully. The book’s strength lies in Whitney’s ability to motivate readers to apply its principles while also providing the kind of practical advice that makes family worship an attainable goal. No one should read this book and walk away feeling discouraged. If you haven’t been leading in family worship, start today. Something is better than nothing. Ten minutes a day is all you need. Whitney’s commitment to brevity and simplicity provides the church with a wonderful tool for small groups and discipleship ministries as well as an affordable giveaway for parents.