Preparing the Way: Practices for Cultivating Faith in the Home

This article is featured in the Families in the Family of God (May/June/July 2013) issue of Circuit Rider

Meals in our home begin with this question, “Whose turn is it?” The privilege of offering the prayer before each meal rotates from one family member to another. This tradition in our home has allowed us to learn three things:

  1. Everyone takes a turn. Children join the rotation as soon as they are old enough (generally, age two or three). It’s a family practice, and all are part of the family.
  2. All are equally equipped to pray. “God is great, God is good” is just as effective a way to give thanks as is someone’s own composed prayer.
  3. Our home is a place for forming faith.

In talking about ways we cultivate faith in the home, we aren’t talking about practices that are difficult or complicated or require a theological degree. We are talking about being willing to give time to one another, to admit to and witness by our words and actions to God’s place in our lives, and to be accountable together for those words and actions.

So, why is faith in the home important? One of the most compelling reasons comes from our Scripture. Take out your Bible and read Deuteronomy 6:6-9.  We see first the commandment to love God. Then we read this instruction: “Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up” (Deuteronomy 6:7 CEB) We are to love God, and we are to talk about God’s love.

A family is our first community and the most basic way in which God gathers and forms us. The early church expressed this truth by calling the Christian family a domestic church or church of the home (Familiaris Consortio, p. 70). When Pope Paul VI used this term, he was reaching back to ancient roots. Marjorie Thompson in her book, Family: The Forming Center (Upper Room Books), reminds us that Jewish tradition and practice often has as central to celebrations and worship the family table. She says, “As Christians affirmed their spiritual bond in Christ, blood ties of family and clan were relativized, but homes remained a focal gathering point for prayer and worship” (p. 26).

How can church leaders help families nurture the faith of all ages in their homes? While there may be more, here are four basic ways families grow in faith together. Congregations can support families by offering support for the following practices:

Talking Together as a Family about Faith

In the home, discuss what you think about God, Jesus, and the church. Talk about daily decisions and how faith influences the decision around ways time is spent, ways money is spent, ways attitudes and actions are encouraged. Take time daily (even a minute or two works!) to connect as a family. Listen to one another’s concerns and joys. Keep your language simple. Questions might include: “Where did you experience God’s blessings today?” “What happened today that made you want to thank God?” or “What worries did you have today that you would like to talk about in our prayers.”

Congregations can support this practice by offering weekly “conversation starters” in the bulletin, by email, or in the church newsletter. An example is, “This week, continue the discussion at home asking one another, ‘What did you do today that helped someone know you love God?’”

Study and Devotions in the Home

Life is busy. It’s hard to take time for something that feels a bit more formal than a conversation. However, reading the Bible together, singing a hymn together, and listening together to the devotion from “The Upper Room Daily Devotional Guide” provides another chance to reflect on how faith guides our daily life. Telling stories of persons of faith from the Bible or from your life is another way to structure devotional time. And often we forget the power of simply seeing another family member engaged in reading the Bible, in singing hymns or songs of faith, or in study. We witness through those actions to the importance of faith.

Congregations can support this practice by providing devotional guides that families can take home to use, giving hymnals or worship music CDs to families when they join the church, or supporting Bible storytelling in the home by providing short bios or stories of men and women of the Bible in the church newsletter.

Faith Rituals in the Home

View the home as a center for faith formation. If someone walked into our homes today, what would they see that helped them know we were Christians? Would they see a Bible, a cross, a hymnal, a cross-stitched verse of scripture? We create an atmosphere of faith in what we place in our surroundings. We also create an atmosphere of faith through our daily rituals. These include prayer at meals, prayer at bedtime, offering words of blessing to one another as we leave the home and return home. We create an atmosphere for faith by observing the seasons of the Christian year in the home.

Congregations can support this practice by providing blessings that can be used for important life milestones, such as the first day of school, the loss of a tooth, receiving a driver’s license, or starting a new job. Offering resources for each of the seasons for home devotions is helpful to families. Family devotions for each season can be found at  Compiling and distributing prayers written by church members to be used in the home also provides support.

Service to Others

We are called to nurture faith by those actions that connect us individually, as families, and as communities of faith to God—prayer, worship, Bible study, Holy Communion, fasting, and Christian conversations. We are also called into actions that address the needs of others beyond ourselves. In both our homes and our congregations, this begins by becoming generous givers of our time and our resources. How might this work? In prayer together the family remembers a neighbor who has lost a loved one. The family then sends a card, makes a visit, takes a meal to that neighbor. In conversation together, the family talks about a food drive being held at the church. They go shopping for food items and take them to the church. In observance of Lent, the family joins with others in their church by collecting coins, then sending them in support of a mission project determined by the church. Remember it’s not the size of the project, but the giving of time and of self to make a difference.

Congregations can support this practice by offering service opportunities appropriate for children as well as youth and adults, by supplying ways to give when a disaster occurs; by sponsoring food drives, toy drives, clothing drives; by linking homebound individuals with families willing to visit.

It’s time for congregational leaders—clergy and lay—to acknowledge that families are one of the most significant contexts of Christian discipleship. Family relationships have the potential for providing profound experiential learning of Christian virtues, such as love, patience, kindness, justice, and forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation. It is well worth our time, energy, and resources to equip those in our congregations to take full advantage of this rich environment for faith and growth as disciples of Jesus Christ.

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