In the little years of our parenting, my husband worked especially long hours. He would get up for some Bible time and exercise in the wee hours, and then he was out the door for work well before the kids woke up. In the evenings, he was often home just in time for a late a dinner. This meant the kids typically had about an hour of his time before they went to bed. I was grateful, because after a season of tears and heartache in which I longed to stay home but couldn’t, it was his long-houred job that allowed me now to stay home with them. However, it made a family worship routine difficult. At the end of a long day in those little years, our kids barely had enough attention span to sit through dinner, let alone through a Bible lesson. And to be honest, neither did I. By the time my husband got home, I was absolutely exhausted from taking care of toddlers all day. After dinner, I would collapse on the couch staring at the pile of dirty dishes in the sink, while he took the kids upstairs to read a Bible story and put them to bed.
In our last Parenthood in the Local Church Post, Pastor Josh wrote a wonderful article about Family Worship. But what does Family Worship look like in these different family situations or seasons? What about the dad who works long hours or travels or is deployed? What about the mom who works outside the home? What about the absentee dad? What about the single mom? What about the dad who doesn’t know Jesus? Is family worship only intended to be led by fathers, and does it always have to be the entire family together?
My intention is not to get into a debate here over Biblical manhood and womanhood, or particular roles of husbands and wives. Nor is it to tear down Christian ideals. Scripture is clear the husband is the head of the wife (Ephesians 5:25, 1 Corinthians 11:3) and wives should submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22). However, we live in a fallen world where the ground is cursed (Genesis 3). God says that man will toil in his labor. Sometimes that can mean long, exhausting work hours. And because of that same curse, many families are impacted by divorce, illness, or even death. And yet, that doesn’t negate the command to teach our children. So, how do we teach our children diligently when our family doesn’t look or function as it was meant to in God’s original, uncorrupted design?
We’ve made mention of Deuteronomy 6 a lot in this series, and I’d like to go back there once again. In our individualistic society, families are often seen as individually functioning units. Because of that, we often apply this passage solely to parents, and even more so specifically to fathers. And yes, of course parents have a responsibility to teach their children, and fathers have a special role as the head of their households. However, if we look at verse 4, we can see God here is addressing Israel. This whole address on teaching them diligently is not singled out to parents or individual families. It’s a command to Israel. The bringing up and teaching of our children is a community project. This means women. This means grandparents. This means the single person. This means the couple without children. Passing on these truths to our children and our children’s children is a command for God’s entire church.
This means, as a mom, as a woman, as a Christian, my responsibility is to teach God’s truths diligently to the next generation. And, this means my responsibility is to talk of them to all the children of my local church, and in a special sense, to the particular three at home He has entrusted me with.
Let me be clear again that I am not downplaying father-led family worship or pitting it against other forms of teaching. I’m simply saying that in the context of Deuteronomy 6, passing the God’s word onto the next generation in a fallen world means it is not only a father’s responsibility. As a church body, we must all work together and we must do it continually and in all contexts of life.
So, how has this worked out practically in our home?
It means that when I am charged over other children, I encourage them and shepherd their hearts with the same Scripture with which I encourage my own children. It means that when the woman without children comes to visit for the day, she steps right in alongside me to work in my home and helps teach my children (and as a side note, this means I have to open my doors and invite her in). And it means that when my husband is away at work all day and father-led family worship is not an option, I still have a responsibility to purposefully teach my children God’s truth.
While teaching them God’s truth is not a one-time-a-day event (again, see Deuteronomy 6 and follow this series for further examples of day-to-day Gospel-centered parenting), what our family calls Circle Time has been a daily, primary way of planting God’s word in their hearts since they were wee ones.
What is Circle Time?
It is simply what our family calls the dedicated time in the morning when the children and I (and anyone else who happens to be in our home at that time) come together to hear from God’s word. Like family worship, there is no one formula. In fact, this has looked different in our home as the children have grown. But I will lay out a couple examples for you here of what that has looked like in different seasons. (Note: We are also working to get some videos posted for you so you can get an actual peek into some different real time Circle Times. Keep checking our YouTube channel for updates.)
When the children were very little, our Circle Time consisted of about 5-10 minutes in the morning after breakfast. We would pray together, sing a worship song or hymn, and each week we would read a story and focus on reciting and memorizing a Bible verse from Susan Hunt’s book, ABC Bible Verses.
It sounds simple, because it really is. But I can’t tell you how those 5-10 minutes a day and those ABC memory verses have impacted our lives. My kids and I still quote them and their gospel applications regularly when we are having heart trouble or bickering.
As the kids have gotten older, this has increased in time and content. For the last few years our Circle Time has included a weekly catechism question that we memorize together and walk through. And rather than ABC Bible verses, we now spend a few minutes going through other books that either take us through a topical study (such as God’s Names by Sally Michael) or a book of the Bible (often using a resource such as the Herein is Love series by Nancy Ganz). (Note: At the end of this series, we will provide you with a wonderful resource list put together by some of our church leaders!)
So for us, it now looks something like this:
One of the kids grabs the “Circle Time Basket” that contains our resources. We pray (helping the kids to participate in prayer as well), sing our hymn of the month, recite our catechism and discuss (or read from our catechism resources), continue our book of the Bible study or topical study and discussion, recite our memory verse, and pray again to close. Our circle time widely ranges from 15-60 minutes depending on the kids’ questions and our discussion for the day, but it is typically around 30 minutes.
Again, that’s it.
It really doesn’t have to be complicated or any set length of time. We choose mornings because that is when my children’s minds are freshest, but it also doesn’t have to be any particular time of day. However, like all things good, it does take being intentional.
And it is worth it.
You will be so surprised at how those wiggly little bottoms and whining and groaning that seem to prevent any learning, don’t actually prevent it at all. Isaiah 55:11 tells us God’s word always acomplishes what God purposes. With a little diligence, those tiny planted seeds, if the Lord allows, will grow over the years.