1. Have fun! Family devotionals should be happy, joyful times together. They should not be consistently serious so that the Bible becomes boring or scary to your children.
2. Be consistent. Family devotionals should be held at the same time every week, if at all possible. That does not mean that you cannot change the schedule at times, but children have a keen sense of timing even before they can read or tell time. Children instinctively know when it is time to eat, when a favorite television program is on or if it is a church day. Make family devotionals part of your regular schedule.
3. For small children, use a children’s Bible if possible. If that is not possible, select one or two verses to read from a story. Then paraphrase the rest in your own, animated words. If you read straight from an adult Bible, you will lose your children’s attention. Instead, show them the Bible and open to the intended story. That way they will know it is in the Bible and that it is not just a made-up story like a fairy tale.
4. Use every sense when teaching the Bible to children. Children learn more quickly if they can involve their senses of hearing, seeing, tasting, touching and smelling. You will bring the Bible alive to your children when you stimulate their senses.
5. Act Bible stories out with children ages two through eight. All of our children are actors at heart. You will build a great sense of confidence in them if you encourage this.
6. Remember, these are family devotionals. Every member of the family should participate regularly. Teach a spirit of unity and teamwork in your family. here is no better teacher than your example. Parents and children alike should sing, pray and act stories out with all their hearts.
7. If you have children whose ages fall into a broad range, be sure to adapt your material to meet the various needs. Don’t just go for the lowest common denominator. You may be surprised at how quickly the younger ones learn lessons that are aimed at the older children. Read Bible stories daily with your younger children to make sure their needs are met and that they are gaining a well-rounded knowledge of the Bible.
8. Leave every devotional on a positive note. Even if the topic is a serious one like lying, leave your family with a sense of hope and excitement about changing. God is a gracious and forgiving God, and we must make sure our children learn not only how serious God is about hating sin, but also how serious he is about forgiveness: He keeps absolutely no record of wrongs.
9. Follow the same theme all week long. Even if you have one longer devotional a week, do something every day to help your family remember what everyone is working on. This is how you “train” your child in the way he should go.
10. Keep the length of your devotional age-appropriate. The attention span of children is not very long. For children ages two and three, about ten minutes is all they can handle. For more details, see the next section that deals with structure ideas.
Family devotionals can take place in any location. They can be done at home, on a picnic, at the zoo, at a lake, in a restaurant, at the dinner table or virtually anywhere your family is together. The Bible teaches in Deuteronomy 6 that we should teach our children the commands of God as we go —as we walk along the road and as we sit down together at home. We must take advantage of every opportunity to teach our children about our God and about his ways. The following is a format idea to help beginners. Every family is different, so use this as a starting point, altering it to be most effective for your family.
Sing a lot with your infants and toddlers. Children love church songs. Even when they cannot sing along with you yet, they easily recognize songs they hear every week during the service. If you do not know the songs, ask someone from the children’s ministry to teach them to you, or buy a cassette of children’s Bible songs to play for your child. Be sure to sing along!
Begin devotionals by reading short Bible stories together. As we said earlier, it is best to use a children’s Bible for this. If this is not possible, use your Bible as a reference and tell the stories to your children in an animated way. Keep them very simple —and
keep them short, about three to five minutes. The attention span of toddlers is very short.
Begin the devotionals with a couple of songs. One idea is to allow each child to choose one song for the whole family to sing. Children love to sing, and it sets the mood for the Bible study. After the singing read the Bible story and have some discussion. This should last for about five to ten minutes with young children. After the discussion you can choose to do an activity that is appropriate to the discussion. End with a short prayer.
The whole devotional should take about fifteen to twenty minutes, unless the activity takes longer.
Remember that these ideas are a basic outline. Older children may want to have a longer discussion. Keep in mind that children sometimes can overdiscuss a subject. Parents must keep control and lead the devotional. If one child really wants to talk more, perhaps that can take place later with one parent. Obviously, family time together can last as long as you want. It would be best, however, to keep the devotional between thirty to forty-five minutes at the most.
Fifteen minutes of Bible learning consistently is better than thirty or forty-five minutes infrequently. Most families today are very busy. Devotionals do not have to be lengthy, but it is important that you have them consistently. You can always have a discussion one night, and then do an activity on another night during that week to follow up on the discussion. Children learn best by repetition, so this is an effective approach. Feel free to break up the material in this book to best meet the needs of your family. The only golden rule for family devotionals is:Have them!
Not only will your children learn to apply the Bible to their lives, but you will build great family memories as well!
For more practical advice on how to structure a devotional, see the McDaniels’ devotional on prayer which is found on page 111.
—Tom and Mary Franz
Each of us is important to God. This devotional emphasizes that we should imitate God's heart and care about each person. We also use this devotional to talk through what to do if our family gets separated in a public place.
This is an activity in which you can involve lots of people. It is great for multifamily devotionals. It is mainly for younger children. After reading the story, ask for volunteers to be the shepherd and a lost sheep. Explain the roles of the shepherd, the lost sheep and the ninety-nine.
The shepherd may pet the sheep and take care of them. A bathrobe works well for this activity. Have the sheep make a lot of happy noises because they are under the care of the shepherd.
Direct the lost sheep to wander off and to hide. Once the shepherd notices that a sheep is lost, have him tell the other sheep to stay put while he goes to find and bring back their friend. Have the lost sheep make noise to help the shepherd find her. (Actually making this a hide-and-seek game is also possible. This game helps to keep the children’s attention.)
Once she is found, have the shepherd give her a great big hug and guide her back to her friends. Then the celebration begins. Repeat the activity, allowing children to play the other roles in the story.
Each one in the family is important. It is so important for us as families to build a real care and concern for each other. Our own children are very different in their personalities and talents. Neither is to be favored, and yet both require different support and encouragement to be their best. A discussion may center on the following questions:
•How did you feel when you were alone and lost?
•How did you feel when you were brought back to your friends?
•Doesn't it make you glad that Jesus cares about each one of us?
•How can we make each other feel special?
•Would you wander away if you were happy?
•Who tempts us to wander away?
•How does he tempt you away from your “flock," both friends and family?
NOTE: This is also a great time to talk about being lost in the mall or at another public place, and to talk about a plan. Discuss whom the children should seek out if a set location to meet has not been determined.
Ask everyone to name someone they will treat in a special way this week (a family member or friend from school or church). Pray for each person in the family to help the others to feel special. Follow up at dinner times on how the children are doing in treating their friends in a special way this week.
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.
NOTE: This verse may need some explanation
(i.e. writing something important on our hand in order to remember it).