The preaching of the Word of God is a powerful tool for the transformation of church and family life. For many years, we have been advocates of gathering all the generations together to hear the preaching of the Word of God. The reason is that there are many well documented times when Moses, Joshua, Ezra, Nehemiah, Jesus, and Paul gathered people together where whole families were listening to the preaching. They were united as they listened to sermons together. (Deuteronomy 16:9-11-14; Deuteronomy 31:9-13; Joshua 8:34; Ezra 10:1; Joel 2:15; Ephesians 6:1).
Simply put: it is the Lord's design to lead both the church and the family through preaching. It is not the only way He leads, but it is perhaps one of the primary ways. God has provided His people with a weekly experience that is designed to be the key factor in leading both the church and the family simultaneously.
Here are some tips for making the most of the preaching experience, beginning in the home:
1. Familiarize your family with the sermon text
Fathers, familiarize your family with the Scripture passage the pastor is going to be preaching from the coming Sunday. In our church, we actually have a weekly Men’s Bible Study on Tuesday mornings for this express purpose. We want our men to teach their families what the upcoming Scripture text is all about before the pastor preaches on it. We meet on Tuesday mornings at 6:00 am and walk through the text in order to understand the meaning. We do this to help our men understand what the text is saying. Our desire is that everyone in the church will come to worship on Sunday having already reviewed the terminology, theology, and the central message of the passage. We want them to work through some of the practical applications for their lives beforehand.
2. Prepare your family to hear the sermon
Fathers, intentionally prepare your family to hear the sermon; much has been written on how to listen to a sermon. You can read this from George Whitefield on how to listen to a sermon, or this from David Murray. Here is a quote from Richard Baxter, 'Directions for Profitably Hearing the Word Preached' in the Christian Directory:
“Come not to hear with careless heart, as if you were to hear a matter that little concerned you, but come with a sense of the unspeakable weight, necessity, and consequence of the holy Word which you are to hear; and when you understand how much you are concerned in it, it will greatly help your understanding of every particular truth... Make it our work with diligence to apply the word as you are hearing it... Cast not all upon the minister, as those that will go no further than they are carried as by force...You have work to do as well as the preacher, and should all the time be as busy as he...you must open your mouths, and digest it, for another cannot digest it for you...therefore be all the while at work, and abhor an idle heart in hearing, as well as an idle minister. Chew the cud, and call up all when you come home in secret, and by meditation preach it over to yourselves. If it were coldly delivered by the preacher, do you...preach it more earnestly over to your own hearts...”1
3. Help your family during the sermon
This is most critical when you have small children. Parents will need to be extra attentive to the capacities of each child. Some children can only understand one word or one concept from the sermon; help that child to understand at least one element of the sermon. When I had young children, I would have them listen for specific words in the text and bump my arm when they heard them. When they got older, I would write a word in my notes and circle it and have them copy it for later discussion. At other times, I would have them illustrate the scenes of the sermon text as the preacher progressed through his sermon. The Bible is full of illustrations and imagery from nature and real life experiences and most texts can be illustrated; but, overall, I wanted them to love the preaching by tracking with the preacher. I wanted them to see that no matter who is preaching, you can find gold if you listen carefully.
4. Discuss it with your family after the sermon
Our regular practice in the Brown family is to discuss the sermon at dinner time on Sunday. We go around the table and each person shares something that struck them, or if they have a question about the sermon. I like how Richard Baxter states it in the statement above, “Chew the cud, and call up all when you come home in secret.” Further, the Bible actually advocates husbands and wives having these kinds of discussions. It is very interesting that God actually encourages wives to ask their husbands questions (not the pastors) about what went on during corporate worship.
In 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 the apostle Paul writes, “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” It seems that Paul prioritizes the theological unity of the husband and wife by getting them to talk about the preaching and the worship that they were engaged in. This command is very important as it drives husbands and wives together in spiritually significant conversations. When faithfully practiced, it brings a husband and wife together theologically through the questions on the mind of a wife.
Perhaps one of the reasons men have such poor understanding of the Bible is that their wives are not asking them enough questions about the preaching. In our church, I often exhort the wives to ask their husbands questions about what they just heard when they get home.
Many times I have had church leaders come up to me and say, “Our families are weak, where do I start to help our families become what they ought to be according to Scripture?” My answer usually goes like this: The first thing you should not do is to make it family-integrated - rather, it is get your entire church – from the littlest to the oldest - focused on the texts of Scripture you are preaching on each Sunday. Do it through the fathers in your church. Church leaders should make the preaching of the Word of God the principal focus of church life, and when they do, it will revolutionize the families and the whole culture of the church. Why: Because God leads His people through His word.
Making the most of the preaching starts at home, proceeds to the sermon itself, and continues on after the sermon and into every aspect of life. That is the essence of the family-integrated sermon.
Scott T. Brown is the director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches and elder at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Scott graduated from California State University in Fullerton with a degree in History and received a Master of Divinity degree from Talbot School of Theology. He gives most of his time to local pastoral ministry, conferences on fatherhood, church reformation, and strengthening the family. He has been married to Deborah for thirty one years, and they have four grown children. Scott also helps people think through the two greatest institutions God has provided — the church and the family.
1: Richard Baxter, Works, (London: George Virtue, 1838) I: 473,475. From JI Packer, The Puritan Approach to Worship