Family Devotions: Where to Start

“I believe that intentional, focused time with your children, teaching them about who God is and what he has done, is invaluable.”    

I’ve been doing family devotions with my kids for a decade now. You’d think that by now I’d be a pro, but I still struggle with my own discipline as well as engaging the kids in ways that resonate with them. Some nights everything is clicking.  Some weeks it’s incredibly consistent. Other nights and weeks, it’s much different.

My goal in writing about family devotions is to encourage you and give you some tools to help along the way. I believe that intentional, focused time with your children, teaching them about who God is and what he has done, is invaluable.  There are few things more central to your role as a Christian parent, and making that time regular and predictable through “family devotions” is incredibly helpful for both parents and kids. However, I’m afraid that family devotions can also be incredibly daunting. Most of us didn’t grow up in homes where they took place.  And most of us don’t know where to start.
 So, whether you don’t know where to start or you feel stuck and frustrated, let me share with you a few tips I’ve learned over the years about family devotions:                                                                  
  1. Start Young (if you can). This isn’t meant to elicit guilt for those of you who have never done family devotions; late is always better than never. And growing up without family devotions will not irreparably harm your child. Our God is far more gracious than that.  But, if you can, start before your kids even know what’s going on. It will produce a helpful discipline in them and in you.                                                                                                                                                                
  2. Change Things Up. My biggest frustration over the years is that we’ll do one thing for family devotions for a while and then it will lose momentum and we’ll end up switching to something else because it connects with the kids, only to have that lose momentum down the road as well. However, there’s no reason to be frustrated with the opportunity to change things up. Kids all connect and relate differently. Try different things. I’ve found that one of the most effective means of keeping our kids engaged is to not do the exact same thing every night for months on end.                                                                                                                    
  3. Keep it Short. Don’t be discouraged by family devotions that only last 5, 10, or 15 minutes. Focus on the quality of the time and the teaching instead of stretching things out for some arbitrary quantity goal. Sense when the kids are engaged and enjoying it, and be willing to read another story. Sense when the kids are struggling to pay attention and be willing to cut things short (graciously).                                                                                                                                
  4. Go to Sunday Services, a Community Group, and Do Personal Devotions. Like anything else in our spiritual lives, we can’t impart what we do not possess. If you are not actively learning from God’s Word and drawing near to him in prayer, there is no way that you’ll be able to teach your kids how to do so. And if you try to do family devotions when you are not actively learning yourself, they’ll sniff out your hypocrisy from a mile away. No one knows your life like your kids. Family devotions need to be an extension of your own personal walk with Christ.

If you’re anything like me you’d appreciate more than just a few tips.  So I also want to share some of the most helpful tools I’ve found in doing devotions with our kids (our oldest is 10 for reference).  Without giving specific recommended ages, I’ve organized these resources from youngest to oldest (at least how we’ve used them):

The Big Picture Story Bible – David Helm

This continues to be a favorite of all of our kids.  No other resource I know lays out the entire redemption story more simply or clearly.  Not only is it engaging for kids, I bet it will make your understanding of the Bible and the story of God clearer too. We also utilize this Bible in our Toddler Room during Sunday Services.

Jesus Storybook Bible – Sally Lloyd-Jones

This book is so loved in our house the first 30 pages have fallen out.  It has a bit higher text-to-picture ratio than the last one, but does a beautiful job connecting each story throughout the Bible to the central story of Christ.  Another one that will both teach your kids and you as well! We also utilize this Bible in our Preschool Room during Sunday Services.

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing – Sally Lloyd-Jones

While this isn’t organized as a story bible, it is an incredibly helpful devotional book.  Each devotional thought is centered on a theological truth and communicated in ways the kids can understand and grasp.  It’s especially nice as a short, nugget-style, devotion when you feel cramped on time.  The only problem is our kids never want to read just one!

Old Story New: 10 Minute Devotions – Marty Machowski

Marty Machowski is an incredible gift to all of our children.  This is the devotional you wish you had time to develop yourself, but you never could.  It consists of 78 weeks of 5 connected devotions per week.  That’s 390 devotions!  And this is just the “New Testament version”—there’s an Old Testament version too!  We’ve been working through this for a couple of years now with our kids (on and off), but every time we come back to it the kids love it. We also utilize the Gospel Story Bible (written by the same author as this family devotional) in our Children's Church Room during Sunday Services.

NLT Illustrated Study Bible

I’ve bought at least a half-dozen different children’s bibles (actual bibles) and, to be honest, I’m not nuts about any of them.  They all seem to promise a lot, but our kids barely use the notes, pictures, etc. in any of them.  Imagine my surprise when I realized that the bible my 8 and 10 year olds can’t get enough of isn’t a children’s bible at all, but the NLT Illustrated Study Bible.  It’s written for adults, but it is beautiful.  And every question they have, almost always has a chart, map, picture, or explanatory section to help them out.  Not to mention it’s the NLT, which is a perfect reading level for late elementary / middle-school kids.  I’ve given up trying to get my kids to read the ESV.  The NLT makes the Word of God so much more accessible to them.  I’ll save the ESV for high school.

That’s just some of what has worked for us.  I’d love to know what else you’ve found that’s worked too!  Feel free to let me know: