Ten Easy Tips for Starting Family Devotions

John Majors

You’ve likely heard someone at church say, “Your family needs to do regular devotions together.” No doubt it’s important, but for many, it’s also a really intimidating idea. If you’ve never done anything like that, you might not know what to do or even how to begin starting family devotions. To help launch you into a new habit, here are ten easy tips for getting started.

#1 Keep it Simple

The first thing to keep in mind is to keep it simple. The simpler, the better. Start by focusing on just one verse of the Bible. Plan to talk about it sometime when your family already gathers together. For many, this is during a meal. For some, it is in the car after leaving the drive-thru on the way to practice. The goal is to make the entry to starting as easy as possible. That’s why starting with just one verse of the Bible and keeping it short is important.

Sure it’s great to read big sections of the Bible. I’m all for that. Yet some seasons demand survival tactics. If your family isn’t used to reading or discussing the Bible together, then there is likely more benefit to dwelling on “Love your neighbor as yourself” than blasting through five chapters of Leviticus just to say you did it. I’m not against reading Leviticus (because “love your neighbor as yourself” first appears in Leviticus 19:18 and 19:34), but one verse, or even just part of a verse, is less intimidating and makes it easier to get started.

One way to do this is to ask each family member to choose a verse and then discuss one over dinner one night a week. To get the conversation started, ask a question like, “Tell us why you like that verse.” Or, “what do you think that verse means?” If no one has any verses, then pick a couple of your favorites, or simply search, “What are the ten most popular verses” and choose a few of those.

#2 Start with the Book of James

Just one verse at a time. Why James? A few reasons:  James focuses on the practical. Some have even called it the “Proverbs of the New Testament” because of the many statements relevant to everyday life. Things like, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (1:5), or, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (1:19). James is also a book of action, with almost one out of two verses being a command. James doesn’t get bogged down with many deep, theological subjects, but stays on the move. Finally, even though we’re talking about discussing an entire book of the Bible, have no fear: James is on the shorter end—just four pages in most Bibles. 

To get started, leave your Bible open to the book of James on the dinner table. During the meal, simply read one verse and then discuss it. Use a question like, “So what did you think of this verse?” or, “What do you think this verse means?”, or, “How would you apply this verse to your life today?” If no one has anything to say, close with a short prayer. Don’t force people to engage. The important thing is to just get started. Not every verse will bring great conversation. Keep your expectations low and make your main goal just to get going.

#3 The Book of Proverbs

Proverbs is longer than James, but it has a feature that makes it more accessible than many other books of the Bible. Proverbs has thirty-one chapters. Most months have thirty-one days, so on any given day of the month, you can turn to that chapter and read. And because Proverbs is mostly made up of a collection of practical precepts, You’ll likely always find a verse that relates to your day. 

I keep a pocket-size copy of a New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs in the car door. When taking the kids to school, I’ll get it out at a stoplight and read one verse, or skim a few till I find one to read aloud. Sometimes I’ll hand it to one of the older kids and say, “pick out one verse to read to us.” Read the verse, maybe ask a quick question, and then pray for everyone. Again, I keep it short and just try to start the day with Scripture. 

#4 The Sermon on the Mount

If a book of the Bible seems intimidating, try focusing on just a few chapters. The section referred to as “The Sermon on the Mount” (Because Jesus preached from the side of a mountain) has some of the most familiar verses in the Bible. Found in Matthew chapters five through seven, it contains verses like, “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” and “judge not, that you be not judged.” Also famous sections like the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes.

Again, you can read and discuss one verse at a time. Or read a group of verses to get a complete thought in one setting. It’s really up to you. But try to keep it short and focused on discussing one idea.

#5 The Beatitudes

If a few chapters feels intimidating, start with the first ten verses of Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, often referred to as the “Beatitudes.” These are short statements, like, “Blessed are the pure in  heart, for they shall see God.” Some have a clear meaning, and some less so. Take ten weeks and pick apart one a week. They should lead to some interesting conversations.

#6 One Verse a Month

In church one Sunday a man shared about how their family tried to memorize six verses (one verse a day) from the book of Colossians during vacation. They chose Colossians 3:12-17 because of the themes that would help their family connect; important ideas like compassion, kindness, humility, forgiveness, love, and peace. I liked the passage so much that our family also spent time discussing these verses, but we spread it out over six months. We gave each month a theme verse and discussed that verse a few times a week over a meal. By the end of that time, most of us could quote all six verses from memory, even though we hadn’t worked specifically at memorizing them. 

Still seem like too much?  I spent a year dwelling on Luke 9:23 in my personal time, and it was amazing. That’s probably not going to work for a family (a year of the same verse might get boring), but it could work for a week. And it can also work for you. Even when life seems out of control, it only takes a minute or two to review one verse, and that one verse can be enough to get your mind and heart in the right place.

#7 Twenty Verses In 2020

This year Seeds Family Worship launched an initiative to help families memorize Twenty Verses in 2020. Seeds provides at least two devotions to read at the table for each verse. The devotions are story-based to help engage families of all ages. All twenty verses have word-for-word Scripture memory songs and videos that help make memorization effortless. These songs are also arranged into playlists on popular streaming platforms. Just let the songs play occasionally and you can’t help but memorize them. 

#8 Bible Reading Apps

Apps are the perfect tool for those on the go; for listening in the car or while exercising. I have a few friends who are reading through the entire Bible by listening during their commute. You can follow a reading plan on specific topics or themes. One popular app is YouVersion, which has a host of different Bible reading plans and devotions, some as short as six days. Another is Biblegateway. Long sections of Scripture may not be best for starting a family devotions habit, but listening to passages while on the go is a great way to become familiar with it before talking about it at home.

#9 Bible Memory Apps

There are also a number of apps to Bible memorization by involving games and memory exercises. Some popular ones are Verses, the Bible Memory App, and Metamorph. If you find one of these helpful, you might make a family devotion out of showing everyone the app and practicing using it together.

#10 Devotional Dippers

This handy little tube full of carboard strips gives you a short verse and topic to discuss as a family. Our seven-year-old enjoys taking Devotional Dippers out and reading them to our family at the start of dinner. These are great because the lessons are short, and since they sit on the table, they serve as a great reminder to carve out a couple of minutes during the meal to discuss God’s word. 

Learn More About Devotional Dippers Here

It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Worth it

Remember, the key to getting started is to keep it simple. Keep it so simple that you can’t not get started. It’s like doing one push-up to start an exercise habit, or writing one word to start a writing habit. It won’t be perfect; kids will squirm and not pay attention, you might say something wrong, someone might even roll their eyes. But it’s a good habit for families to develop and these tips can help you get an easy start.  

Objections and a Caution

Objection – Some might say, “How can I lead my family in any kind of ‘devotion’ if I’m not regularly studying the Bible myself? Won’t I look foolish or mess up? I’m no pastor or Bible expert!” Many people feel this way, in fact, I’d say most people feel this way, so you’re not alone. When it comes to leading your family spiritually, honesty is the best policy. If you’re struggling to have your own devotion times, be forthright about that by saying something like this, “Hey guys, I allowed myself to get too busy this morning and I didn’t make time to read my Bible or pray. So I want to take time now and do it together as a family.” Kids like knowing you’re not perfect and it’s also a way of saying this is important to you too. 

Objection – “What if I don’t know all the answers?” No matter how much you’ve studied the Bible, one of your kids will ask a question you won’t know the answer to. Just assume this will happen, and use that moment as a teaching opportunity. Try responding like this, “Good question Jimmy. I don’t know the answer off the top of my head. Does anyone else have ideas?” or, “I like that question, Jane. How about we all study it a little on our own and come back with some ideas tomorrow? I know I need to look at it some myself.” Again, be honest about what you know and don’t know. Acting like you know something when you don’t usually backfires. I remember watching Wayne Grudem, a well known Bible scholar and author of some huge books on Theology, when answering a question a student had in one of his classes, responded by saying, “I don’t know.” If Wayne Grudem, who has likely forgotten more theology than I’ll ever know, can say, “I don’t know,” then the rest of us can too.

Caution – Don’t put the habit of starting family devotions above the practice of honoring Christ. I’ve heard of families breaking out in heated arguments during devotions, or dads erupting in anger when someone doesn’t pay attention. Don’t undermine the activity by acting unkindly. Doing that makes family devotions more about you and what you need than about Jesus and what the family needs. Of course, none of us are perfect. Even the most self-controlled parent will lose focus at times. So make the most of that moment and apologize then turn to a verse on forgiveness (like Ephesians 4:32). Sometimes it’s these impromptu teachable moments that end up meaning more to our kids than all the other planned teachings. 

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John Majors

John Majors and his wife Julie have a passion to help parents intentionally disciple their children. They served with FamilyLife for twenty years. They now partner with Seeds Family Worship to create tools and resources for parents to use at the table. They seek to invest in marriages and families internationally, specifically in countries in the South Pacific (their family spent 6 months of 2018 in Fiji). The Majors see the family table as the place where faith, food, and family intersect to create the ideal environment for growth. The Majors and their three children live in Little Rock, Arkansas.

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