Why is something that is supposed to be so impactful often just the opposite? And why is something that the pastor makes sound so simple so hard? Why do dads who leave church on Sunday morning inspired to be leaders in their homes and moms who are starry-eyed about their husbands' newfound zeal so frustrated by Monday evening? The basic answer to these questions is that there is simply a lack of understanding of what exactly you're supposed to do for "family devotions." You may see the value in family devotions, understand their impact, and be willing to invest the time, energy, and perseverance necessary to lead your family in this area. But every builder needs a set of blueprints and some tools in order to get started on a project, so let me walk you through a template for family devotions that I've come by through trial and error over the past several years.
Set a time
Schedules will differ from one family to the next, so find a time that works best for everyone. My kids are still young and we are all home at least three or four nights of the week, so we like to do it at bed time. Don't be legalistic about this; learn to be regular but flexible. My rule of thumb is that, if we are home in the evening, we have what I call our 'Bible Time.' If we're out, we skip it and simply say a quick prayer as a family before bed.
Read the Bible
This may sound like a no-brainer, but many parents with little children are afraid to read the Bible to them, thinking it will be over their heads. They look for the latest children's story Bible, complete with pictures. I'm not saying that these are all bad, but there is something about reading the Scriptures just the way God had them written that is powerful. Maybe your kids don't understand some things, but over time they will, and they will benefit most from hearing the pure, unaltered word of God from childhood (2 Tim. 3:15).
Use a devotional guide
This is not absolutely necessary, but it saves a lot of time in preparation and serves to keep your devotion times focused and interesting. A good devotional guide will list a passage of Scripture to read and provide some questions to ask your children. Some even provide a summary of the passage along with helpful illustrations. This can be an invaluable tool to help guide your family devotional time and follows the biblical pattern of the church coming alongside you as you bear the responsibility to "bring [your children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). You will also find that your children will be more involved since they already know something about the passage you're discussing. If your children are older, you can follow the same format, but make the question and answer time more of a discussion. Here are a few great resources that you may want to check out:
(this is a devotional that corresponds to the Children's Ministry curriculum of FFBC)
Avoid short, rote prayers. This does not mean that your prayers have to be super-long, drawn out supplications that put mom to sleep along with the kids, but use this time of prayer to model for your children how to pray. Pray through a couple of points from what you read and discussed in the Bible passage, thanking and praising God for who He is and what He's done, and confessing any sins that the passage has exposed about your family. Ask God to give all of you a heart of love for Him, and obedience to Him, and pray specifically for your children's salvation. Pray for your pastor and the elders of your church, and pick a "missionary of the month" to pray for. Finally, pray for one or two pressing needs in the lives of your family and your church family. This sounds like a lot, but if your prayer is focused it should not be longer than 5-10 minutes. Dad should lead in prayer, but it is good to include mom in the prayer time as well, and if your children are older, allow them to pray, too (perhaps assign them particular things to pray for).
Yes, sing! This may be the most intimidating part of the whole deal for some parents, but Scripture commands us to lift our hearts and voices to the Lord in praise and thanksgiving (e.g. Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), and we need to teach our children to be comfortable with doing this. Not only this, but Scripture states that singing to one another is a form of teaching, and so through singing we are teaching and reinforcing the truths of the gospel that we are seeking to instill in our children. This means that we need to be careful to make sure that the songs we choose are not merely silly children's songs (although I'm all about some of these!), but that the bulk of the songs are filled with substance. This is a great opportunity to familiarize our children with the great hymns of the faith. I like to pick a "hymn of the month" and that way we sing one song enough times that our children come to know it well.
Keep the focus on the gospel
Finally, in everything you do, from what you emphasize in the Bible reading, to prayer, to the song you sing, keep the focus of your time on the gospel. This will keep your family's attention where it should be, exalting God for who He is and what He has done, and declaring our great need for Him and the salvation He offers in the finished work of Jesus Christ. This is what your children need to hear consistently, it is what you need to be reminded of regularly, and it will keep your devotion time from lapsing into a cold, moralistic routine.
There are many different ways to do a family devotion time; these are merely suggestions to help you get started. Some families get very creative and elaborate; some stick to the basics. I suggest you start with the template I've suggested and then begin to add elements or change them up however you see fit. One of the things that our family has added the past couple of years is 'story time.' We wanted our kids to enjoy reading, and kids love it when you read to them. We decided that, if we were careful about what we selected to read to them, we could not only encourage them to be readers themselves, but further reinforce their faith at the same time. Reading about a chapter per time, we have gone through series like the Chronicles of Narnia, and classics like the children's version of The Pilgrim's Progress. If your children are older, you could read more advanced books, or maybe take turns reading. Once you get started with a regular family devotion time, it is really quite exciting to begin to think of ways to improve it.
Wherever you are with family devotions, I pray that these tips will help you and your children move from dread to delight the next time you call the family together.