Discussions of “family worship” often seem more like “law” than “grace,” as the topic can involve prescriptions of what it should look like and lead many to despair of their failure and perceived inability to live up to the standards set forth. Jason Helopoulos, Assistant Pastor at University Reformed Church (East Lansing, Michigan), counteracts this tendency and connects family worship and grace in A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home. Helopoulos seeks to show how family worship is a grace to families, and he offers warm instruction and encouragement to families in their attempt to practice family worship.
The introduction notes the neglect of family worship, as Helopoulos compares the contemporary lack of family worship in Christian homes with the prevalence of family worship seen in places like seventeenth-century Kidderminster, England. In addition, Helopoulos lays out both his plan to focus on family worship as a grace and his position as one who is not an expert at family worship, but rather one who seeks to grow in it.
The first three chapters of the book offer the basis for family worship. The first chapter portrays family worship along with secret (individual) and corporate worship as three legs of the “stool” of the Christian life. In chapter two, Helopoulos shows that the Bible teaches family worship as a joyful responsibility for household heads. Helopoulos identifies additional benefits for families beyond the main reason for family worship (honoring God) in the third chapter.
The book takes a practical turn in chapter four. This chapter states that Scripture, prayer, and singing are the main elements of family worship and that practices such as Scripture memory, catechism, and responsive reading are additional possibilities for this time. The manner of family worship is the topic of the fifth chapter, as Helopoulos maintains that family worship should be reverent, joyful, and consistent. He then seeks to correct some possible misperceptions or misuses of family worship in chapter six. Helopoulos continues to highlight family worship as a grace and he himself speaks gracefully in this section. For example, he does not give a strict prescription on how long or how often family worship should be, recognizes that a family’s worship will not live up to the ideals he sets on every occasion, and stresses that family worship should not be a time to castigate or simply give moral training.
Helopoulos concludes the book by offering some advice and encouragement to the reader. Chapter seven gives some concrete thoughts on implementing family worship, such as selecting the same time and place and being brief (especially with young kids) and flexible. Chapter eight is a “trouble-shooting” chapter, looking at potential challenges such as an unsupportive or non-Christian spouse or children who do not sit still. The final chapter features various testimonies about family worship that offer glimpses of the joy of family worship as well as the struggles that accompany it. The book features four appendices with examples and resources to help in family worship.
Overall, Helopoulos has succeeded in his goal in showing how family worship is a grace and how to practice family worship gracefully. While a great resource, there are a number of questions and practical issues about family worship that Helopoulos raises but does not address. Some that come to mind are: How should a family approach family worship when the father is often travelling for business during the week or when the family is out of its normal surroundings (e.g., vacation)? If family worship is a grace that one needs to live the Christian life in worship (see 27), then is there anything equivalent for singles—should there be “roommate worship” akin to family worship? Might it be wiser to be intentional in the choice of songs sung at family worship, similar to the way that Helopoulos advocates for intentionality in the Scriptures read? Is singing necessary during family worship, as most do not maintain that singing is a normal or necessary part of secret (individual) worship? I raise these issues not as criticisms of Helopoulos’s project since they might be beyond the scope of his work, though they could be fodder for future revision. Moreover, I suspect that the author would welcome these sorts of questions, as they further the conversation about family worship and encourage its practice.
Helopoulos’s focus on grace will lead families to worship more faithfully and church leaders to feel more confident in discussing the topic of family worship with the members of their congregations. The book is readable and short enough for a layperson to read in the midst of a busy life, so it would be a great resource to give to families with children as well as married or engaged couples.