We recently spoke with CCEF Faculty Member, Alasdair Groves, to discuss the upcoming CCEF National Conference.
Q. Would you share one of your conference topics and why you chose it?
I chose Family Devotions as one of my topics. I chose it for a few reasons. First off, this is an area of personal interest for me. I have three young kids, so I’m thinking through how I want devotions to look for my own family. Secondly, I’d say it’s an area of some weakness for me. I don’t feel like I’m doing it especially well. But even as I say that, I have this sense that my feelings of inadequacy make me just like everybody else. I can’t remember hearing any mom or dad say, “You know, we just have great family devotions.”
As parents, it seems we all struggle in this area. We feel like there’s never enough time and kids’ attention spans are so short. We wonder when we should do it and how to hold kids’ interest. So in answer to your question, I like to pick conference topics that will stretch both me and others, and help us answer questions that have real impact on our lives.
Q. What are some of the challenges people face in family devotions?
I think the most common challenges fall in one of two broad categories. The first is logistical and the second is emotional—a sense of guilt or burden.
The logistical concerns are kind of obvious. Who has lots of time for their personal devotions? Who has additional time for family devotions? Doing family devotions involves having different people all together at once, and so that probably means that you have various scheduling conflicts to deal with. It’s so hard to sustain a pattern when that’s going to get broken by one child’s sports practice or somebody’s work schedule. And so I think there’s just this constant sense of “How do we get it in? When do we do it? How do we make this work on a regular basis?” That sense of busyness is one logistical concern.
I think another logistical struggle is due to technology. Everyone’s wired in 24/7, so we’ve all become more “interruptable,” even at mealtimes. Someone’s phone or other device is always pinging for attention. That just makes it harder than ever to have undistracted time for devotions.
Then, there are the emotional issues. There’s this huge sense of pressure people feel when it comes to doing family devotions. We beat ourselves up by saying, “I should be doing this. This is what good Christian families do.” We want this good thing for our family and for our kids. We also tend to have over-idealized versions of what it should be. The comments I hear sound like this: “I’m not doing enough… It’s not good enough… I feel like it ought to be more.”
So those are the major challenges to family devotions, not to mention the struggle that’s most basic: it’s just hard to sustain any habit that requires initiative.
Q. Can you share a Scripture that has encouraged you in the practice of family worship?
There are two places in Scripture that I’m thinking of off the top of my head. The first place for me that immediately leaps out is the book of Judges. It’s near and dear to my own heart because of my father’s interest in that book. Judges is about what leadership for God’s people should look like. And it illustrates the problems that come when that leadership isn’t there. From my dad’s perspective, one of the most ominous moments in the entire book—maybe in the whole Bible—is where it says in chapter 2, “And a generation arose who did not know the Lord and had not seen the things he had done.” As you read on in the book, you see one bad thing after another. And there are these cascading events all the way to the final verse of the last chapter, which says, “In those days Israel had no king and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” That’s such a sobering statement. Yet—the flip side reaction we can have is to recognize just how powerful it is to instill knowledge of God in the next generation is a high priority.
The second place in Scripture, (and this is on the positive side) is Deuteronomy 6 where there’s this call, in one sense probably the call, to practice family devotions. It says: Talk with your family. Talk with your children about the Lord. Do it when you get up and when you lie down and when you go in and when you go out.
One thing I really appreciate about these verses is the flexibility. God is not saying “Here’s exactly what you need to do. Here are the twelve laws of family devotions.” Instead, the fundamental core of the call is simply to disciple your kids as you live life. Raise them up, taking the opportunities that are presented to you to spiritually nourish your children. I really appreciate the “formatlessness” of it. I’m not arguing against structure, it’s just comforting to know that there’s not this perfect way to do it that’s right for all people at all times.
Q. Can you speak to the dynamic of engaging Scripture with children in particular?
I’ve always tried to live by the rule I learned from Julie Lowe (one of our CCEF faculty and a friend) who said that any theology that you can’t explain to a six-year-old is something you don’t understand well enough yourself. That has been a helpful barometer for me—even before I had kids.
So I try to make sure that what I talk about with my kids is really clear to me first. After that, well, this may sound too casual, but I’ve really tried to live by the idea that discipling my kids is sort of like throwing spaghetti at the wall—only some of it is going stick. You need to keep in mind that kids are often absorbing more than it looks like in the moment, even when they seem distracted or they ask some completely unrelated question. Not looking for this immediate “light bulb moment” changes everything. Instead you’re looking for a longer trajectory of spiritual growth. Sometimes you find out that they heard more than you realized, and that it was impacting them in ways you couldn’t see at first. Those are great moments!
Q. What do you hope people come away with from your time together?
Given that guilt and a sense of burden is so present here, I would love for people to walk out feeling relieved and free.
I hope that comes in two ways. First, I want to offer something personalized. I want to offer people not just a “Here’s the best way to do devotions,” but rather “Let me help you think about what the best way is for your family to do devotions.” I want to offer some tools to evaluate “Who are we as a family? Where are we in terms of devotions? What would work well for us?” I hope to give people a real sense of freedom and flexibility based on a Deuteronomy 6 mentality.
Second, I would also love people to come away with a slightly greater sense of “Oh okay, I can do this. This is attainable.” I would love for them to say, “Okay, you know what? We could try this. It’s something that actually sounds both pleasant and possible.”