One month ago, Dianna and I drafted a Family Discipleship Plan together, tweaked it over several of days, and then jumped right into implementation with our kids! We decided to have a major part of our plan revolve around our daily family mealtime together. We have reserved this as a sacred hour each day for our family to gather around the table with the expressed purpose of connecting with each other and with God (and, for eating food together, of course!).
We have a short, simple structure built into this time to help us have continuity from day-to-day. It is intentional, but it requires very little planning on our part. It doesn’t dominate our entire mealtime, either; only about 15-20 minutes of the hour is structured / planned.
The bulk of our mealtime together (40ish minutes) is still spent just sharing our lives together like any family would during a meal: talking about our day, school / work, highs / lows, weekend plans, things we’re excited about / frustrated about, etc. This normal family talk is just interspersed between the other “planned” elements of our mealtime together.
As for the structured aspects of our family mealtime, over the past month, we have developed a simple-but-meaningful routine:
1. We all fix our plates & drinks in the kitchen, and then gather around the table together to eat. Once everyone is in and seated…
2. We start with a song of worship. I usually cue up a song on the laptop and hit play, and then we just sing along together with it. Sometimes, (when I forget to bring my laptop home!), I’ll grab the guitar and lead us in a song together around the table.
3. Next, we quote aloud together a classic Prayer, Creed, or Scripture of the Christian faith. Eventually, I’d love for all of us to have said all of these so many times together that we have them all memorized! But, for now, I just have them printed off in a large font size on sheets of paper that hang up on the wall, and so we just read them aloud together. Over the past month, I’ve found and printed 12 Prayers, Creeds, and Scriptures that we just rotate through together – one per day. So far, we are using
- The Apostles’ Creed
- Ephesians 3:16-21
- The Heart Prayer of Thomas a Kempis
- Psalm 23
- The Covenant Prayer of John Wesley
- Philippians 3:7-14
- The Nicene Creed
- Philippians 2:3-11
- The Shield Prayer of Saint Patrick
- Colossians 1:15-23
- The Lord’s Prayer (from Matthew 6:9-13)
- Psalm 24
You can find all of these online using a simple internet search engine.
4. I read a chapter aloud from the Old Testament. We just started this a month ago and we chose the Book of 1 Samuel. Tomorrow, we will finish the Book by reading chapter 30! This is a very informal reading – we don’t try to dig into every facet of every verse. I just slowly read it aloud, and if something sticks out to one of us, or if anyone has a question, we briefly pause the reading and talk about it… then we just continue on with the reading together.
5. Dianna leads us in reviewing a few simple catechism questions. We are using a resource from Dr. Matt Friedeman called Hidden in the Heart: A Catechism for Children. It’s just a little booklet with 132 short questions in it – the sum total of which amounts to a simple, thorough explanation of everything we believe as Biblical followers of Jesus. We review 5-10 questions together each day. Eventually, we hope our entire family (us parents included!) has all of these questions and answers memorized.
6. I read a portion of the New Testament aloud. We started in the Book of Matthew a month ago and are now about halfway through. Due to the way the New Testament is organized, I tend to read “stories” rather than whole chapters, so it may take us 2-3 days to get through a single chapter. Like the Old Testament reading, this is very organic and unstructured. We’re not trying to capture every single spiritual truth buried in the text. We’re just reading and allowing time to talk through those 1-2 things that really seem to just jump off the page at us.
7. This generally flows into more discussion… both on the topic and off it… we talk about spiritual and “non-spiritual” things… and just life, in general. We just talk with each other and enjoy each other’s company and our meal together! Finally, we close with a short unrehearsed prayer, simply thanking God for our food and our family time together. I suppose you could call this our “blessing” – we give thanks to God after we’ve enjoyed our meal together.
A couple of quick notes to point out in all of this:
- We don’t answer the phone or text messages during this sacred family mealtime.
- The TV is OFF during our family mealtime.
- Yes, we are all eating our food while all of the above is taking place. Don’t worry, we aren’t sitting there letting our food get cold for 20 minutes before we dig in! (Yep, that means I sometimes read the Bible out loud with a mouth-full of food – horrible etiquette, I know! I often do it with my elbows on the table, too – yikes!)
- Random and “off-topic” family talk is interspersed (and encouraged!) all throughout all of the above! We don’t just drill through the “spiritual” stuff all at once – we talk about everyday life in the midst of all the planned / structured stuff.
- No topic is off-limits. Yes, we’ve already begun having age-appropriate discussions with our kids about cussing, drugs, sex, slavery, genocide (have you ever read 1 Samuel with kids before!?!), cheating, vanity, polygamy, etc. (Maybe if we start talking about these things now – while they are 7, 6, and 3 – it might not feel so awkward when they’re 15, 14, and 11!)
- The kids are not “dismissed” from the table until we have had our short closing prayer together.
We really are novices at this – just beginners. We have exactly one month experience under our belts – that’s all! We will continue to refine our family mealtime as the months go by, as our kids mature, and our family’s collective faith deepens. I offer you our starting point in hopes that it may spurn you on to a starting point of your own!
When it comes to discipling your family, a plan is best, and anything is better than nothing at all. Start small, set small reachable goals, and go for it. You CAN pastor your family successfully! I suggest mealtime is a great place to start.