Column Entry, Let’s Talk Family, “Christian Family Practices: Worship as an Expression of Awe”

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Column: Let’s Talk Family: Conversations about Faith and Family Flourishing

Column entry: “Christian Family Practices: Worship as an Expression of Awe”

By Jonathan Pettigrew, PhD, Arizona State University; Diane Badzinski, PhD, Colorado Christian University

Column Description: Let’s Talk Family: Conversations about Faith and Family Flourishing is a monthly column offering a space to consider research-based, biblically-sound practices for family communication. We all have families. And we all experience messy family communication from time to time. Our column focuses on what works and doesn’t work for helping families be a little less messy and a lot more rewarding. Please join the conversation.

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July 2024

Christian Family Practices: Worship as an Expression of Awe

“The meaning of awe,” muses Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book God in Search of Man,“ is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era.”

When we approach life or worship or the Lord without awe, we become analysts. We limit our worship to a single perspective or set of perspectives, seeing God in terms of beauty, justice, love, psychology, economics, history, or another field. But “[s]uch is the limitation of the mind that it can never see three sides of a building at the same time.” When we worship God only with our mind, we approach him in one dimension, two at best, but without awe, argues Heschel, we can never approach God from all sides. The Scripture commands that we love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Lk. 10:27). This encompassing command moves us beyond one-dimensional worship. It moves us toward awe.

Worship is one expression of awe. Families across time and cultures have revered different objects, from ancestors to family idols to regional spirits to the moon, sun, rain, or the emperor. Christianity, however, grew from Jewish roots to worship and serve the Lord God alone (Deut. 6:4). Christians are commanded to avoid “graven images” (Exod. 20:4) and warned against worshiping or serving “the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:24, ESV). The Christian family worships God as Father, Son, and Spirit.

As family communication scholars, we ask questions like “In what ways is worship expressed in families?” “How is it communicated?” “How do families learn to worship?” and “When it comes to worship, what is the role of the Church vis-a-vis the family?” These questions apply to each and every one of us whether as parents, couples, or individuals. While we do not address all of these questions, we present a working definition of worship, share some thoughts about the role of family in religious training, and offer a few practical strategies for worshiping together as a family.

What is Worship?

Worship, according to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the English Language, is an expression of “extravagant love,, an act of “extreme submission” and dependence, “the act of paying divine honors to the Supreme Being; or the reverence and homage paid to him in religious exercises.”  Both Hebrew and Greek convey the idea of bowing low, prostrating ourselves before God. As a faithful, devoted dog might bow before its owner or lick his hand in adoration, we come in worship of the God who gives all we need for life and godliness. We revere in awe the One who has “the whole world in his hands,” as the children’s song reminds us.

Worship happens both within and outside of services, mass, evensong, or other religious settings. Worship can occur both as an intentional time—a time set apart—as well as a disposition for living. Most people are familiar with worship as part of a religious service. Hymns and songs have stirred people to worship for ages and often are led by skilled musicians and instrumentalists (1 Chron. 25:1,7; 2 Kings 3:15; Col. 3:16). Likewise, preaching and teaching by church leaders has a long history (e.g., Neh. 8:1-8; Acts 20:7; 2 Tim. 4:2).

But worship doesn’t require music, poetry, or professional leadership. Paul affirmed the notion that in God “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) and he taught that “whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). Indeed, worship can occur while going about daily life as Brother Lawrence teaches in Practicing the Presence of God.

With such an expanded understanding, it is impossible to describe all the ways worship takes place, so we focus instead on two ideas. First, we argue that religious training and practice falls within a family’s jurisdiction. Second, we focus on setting apart a time to worship together as a family.

General Contractor Parenting

Jurisdiction is an official legal power or authority. For our purposes, think of it as a general contractor. In a building project, the general contractor is responsible for every part of the building, even if that person hires out parts of the job. A plumber or an electrician may work with the contractor, but they are not responsible for the overall project. Parents have this “ultimate authority” to train their children, even when it comes to religious matters.

The Bible clearly puts the responsibility for religious and spiritual formation on families. Deuteronomy 6 makes this charge clear. God ordained families to keep his commandments in their hearts and to communicate them from parents to children. The scripture instructs parents to “impress them,” “talk about them,” “tie them,” and “write them” for their children. The scripture says to “keep your soul diligently” and for us to share our own experiences with God to our “children and their children after them” (Deut. 4:9, NIV). While parents may “subcontract” aspects of religious or spiritual training, they are the “general contractors” responsible for the entire child training project.

Doing Family Worship

Scheduling time to worship may seem daunting. Couples and families are busy with work, school, weekend sports, play practice, errands, not to mention daily meals, dishes, and laundry –loads and loads of fun! With all these demands on our time, it is important to develop habits of worship. Attending a church worship service is a habit that offers a pause for meditation and a focus to a week. Many people attend services with friends, spouses, or family.

Another life-giving habit can be to schedule worship time together in the home. Families can worship together. For a couple or family new to this practice, it might seem daunting, so here are a few things to try.

  • Set an expectation.
    • Schedule the time in advance and give some sense of how long you will meet and what the time will include.
  • Keep it simple.
    • Draw on your religious tradition. Try something that you would typically do in a church service (e.g., sing a song or two; read a Bible passage; share a short testimony; or give a homily).
  • Use available resources.
    • You don’t have to be a musician or pastor to lead. YouTube has myriad options for worship songs of all types. There are hundreds of thousands of Bible teachings and sermons online. Find a trusted resource and give it a try.
  • Keep it short.
    • For a new practice to become sustainable, it needs to be realistic. You can always start small and grow, depending on the ages and schedules of everyone in your family.
  • Make it participatory.
    • Worship is active. It’s not a passive experience. Planning the time in such a way that everyone contributes something will likely set it apart from other religious experiences in large groups or congregations (e.g., Eph. 5:19).
  • Encounter God.
    • Worship is one way we come before God (Ps. 22:3), where we encounter him in our homes and with our families. Have faith that God loves you and wants to will meet with you as you seek him (Matt. 6:33; Jas. 4:8).

Worship is part of every culture, and families are at the center of Christian worship from Adam and Eve onward (Gen. 3:8). Parents are to train their children to worship God. They model it. They teach it. They ritualize it. In worship, we can encourage the sense of awe about who God is, and all he has done (Ps. 119).

Give it a shot. Let us know how it goes.

-Jonathan Pettigrew and Diane M. Badzinski

* The views of any CCSN columnists are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the CCSN. We invite and embrace a wide range of views and critiques on important communication and cultural issues. The CCSN is a community of Jesus followers who study communication. We do not support or promote a particular social, political, or denominational agenda. 


Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man:  A Philosophy of Judaism. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition, 1976): 75.

Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (Whitaker House, 1982).

Jonathan Pettigrew and Diane M. Badzinski, Family Communication and the Christian Faith: An Introduction and Exploration (Pasco, WA: Integratio Press, 2023).

Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language (Editorium, 2010).

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