Worship at Home

by Josie Gresh

It is Sunday morning. My kids are sprawled out in various positions across the basement, each one nestled sleepily under a throw blanket. Except the littlest one. She’s running around the room hunting for stray markers (which she is surprisingly good at finding) and throwing herself on the floor tantrum-style when they get taken away. The overhead lights remain off, this underground room illuminated by Christmas tree lights hanging crazily from the ceiling and the glow of the TV screen counting down to worship time. On Sunday mornings, we call this “Veritas Vibes.”

As the call to worship begins, I look around the room at my people showing varying degrees of interest in what is happening on the screen and my heart aches a little. It aches with beauty at the intimacy of coming before the Throne of God surrounded by my own little sweatpants-wearing, bed-headed tribe. It also aches with longing to be side-by-side, shoulder-to- shoulder with the rest of my chosen spiritual family, collectively readjusting our hearts’ gaze heavenward.

The toddler’s screams cut the moment short and reality smacks me in the face. Jeff and I look at each other in common frustration, as our hopes for getting through the worship service without any meltdowns begin to crumble. As I attempt to settle her, my heart jumps right to questioning whether we are doing this right or if our efforts at shepherding our kids are enough. Why do the big kids seem so disinterested? Why can’t Pearl be content and quiet-ish for just an hour? Why am I the only one singing along? Why is reality often so different from how I imagine family worship to be? Why am I still wrestling with these same questions?

You see, this practice of worshipping at home is not new to our family. During our five Africa years, we primarily worshipped at home. Often, it looked a lot like Community Group, a few families gathered to sing acapella, read and discuss Scripture, and pray together. Other Sundays, it was just our family singing along to a worship playlist and listening to a sermon, much like today’s COVID Sundays without the live element. With this background, I feel like I should have more solid expert how-to’s in my tool box. That is not the case.

This is what I do know.

Prioritizing corporate worship, even when the only place to gather is online, demonstrates to our children a high and holy view of the local church and shapes their identities as God-worshipers. As we’ve settled into this temporary rhythm of corporate worship at home, we have experimented with timing and viewing location. We’ve set expectations based on the ages and maturity levels of our kids and then brought them down a notch or two because all of us need so much grace during this season. For our family, it looks like deciding ahead of time who will take the baby to play in another space when she gets out of sorts. It means requiring the 12, 10, and 8 year olds to follow along with the songs and liturgy but allowing them to draw, doodle, and color quietly while they listen to the sermon.

Tuning in to a church worship gathering together is only one element of family worship. As a family, we have often struggled to create regular rhythms of worship together. But as Rusty Osborne reminds us that, “Disruption creates a wonderful opportunity for us to establish new spiritual habits in our families.” Somewhat-regular lunchtime family devotions and prayer are the habits that COVID stay-at-home orders have made space for in our house. My kids may appear disinterested in online church, but this time engages them more fully.

Family worship is a spiritual practice. It isn’t a performance, and it isn’t primarily about our comfort or enjoyment. Eric Parker says about praying with his family, “Morning and evening prayer with kids never goes exactly according to plan. I honestly don’t enjoy it nearly as much as private prayer, but that’s not really the point. It’s for the spiritual formation of the family as a whole – praying together is staying together, in body and soul.” Our plans will get wrecked, it will not always be easy, yet choosing to show up again and again and again in simple and creative ways molds us all.

It will not always be so. The imperfection and heart struggle I feel about both online and family worship fill me with deep longings. I long for the day we can once again gather in person as the church. The body of Christ has never felt so vital. I need the encouragement of looking into the eyes of a friend while partaking in Communion. My kids need others caring adults in their lives pointing them to the same Christ we point them to at home. But even more than that, I long for the day that we will worship face to face with our Savior, with clear sight. I Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know is part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (ESV) That cloud of doubts, fears and questions that creep into my sight will not last forever. They will evaporate in the presence of God. May his Kingdom come!

On the Sunday mornings when we are wading through the tumultuous aftermath of the preteen getting phone privileges revoked, when sibling conflict threatens to throw the whole household into chaos, when nothing but gummy snacks will quiet the out-of-control toddler and my heart is full of tension, the gospel itself enters in and meets our deepest needs. Jesus came down from heaven to meet us just where we are – messy, broken, unable to get our act together. He pours his abundant, extravagant grace into my basement sanctuary, filling it with holy.