Encouraging Daily Devotions in the Congregation
How can pastors encourage their parishioners to live out the Word of God every day of the week, using the Sunday Divine Service as a foundation? The Hausvater Project invited Pastor David Mumme of Trinity Lutheran Church in Waterville, Minnesota, to explain the resources he uses to promote the prayer life of his congregation.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16 ESV).
It is essential to our life in Christ that we heed those words of St. Paul both in our life together within a faithful Christian congregation and in our life together within a faithful Christian family and home. We pastors spend a significant amount of time planning and preparing for this in the congregation by choosing hymns and preparing bulletins for Divine Services. But how do we help the members of our congregation let the word of Christ dwell richly in their homes and families? Every pastor encourages his members to read the Scriptures, to pray with and for their families, to sing hymns together, and to learn by heart Bible verses and the texts of Luther’s Small Catechism. But how do we help them to actually do this?
Many years ago, when I was a fourth year student at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, my wife Glenda sat in on a seminar for future pastors’ wives. The presenter was the Rev. Peter Bender of Peace Lutheran Church in Sussex, Wisconsin, and the topic was family devotions and teaching children the faith. The seminar didn’t just encourage these things, it actually taught the nuts and bolts of how to do them.
Pastor Bender’s congregation runs the Concordia Catechetical Academy, which hosts an Annual Symposium on Catechesis on the third Thursday and Friday in June (which I highly recommend for pastors and laypeople alike) and publishes wonderful catechetical materials for Lutheran congregations and families. Pastor Bender encourages and guides the members of his congregation to do daily devotions by printing an insert in the Sunday bulletin called “The Congregation at Prayer.” It is his example that I have followed in my own congregations for all the years I have had the privilege of serving as a pastor.
My bulletin insert—also entitled “The Congregation at Prayer”—is formatted to fit on one side of a half sheet of legal paper. The outline is always the same: Invocation, Verse, Catechism, Psalmody, Readings, Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer, Collect of the Week, Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer, and a couple of stanzas of a Hymn.
The Bible Verse and Catechism for the week repeat on an annual basis. I begin on the second Sunday of September, which coincides with the beginning of my congregation’s youth catechesis program. The Catechism for that week is the First Commandment (with explanation) and the Bible Verse is chosen from the corresponding section of the Explanation of the Small Catechism. I cover the six chief parts over the 39 weeks of the school year, and the Table of Duties over the 13 weeks of summer.
The Psalmody and Collect of the Week are the ones appointed for that particular Sunday of the Church Year in the Lutheran Service Book Altar Book.
For the daily Bible Readings, I follow the Congregation at Prayer Bible Story Lectionary found on pages 405–426 of Lutheran Catechesis Catechist Edition (Second Edition, Concordia Catechetical Academy, 2011). In the fall of the year, we are reading through Old Testament Stories on a three-year schedule. In the winter, spring, and summer, we are reading through New Testament stories and books, again on a three year schedule.
Finally, the stanzas of the hymn are always chosen from the Hymn of the Week for the following Sunday. That way the children of the church can sing a few stanzas of that hymn, even if they cannot yet read!
It took me a couple of years to develop this pattern and tweak it. But it has served my congregations and family well. I encourage families to have daily devotions at the dinner table, after they have eaten together (at whichever meal allows them to do so). I invite them to use as much of this resource as their circumstances allow, and to learn by heart (if possible) the verse, catechism, and hymn of the week.
I have no real way of knowing how many of my members use The Congregation of Prayer on a regular basis. I teach the parents of catechumens how to do so. I encourage it often. I know that some members use it because I see it each week in their Bibles. I also know that this pattern has worked very well with my own family and in my own home.
We Christians know that we should be reading the Scriptures and leading daily devotions in our homes. The question is how. I put together The Congregation at Prayer each week to answer that question for my members. This is how: Do this. Read this. Recite this together. Pray this. Sing this. It takes about 15 minutes. It is well worth the time and effort.
Rev. David Mumme is pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Waterville, Minnesota.
TAGS: Home Devotions