Family Altar

by | Feb 1, 2019 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

I felt like I was in the middle of an evangelistic film. Paul was sitting on the couch with the Bible open and coffee and pizza on the table. Angie asked how everyone’s week was going and if anyone had any questions about God or anything to pray about. A pot of dark roast, a half-dozen enthusiastic stories from Tyler and Melissa, and a party-sized pizza later, Paul led the family in a short scripture reading and meditation. The family prayed for each other and included me in the process. I had never experienced anything like it before. I got a glimpse that day, and most Saturdays for the next year, of what abundant life looks like when it is experienced by an entire family at once.

This is not to downplay the gifts of grace that I regularly enjoyed in my family of origin. Growing up with an obviously practicing Christian mom and an extraordinarily intelligent and good Agnostic father gave me gifts of its own that I would not have experienced living in the shoes of another (even in a household full of believers): I began thinking critically about faith at a very young age. I got to embrace my faith as a choice and had a fully differentiated religion by my early teens.

Free from the constraints of a “family denomination,” I worshiped in Catholic churches and Anglican churches and Salvation Army churches and Pentecostal churches and learned lessons from diverse members of the body of Christ. I do not take these gifts for granted, but I also made promises to myself during these formative years that I’ve resolved to keep when I had a family of my own.

I resolved to pray with them, not just at bedtime but whenever appropriate; to live out faith in front of them by reading scripture, worshiping, talking about how God has been a regular part of my day; engaging them in good works as an expression of faith; asking them questions about their faith and letting them ask their own; sharing my own failings and demonstrating genuine repentance and joy for grace; having weekly, intentional family devotions.

I fall short of these. I need grace like every parent, and I try to recognize and flow in the natural rhythms of family life. The funny thing is, I still don’t know if my kids are experiencing a “typical” Christian home, because from my experience it is something that is seldom discussed. If there is an underlying assumption that all Christians are intentionally discipling their kids, then from the anecdotal and statistical evidence, I’m not sure it is well founded.

The Hemorrhaging Faith Study in Canada found that only one in three Canadian young adults who attended church as a child still do so today, and about half of those who no longer attend also no longer identify themselves as Christians. The primary reasons? “Hypocrisy, judgement, exclusivity, failure.”[1] The Sticky Faith Study found that the positive contributors to a fully integrated adult faith are, “intergenerational relationships, the whole gospel, family partnership, and a safe place to doubt.”[2]

This tells me that the role of the family in Christian discipleship is of paramount importance. Is there any better place for young people to experience authenticity, forgiveness/acceptance, inclusivity, intergenerational relationships, holistic gospel presentation, and a safe place to work through their questions? Is it possible that one of the underlying reasons for our crisis in discipleship is the loss of the ancient practice of “family altar”?[3]

I want to give my children every opportunity/advantage for embracing a living faith that they can call their own. I want them to experience what I did boarding with Paul and Angie for the rest of their short time living under our roof. What would it look like for you to take a step in that direction for your family? There are a number of great tools for getting started on Also check out Formission and PAONL family ministries on Facebook for connection and content.



[3] I am using this term as an outsider and with limited understanding. I have picked it up usually around late boomers and builders as referring to their regular practice of family devotions when raising their children.