Establishing the Family Altar




This is a part of Steadfast in the Parish


A printable copy can be found here.

family-altarWe have a problem in the Church.  Our children are not learning the Faith or how that finds expression in our daily lives.  Too often, the false gospels of the world have been inching their way into our children’s souls so that by the time they are adults, the faith given to them in Baptism has been shipwrecked through our own negligence.  The times only are getting worse, and the world is becoming much more public in its hatred of the Gospel of Christ Jesus and those who follow Him.

So what can we do?  The Church has tried a number of things (Sunday School, longer Confirmation, more classes offered), but all of them have not fixed the situation because they failed to acknowledge first and foremost who has been given the authority and responsibility to God for the religious instruction of children.  God has primarily given that task to the parents.

The Christian Faith is meant to be a life-filling one.  This means that from rising to going to bed our lives are to be reflective of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  This means a life filled with repentance and faith in Him.  It means that the way that husband and wife interact has changed.  It means that there is a great earnestness to pass on the Faith to children that cannot be found elsewhere.  It means that the way the world does things is not going to be the way that Christians do.

The key to raising our children in the Faith is the household.  For too long, parents have delegated both the time and task of religious practice to the Church.  For too long, Sunday mornings have been viewed as time for Jesus while the rest of the week has scarcely been sanctified by God’s Word and prayer.  The key is the home.  It is in the home that God places us for the most time.  It is in the home that our struggle between sinner and saint takes up most of our lives.  It is there that we need His Word most.  This is not an either/or, as Church is essential to the Christian home and in no way should the home become a substituted for regular attendance of Divine Service.

So as a solution, I am suggesting and challenging you to establish a Family Altar in your home. This is not a place in your house (though it could be) but a specific time for your household to gather around God’s Word and prayer.  God has so ordered our lives that there are some great times of the day that could work to establish a Family Altar, when we awake, when we go to bed, or when we sit down to eat.  These times offer us ample time to calm down from the hectic pace of life to hear and pray.  These things happen each day and already have habits associated with them, so adding prayer to these times should hopefully be easier.

The following are some suggestions for establishing a Family Altar:

  1. The father should lead the time of devotions (he is the God-appointed head of the household).  If dad is typically not the spiritual one, he should be, and this is a good way to re-assert his God-given authority in the household.  A father who gives up his authority is still responsible for everything that goes on in the household in God’s eyes (you can’t shuck the responsibility before God, even though you may be able to pawn it off on your wife).  A father’s chief duty is to teach their children the Faith.
  2. Establish a time and stick to it (make it a habit).  It may be helpful to establish a certain place as well.  A good goal would be to have a time in the morning and in the evening to pray, reflecting that our whole day is God’s.
  3. Use something that is practical, short, profound and yet simple, relevant, and flexible.  I would suggest the short prayer orders of the Small Catechism for your household.


In the course of establishing a Family Altar, there will be several excuses that come up from within the family but also the world will try to edge its way in as well.   Here are some FAQ:

Is it really necessary for the father to lead?

Yes it is.  God looks to him as the head of the household, made so by God’s ordering.  In leading this may mean that he may have to delegate tasks to others, but this should never mean that the father is uninvolved or absent.  Certainly there may be times when one family member may not be able to be there, but the father should always try to be there.

What about those days when it just doesn’t happen?

Let those days be few and the exception.  Do not let the world have your family or your kids!  Take them back to you as they are God’s gifts to your marriage, to your household.

What if some of the family can’t make it?

The Family Altar should be maintained even if some cannot attend.  If one member of the family regularly is missing, then that matter should be resolved.

What about young children?

If you have younger children it may be hard to keep them involved.  You may be surprised though at how young children will gladly join into a daily routine of a Family Altar.  Certainly they can be encouraged to sit quietly.  Another option is to give them a quiet task while they sit with the family.

What if the children or adults are falling asleep?  (this can happen a lot in morning or evening)

You can either change bedtimes or Family Altar times to alleviate this problem.

How do we keep our routine going on trips or special times in life?

The same way that you keep your other routines going (eating, sleeping, etc.).  You do them because this is who you are.  Having a daily Family Altar is a part of the day, no matter what is going on that day.  If you have guests, invite them to be a part of your Family Altar time.  If guests do not want to be a part, give them some other things to do while your family has its time.

What if my wife or family is unhappy or bored with what I am doing?

You can be sensitive to your family members and even change some things, but the change should never be in favor of having no Family Altar time or one which does not reflect our beliefs as Lutherans.

What about single moms or households where the father is negligent of the Spiritual lives of the family?

Single moms are the heads of their households because there is no father there.  In many cases it may be because of the father’s sin.  Sometimes they sadly find themselves as widows with the extra responsibility.  In any case they have the responsibility to establish a Family Altar time. Special note should be made to raise sons to take over the Family Altar time as they will need to do so when they have families.  In the case of a negligent father, the mother must make do with what she can, trying to encourage her husband (without nagging) to take up his God-given role and yet also encouraging the faithful life of her children.  Your pastor is available to visit and meet anytime to help you in any way.

 We haven’t done the Family Altar for over two weeks after a good start, what do we do?

There is only one thing to do, repent and restart.  Our Lord offers forgiveness to us when we fail (sin).  In that forgiveness is the power to start over, to begin anew.

What resources are available to my family?

There are more “family devotion” books than can be listed.  I would suggest a simpler routine at first and then adding to it as the Family Altar becomes routine.  Your pastor is probably one of the best resources for this task.  Also other fathers in the congregation may be good resources.

Some suggestions to include in your Family Altar time:

Family Altar time can include more than just what I have suggested from the Small Catechism.  You could read Bible Stories for children to learn, or you could use the time for memory work with Sunday School or Confirmation Class.  There is as I said before many devotions which could be used in the time.  The sky is the limits when finding “extra” things that you could do with your Family Altar time.

Some tips for making the Family Altar a success:

The Family Altar is the daily outgrowth of what happens for your good on Sunday morning.  From what the Lord gives in Divine Services you are enabled and encouraged to establish and keep a Family Altar going.  Regular Church attendance (hearing God’s Word, receiving the Lord’s Supper) is essential to keeping a Family Altar going.

About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.


Establishing the Family Altar — 22 Comments

  1. Thank you for such a wonderful article and suggestions. Two great resources are “My First Catechism” from CPH and “The Story Bible” from CPH. Our children all enjoy this time together gathered around the Word each evening. The younger ones can’t memorize as well and the youngest is still learning how to talk, but they all pay attention, learn to fold their hands when they pray, and our 18 month old has the Lord’s Prayer memorized well enough that even though he can’t say it he knows when it ends and always adds his hearty “Amen”.

  2. KFUO has a morning service (Morning Prayer -or- Matins) every morning….except during the convention (argh! – but at least that’s 3-4 years out now!)

    Listen LIVE:
    Check the time slots: << I believe these are listed in Central time

    It has taken us a few years to establish regular morning / evening prayers….and much of this has come because our family wasn't being fed on Sundays. The more contemporary, loose, and supposedly 'mission-minded' the church became the deeper we dug into Holy Scripture, Catechisis, and daily prayer services at home. I believe we've learned a valuable lesson through this struggle…and will never despise the gifts God has given us in His Holy Word (with the Help of God) — but it seems, perhaps, that everyone needs to be starved a bit so they can grow to appreciate the Liturgy and cling to the Cross of Christ as revealed through Holy Scripture.

    Just my two cents…. but maybe this whole contemporary movement won't be such a bad thing after all. << Tell me that isn't good use of the 8th Commandment {patting myself on the back} 🙂

  3. A good and important piece. It’s much harder to keep the family engaged in the faith when regular time in bible reading, doctrinal teaching, and prayer is not used.

  4. My oldest is confirmed and pretty solid on the 6 chief parts and I am struggling a bit to find good resources (admittedly I have not looked hard enough at what Higher Things puts out for devotional stuff). I’d love some suggestions.

    What I have been doing is using the CPH Story Bible and then finding the something to correspond to the reading from the Small Catechism (I have 4 kids ranging from 13 to 3 – this was my attempt to do one session that covered all 4 at once).

    My oldest needs something more. Thoughts?

  5. @Joe Olson #5
    I like teaching the older kids how to use the footnotes in the CPH study Bible and also how to look up the references to other related Scripture that are noted in the center margin. It can be a way for them to dig a little deeper into the same text you all are reading as a family. You might also have them read the corresponding commentary from the CPH “People’s Bible Commentary”. I don’t think they are beyond what a 13 year old would understand.

  6. @Joe Olson #5

    Get your older boy a copy of “Broken” and have him read and use the Altar time to ask you questions and how what he’s learning applies to the lessons you’re doing for the younger ones.

  7. Thank you, Pr. Scheer, for this helpful article!

    Father praying at home and pastors visiting the home are two things that madden the Devil. It’s a shame that churches and synods (mine and yours) get so excited and spend so much time on programs that make the Devil yawn.

    I have been promoting and explaining how to pray at home for many months and this past Sunday I took our family altar (an end table with crucifix and candles and the Story Bible) and preached how to pray to my congregation. For four years I haven’t left the pulpit, but I did for this demonstration of the family altar. Several members mentioned their appreciation, but I still have a lot of work to do as I visit my homes and showing each one of them why this is important and how to do it.

    Also, if you light candles at your altar and have little ones, make sure you have one candle per kid. 😉

  8. We haven’t done the Family Altar for over two weeks after a good start, what do we do?

    There is only one thing to do, repent and restart. Our Lord offers forgiveness to us when we fail (sin). In that forgiveness is the power to start over, to begin anew.

    For me personally, this is the most helpful encouraging statement and reminds me of another favorite encouraging statement:

    When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

  9. Thank you Pastor Scheer. Well done. For those of you in the MN area, this very subject will be dicussed at the Fall Bible Institute in Janesville, October 26th at 3:00pm. The presenters are Pastor David Mumme, Dr. Ryan MacPherson (Hausvater Project), and myself.

  10. Thank you Pastor Scheer. Wonderful article.

    In our parish this year’s every member/Family visit is focusing on the father’s role and the mother’s role in spiritual nurturing, giving the families a couple of examples for how to do evening and morning devotions and walking them through them.

  11. It is important to remember the father needs to have the proper knowledge before he goes teaching his children. Not everyone is blessed with a pastor does an in depth confirmation. In my opinion, the last thing that needs to be done is for a unprepared father or mother for that matter to be teaching their children. I completely agree on the father needing to do his job.This is ignored by some pastors and families aren’t aware God has placed the man into this role.

  12. This was a great article, Pastor. I can remember many times, this came up in threads & articles. Education, whether it be the 3 R’s, Faith & Scripture, and Doctrine, always should begin at home. However, I think setting aside time, is a blessings, for those who can. It isn’t always possible, for a gambit of reasons. However, when situations, that every child has, & there are many, parents need to commit themselves to watching for, knowing what our Lord said or Wrote, and apply it accordingly, age appropriate & lovingly.
    Our Heavely Father is Perfect, so we all of us, have the Perfect Parent! He said no to His own Son, He said yes & did things, that tended to surprise ( Old or New Testament, pick one). We do come with an “owner’s Manual & directions” we call it The Holy Bible. Situations, covered, Father to His Child, covered, parental advice covered, (read thu Proverbs, yep, it’s there too). As kids get older, & the hurts they get, band aids, Neosporin & Solarcaine, or Daddy or Mumma blowing & wiping tears don’t fix, when THIS is an all day, every day, thing, kids return to it & depend on it, or shall I say Him?! Apply it in their little situations, let them see & watch you do it in your’s, admit & eat crow when ya don’t, repentance is learned in such ways. Great article Pastor, I wish more parents did both! Kids are brave, when you give them the instruction & tools, He first gave us parents!

  13. @Joe Olson #5
    The Higher Things devotions are usually good. There is also a plethora of other devotions out there that could work well. “Day by Day We Magnify Thee” is a devotion built off of Luther’s Works that two Anglicans put together during the German blitz of London. Laache of the Norwegians wrote a good devotional called the “The Book of Family Prayer”. There is also one called “Luther’s Family Devotions” from Mark V Publications. CPH put out “The Lord will answer” which is a pretty good Small Catechism based devotion. Treasury of Daily Prayer or the “PrayNow” app could be good. I would also say the Large Catechism would be great.

    Just some thoughts thrown out there quick.

  14. @Dutch #14

    While I agree with many of your points, setting aside time to teach your children about God should not be a luxury. Just as we are to set aside the first fruits of our finances for offerings, we should set aside the first fruits of our time as well. I am not legalistically requiring a certain amount of time or a particular time or even necessarily saying that it has to be the exact same time every, single day. However, if we constantly don’t set aside any time, we are definitely making a statement about God’s importance in our lives, and that message will be passed on to our children.

    (in reference to the preceding comment.)#13
    Secondly, while a lack of knowledge concerning God’s Word does make it more difficult for a father to teach his children, it does not remove his responsibility to do so. He can begin by simply reading from the Bible and the catechism. When questions arise that he cannot answer, he should acknowledge his lack of understanding in the matter and then seek out the answers from his pastor or other reliable sources with his children. He should seek to grow in his understanding through study. If his church does not provide opportunities for Bible study, he cannot simply blame the church or the pastor (although they may be deserving of some criticism); it remains his responsibility to further his study of God’s Word and to pass it along to his children. Perhaps, through reading or seeking out opportunities at other faithful congregations or encouraging his own congregation/pastor to offer further instruction.

    As stated in the article, too many parents simply delegate the Godly training of their children to the church (although I do not believe that this is what you intended to condone).

  15. I would proffer that before looking for devotionals for older youth that parents consider reading through the Book of Concord with them. Begin with the Large Catechism, the Augsburg Confessions, and the Smalcald Articles. I would also proffer that there is value in reading aloud the Living Word, trusting that the Holy Spirit will work the Word into the hearts and minds of the hearers. So, again, rather than devotionals, spend time reading aloud from the Living Word and do so in larger chunks, such as reading aloud one of the shorter epistles in a single sitting, grouping entire chapters together of longer books, reading four or five psalms instead of just a few verses or only one. To hear all of Psalm 119 at once is to hear this glorious, beautiful rendering of the Christian faith, one of longing for rescue mixed in with certitude of salvation, where the constant drumbeat throughout is the Word, is Jesus, is who we are in Him. I am not against devotionals, but I do believe that Christians of all ages look more readily to them than to trusting the power of the Living Word and the efficacy of the Holy Spirit to teach what is read and heard. I also believe that the Lutheran Church at large would greatly benefit if more of her members were intimately acquainted with our Confessions. Some bits, such as the Apology, are admittedly dense and take work to grasp, but others are there for the taking for middle school readers on up.

  16. Pastor Scheer,

    I just want you to know that your article spurred me to action. Thank you. After discussion with my head elder (whom occaisionally posts here) I read your article aloud at our church council meeting as a devotion. I’ve discussed the article with my wife and we are back on track with our family devotions. I would recommend Day by Day We Magnify Thee as well. In addition, my wife bought me Reading the Psalms with Luther. This is excellent. Also, from CPH, a book we have used with our youngster is “Little Visits”. Thank you again.

  17. Joya,
    I agree with you. However, not every Lutheran family, has a father that lives with them, or is rarely home. Trying to gently remind all, that this happens within our Confessional Lutheran homes, too.
    Remember, I do agree with you, I really do. Teach & train our little boys, so they know & remember the honors & priviliges, that become their’s, when they become a Daddy. I have 2, we did, and it shows.

  18. This is a very insightful advice for christian families! How I wish this materials could be availed by our church here too!

  19. @Ombogo #21

    There are a lot of things, but if you have Luther’s Catechism, I think he would say that is the best for daily devotion. He said he used it himself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.