Timothy Yeung—Vancouver, Canada
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate. (Ps 127:3–5)
Children are a spiritual heritage passed down to us by the Lord. Like any other inheritance, this blessing has to be cherished and preserved. Our children have been entrusted to us by the Lord so that we can raise them in the faith and continue this spiritual legacy. Now that the True Jesus Church has passed her first centennial, we need to pass on the faith to the next generation and prepare for the coming of our Lord Jesus. How can we effectively achieve this goal? The key is to know the role of children in the family altar and lay the foundations for spiritual independence from an early age.
BUILD AS THEY GROW
Infancy Stage (0–3 years)
In 2019, the average Canadian two-parent household consisted of 3.99 individuals (around two children), and the average lone-parent household consisted of 2.56 (fewer than two children). Since smaller families have become the norm, it is understandable that a newborn baby will become the center of his or her parents’ focus. Once they have kids, many young families will stop attending evening services and resign from holy work to concentrate on child-rearing. However, once we understand that children are a heritage from God and that the primary objective of having children is to maintain and pass on our spiritual legacy to the next generation, we will return our focus to God.
We should not allow our babies to become an excuse for forsaking church services and God’s work. I have observed some young parents fully committed to attending services, including a full day of Sabbath worship and additional evening services. They simply pack everything they need—spare clothes, nappies, weaning accessories, toys—and bring their babies in a stroller. When I ask how they can show such devotion, they reply that putting Jesus rather than their babies at the center of the family is the right thing to do. After all, it is God who has blessed them with children.
God bestows the heritage of children on parents to teach them to have a stronger faith, to pass on this spiritual legacy. One day, they will have to give an account to God. If all parents remember this, they will become more proactive in their faith and build up a family altar as soon as their bundle of joy arrives. Having a newborn should remind us to seek God’s word and pray more, not less.
Preschool Stage (3–5 years)
Building up the family altar is central to maintaining the faith of the next generation. Nowadays, relying on church services and religious education classes is not enough to cultivate our children's faith. Therefore, each family should build their family altar according to their needs, to worship God, share, and have fellowship at home. This should begin in early childhood.
When a child is between three and five years old, parents should spend time every night reading a Bible story and praying with them. Many parents know the benefits of reading bedtime stories, but they stick to fairy tales and popular books. These precious moments with our children are wasted when we only read secular stories, which espouse worldly values and practices. Instead, parents should spend at least ten to fifteen minutes reading Bible stories to their children at bedtime. This could be a story from a children’s picture Bible or a short passage from the Bible. Parents can follow their local church’s Bible reading schedule or choose some more well-known biblical tales.
Bedtime is the ideal time for children to wind down, and naturally, their minds will open up and begin to wonder. So parents may find their children asking questions about the stories they have just heard. This is an excellent opportunity for parents to share their thoughts, and this also encourages parents to be more familiar with the Bible themselves. This way, both parent and child can grow spiritually.
The family altar can conclude by reciting the Lord’s Prayer—bilingual families can recite this in their mother tongue and second language. This process allows the children to focus on God and share precious time with their parents. Though young children have a very passive role in the family altar, this will prepare them for the next stage.
Childhood Stage (5–10 years)
As the child’s understanding and language skills grow, parents can expand the family altar by replacing one or two nights of bedtime Bible stories with family services. These family services can include hymn singing, prayers of understanding, and Bible reading. While parents lead the services, they should always encourage the whole family to participate. They can prompt the children to choose the hymns, read Bible verses aloud, and ask questions. If a child can play a musical instrument, they can accompany the hymn singing. When parents think they are ready, children can lead the prayer of understanding at the start of the service.
Family services should be short—no longer than thirty minutes—but held regularly. Children will gradually learn that they have a role in the spirituality of the family and the building up of the family altar. This consistency will allow their little minds to forge a connection with God. At the same time, family members sharing God’s grace and their testimonies each week will also build up the family bond and keep everyone’s spirits united despite their busy lives.
If children start enjoying the family services because they are more engaged, their hearts will grow close to God and their parents.
Preteen and Adolescent Stage (10+ years)
If the family altar has been established during the previous stages of the children’s development, there will be a smooth transition into their teenage years. By now, regular family services will be a time of devotion and testimony sharing, but will also become a time of training for teenagers. Since the children are familiar with the routine, they can start to lead family services. This is also a safe and relaxed environment in which teens can practice leading hymns, interpreting, and playing the piano before the nerve-wracking experience of serving in these ministries for the first time in front of a packed church hall.
When teenagers have developed their roles and responsibilities in this family setting, they will be equipped to serve God and put Him in the center of their life as they prepare to enter adulthood. Families who have established family altars have witnessed God’s grace continually flowing into the lives of their children as they weather the emotional storms and spiritual ups and downs of adolescence.
The family altar also provides a platform for parents to understand their children's challenges during this period. Therefore, the family altar at this stage should involve discussion of faith-related issues such as drugs, dating, purity, marriage, and so on. Parents should avoid lecturing their teenage children but let them express their opinions, questions, and concerns. Sharing Bible verses for enlightenment and praying with them will reduce their stress and encourage them to entrust their cares to God, thus opening the opportunity to experience God’s guidance in their lives. Giving them these tools is particularly important for when they enter high school or college, where temptations abound.
Once teenagers learn to put God first in their life, honoring Him above all else, they will have established their personal altar in their heart. Their faith is now their own, not just the faith of their parents.
Finding Time for God as a Family
Nowadays, parents are overwhelmed by the never-ending task list of raising children and giving them a competitive edge from an early age. Some may complain that, with the time spent studying to get good grades and participating in extracurricular activities, there is no space in their children’s schedule for a family altar.
However, let us remember the words of the Lord Jesus: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt 6:33). If we do not put God first when we raise our child, we will miss out on God’s blessing and guidance. We do not simply have a family altar when we have time—we have to find time. Going forward, this is the most important thing for our children’s spiritual cultivation and their relationship with God.
How do we find time? The answer is that we have to make sacrifices by reducing activities that take up our children’s time and energy. Some parents, driven by the fear of their child’s losing out, arrange a packed weekly roster of extracurricular activities for their children—learning piano, violin, dance, art, sports, languages, and so on—and even book them into classes on Sabbath mornings. But such an exhausting schedule means that neither child nor parent will have the energy or be in the mood for a conversation at the end of the day, never mind family altar. Therefore, parents need to make wise choices regarding their children’s activities.
Another important consideration is the family’s use of digital devices and screens. It is a familiar scene in many families: after dinner, everyone goes to their rooms to play with their gadgets. In such a situation, it will be challenging to build the family altar as each person’s mind is occupied by the world.
Sadly, time spent alone with screens often outweighs the time spent together as a family. If parents grant their children unlimited access to smartphones and tablets from a young age, they will become addicted. With such stimulating and time-sucking devices at hand, it is no wonder that children struggle to find the time and heart to read the Bible and pray at home.
Therefore, parents must be strict about the amount of screen time their child can have. Children under six should have minimal access to screens, and older children’s screen usage should be limited and closely monitored. If this restriction is imposed early on, the family will find it easy to talk about God, share their thoughts, and have meaningful discussions during their precious family altar time.
Independent Bible Reading
Some families can hold family services every night. But even if this is the case, children must develop a habit of independent daily Bible reading and prayer to have their own personal time with God.
To train a child to read the Bible independently, the parent must set the example. If children grow up seeing their parents always using their smartphones, how will they behave when they have a smartphone of their own? Children model their behavior on what they observe. So the most impactful thing that parents can do is to cultivate their own Bible reading routine.
Babies start to pick up language from the day they are born, and research has shown that early parental reading leads to stronger vocabularies and literacy skills later on. So, before their children reach the age of two, parents should start reading Bible stories to them to aid their spiritual development and help them know God as early as possible. There are plenty of children’s picture Bibles on the market. If we promote Bible stories to them over secular and, at times, meaningless books, they will reap great spiritual benefits.
When children start reading independently, at around the age of six, the next step is for parents to give them their first Bible—again, there are many available versions aimed at children. The parents’ main task is to encourage them to read it independently, in much the same way that parents must teach a child to practice their musical instrument. Both positive and negative enforcement—the carrot and the stick—can be used. We should not only ask, “Have you done your homework?” but also, “Have you read your daily passage?” One paragraph, passage, or page a day is good enough. As they progress in age, this should increase to a chapter or more. Once this daily Bible reading habit is firmed up, it will stay with them for the rest of their life.
As children grow, their role in the family altar moves from passive to active. The key is to start early in their lives and establish a suitable routine as a family. Parents should adjust their lifestyle and daily schedule to free up time and energy for building the family altar. This will include cutting down on extracurricular activities, limiting screen time for the whole family, and having open and humble communication with our children. Much prayer, time, and effort are needed, but the reward will be great indeed, as the whole family draws closer to each other and to God, preserving the spiritual legacy of faith for the next generation.
 “User Guide for the Survey of Household Spending 2019,” Statistics Canada, January 22, 2021, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/62f0026m/62f0026m2021001-eng.htm.
 Lydia Denworth, “The Magic of Reading Aloud to Babies,” Psychology Today, May 5, 2017, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brain-waves/201705/the-magic-reading-aloud-babies.