Often, when a couple divorces, both spouses leave their church. If there are children, they disappear as well. I want to show you ways to retain at least one of the spouses (and hopefully their children)– and why you should try.
Occasionally, one of the spouses will remain at the church. In rare instances, both will stay, but for the most part, the family fades away never to be seen at church again. This creates missed ministry opportunities and removes the children from a supportive, affirming environment.
Some of the research on adult children of divorce shows that many of these adults were as disappointed with the church for their lack of empathy and neglect as they were at the parent who left the home. What can a church do to help the divorcing single parent family stay connected to the church?
Learn and understand what is going on in the family
What do church leaders really know about divorcing families? Many know that divorcing families are messy. They know there are many problems associated with the divorce.
But how many really know what the problems are? I’m not saying you need to know all the lurid details but it does help to have an understanding of the situation.
Here is an example of what I’m talking about. Recently a single mom in my group complained because she had some visitors from the church come to her door. She told me that when she opened the door there stood two men. They had their “church shirts” on. You know the ones with the church logo and name. But that didn’t quell her skittish feelings.
She didn’t feel comfortable letting two men into her house on a dark evening. Of course the men meant no harm but she felt uncomfortable with the situation.
One reason this divorcing mom didn’t feel uncomfortable is because she is in the middle of a messy divorce and she doesn’t know if the ex is having someone watch her comings and goings and who is visiting her home. Entertaining two strange men on a dark night might not bode well in a court hearing.
How many church leaders would ever think about that issue? Not many. A phone call or perhaps sending a married couple or a couple of women would have put this mom’s mind at rest.
Love on them
I mean truly and earnestly love on them. Accept who they are. So what if they come to church not dressed like most of the people in your church? So what if they have four kids and they try to manage those four rambunctious kids sitting right behind you?
They need you, and they need for you to care. Perhaps just offering to sit with the single-parent family might help. Or you could offer some color sheets and crayons to the children. Another idea I’ve used more than once is to have a child circle all of the “A’s” in the bulletin. Then offer to let them read in your Bible with you. Anything to help them feel wanted.
What they don’t need is for you to stare at them. Many divorcing people become perceptive and they learn to read the looks on faces. They recognize the look of judgment on former friends’ faces, and that judgment hurts. Turn your feelings and your judgments over to the Lord. Let Him be the judge of their sins.
Ask if they want a hug. Some people from fractured families want to be hugged while others want to steer clear of anything physical. I had one single dad that always said “no” and backed away when I would ask if he wanted a hug.
One afternoon he spent three hours at my house talking about his teenage son. Evidently he now feels more comfortable receiving a hug from me.
I had another older man tell me that to this day he remembers the first time he visited a church I attended in Oklahoma. He said he was a stranger and feeling very alone and lonely at that church until I asked if he needed a hug. He said it was that one short hug that made him feel comfortable in the church.
Listen to their eyes
What are their eyes telling you? If you look closely you can see the hurt in their eyes. Many won’t make eye contact with you or they will look into space when talking to you.
I didn’t realize that I was doing that during my divorce. It was that I just hurt so much that I was afraid if I looked at people when I was talking they would see how much I was hurting. Second thing was I was afraid I would start bawling. I felt like I was always on the verge of tears and I was afraid if the tears started I wouldn’t be able to stop.
Learn to recognize the broken hearts
You can see it in how they carry themselves – beat down and depressed. They may sigh a lot. Learn to recognize those sighs.
Others will let the divorce define who they are. In other words their entire being is centered around the divorce. Instead of going through a divorce, the divorce becomes who they are. They eat, talk and sleep divorce. These people especially need to remember the love of the Lord and that Jesus Christ suffered and died for their sins. They need to be prayed for. Find a scripture and put that person’s name in the scripture and pray it upon them. You don’t need to tell them what you are doing. Let the Holy Spirit prevail.
Fracturing families need meaningful ministries
Often during a divorce, hearts are open and people are looking for spiritual solutions to their lives. Offer groups and ministries that meet their needs such as DivorceCare, Single and Parenting and don’t forget the kids. Offer DC4K (DivorceCare for Kids) for the children.
Offer environments such as small groups on Sundays, where these families can be nurtured. Please don’t shepherd the freshly separated or the newly divorced person into a singles ministry. Divorcing parents have a different agenda than singles in that they are raising children. Plus they don’t need to be thrown into a possible dating situation early on.
Occasionally, ministry to the family will open opportunities for reconciliation of the family. Rare, but worth pursuing when it is possible.
Other ideas and ways to help
If you don’t want to start an entire single parent ministry, think about alerting and educating your adult teachers and leaders what it’s like to parent alone. If you have a single dad attend your church, it’s healthy for him to go to the men’s class or small group. Encourage that group to welcome that single dad and even possibly address some of his concerns with the group.
If you have a single mom the same holds true for her. She needs to be welcomed and the ladies need to embrace her with loving arms. Too many times the single mom feels judged and left out. Ladies from two-parent homes can extend the hand of friendship to the lonely single mom.
If you host parenting classes or the head minister preaches on discipline, remember the single parent. If at all possible make a couple of comments to include the single parent.
I was at a children’s minister’s conference one day when one of the keynote speakers, upon seeing me, stopped in the middle of his talk and said, “Being a single parent must be the toughest job in the world. I don’t know how they do all that they have to do.” Just those few words said to me that this minister was beginning to understand the role of being a single parent and what a hard job it is.
Allow everyone a chance to be part of the family of God.
How are you allowing everyone to contribute to the family of God and to feel comfortable and free to worship and praise a mighty God?