Has a divorce in your past kept you out of church?
“Not one person from that church has ever called me in three years.” That was the response from the man I ran into at a store recently. “I’ll never set foot in that church again”, the man concluded. Sadly I’m not sure he’s setting foot in any church these days.
Little would need to be said to convince people that divorce is a major problem in our society. There are now more people in families that have experienced divorce than there are families never touched by divorce. If the church today wants to reach families for Christ it must learn how to minister to divorced people.
There are no easy answers. As a pastor who has experienced the pain of divorce personally, I feel it is imperative that we continue to teach Biblical truths and never allow our culture to dictate our teachings. (I realize there are plenty who feel a divorced person can’t be a pastor, and for that I would just say we disagree.) On the other hand, we must live within our culture and find ways to reach the people within the context of that culture. In my counseling of people who have experienced divorce, I have learned there are a few things which are imperative for people who want to be accepted into the church following divorce.
Don’t Be Plagued by Divorce. Most divorced people feel that they are no longer welcome in the church. Many times this feeling is self-induced, but often it is a result of attitudes within the church. Divorced people tell me they are often made to feel dirty in the church, rather than being ministered to with God’s grace as any other person would be. The Bible is clear that God hates divorce, not because He hates divorced people, but because divorce hurts the people God loves. Church is the place where hurting people belong! You should feel welcomed into the church following divorce. Don’t allow bad representations of who Christ is by other Christians to keep you from worshipping God.
Find a Church of Grace. I would never encourage someone to attend a church that doesn’t teach God’s Truth. God’s Truth, however, is that His grace is available for all. There are churches that apply God’s grace to divorced people, while maintaining their allegiance to the truth of God’s Word. Don’t be scared away from church by the legalistic and unloving attitudes of a few misguided Christians.
Be willing to learn from your mistakes. Ask for help in discovering the mistakes you made in your marriage and the things that led to its breakup. In every situation, each spouse contributed some part to the breakup. Be willing to humble yourself and admit your part.
Allow your hurts to help others. One of the greatest needs in the church today is for people who are willing to be real and vulnerable before other people. All of us can learn from the mistakes of others. If you have been hurt by the pains of divorce, your experiences are valuable to others and to the church. My divorce has “scarred” me in some people’s eyes permanently, but I know God has used my experience to minister to hundreds of others.
Prepare for future marriages. When my sons each turned 16 years old they spent about 40 hours in driver’s training. In most churches today they will be blessed if he gets ten percent of that time in counseling before marriage. Before you consider remarrying, invest some time in premarital counseling. If free counseling isn’t available, be willing to invest financially in professional counseling. A great marriage is worth the investment.
Find your strength in God: Divorce is hard on everyone involved, but the recovery is much faster if the person is growing spiritually. Even though you have been hurt by divorce, God still has a plan for your life. It is with His strength that you will be able to recover from the pain of divorce.
As a person who watches statistics, I have wondered if one of the reasons church attendance nationally is declining is that we aren’t reaching the divorced people of society; one of the largest segments of the American population. If you have been hurt by words and actions of people in the church because of your divorce, or if you feel unwelcome in the church, as a pastor speaking on behalf of the church, please accept my apology. The Jesus I know from the Bible would surely not want you to be further wounded by the church He gave His life for and would welcome you to His church!
The church should not embrace divorce, but it should certainly love and embrace the people who are being hurt by divorce and offer solutions to hopefully change the culture away from divorce. That will never occur if the subject of divorce is taboo in our churches. Certainly Jesus would have hated divorce. His father does. I have often told people that I understand God’s Word when He says “I hate divorce” better than most people. Divorce injures the people God loves so much. I have the idea, however, that if Jesus lived in our culture He would have contacted the man who had been missing from church these past three years. My question for the church today is this: Shouldn’t we do likewise?
Please accept my invitation today to be a part of the Church of Jesus Christ!