Culture Shock: Final Thoughts
This series is co-written by Linda Ranson Jacobs and Wayne Stocks. Linda has drawn on her years of experience working with children of divorce in a childcare setting, in churches and in developing the Divorce Care for Kids (“DC4K”) curriculum for churches to identify and explain some major issues when it comes to ministering to children of divorce and to explain how those issues were addressed in the DC4K curriculum. Wayne has drawn on his years volunteering in children’s ministry and his work with children of divorce to provide some practical advice on how these issues can be addressed in a weekly children’s ministry environment. Together, we hope that this series will help children’s ministry workers better minister to children of divorce and help those who volunteer in divorce ministries like DC4K to better anticipate and deal with issues unique to children of divorce.
Over the past few weeks in this “Culture Shock” series, we have endeavored to give you a lot of information about ministering to the child of divorce. We have, hopefully, educated you about their lives and have presented various scenarios to help you understand that ministering to the child of divorce may be different than ministry in a traditional children’s ministry.
In the first article we talked about “that child” showing up. We hope you have had a change of heart about “that child” because “that child” needs you, and he or she may have something to teach you about ministering to other children involved in family trauma and crisis.
Life Living Skills
At one point we wrote, “The flow of activities in a divorce ministry will likely need to be different than that in a weekly children’s ministry.” There are many complicated issues involved when ministering to the child of divorce, and one thing that these kids need from us is help in developing life living skills. Now, the first reaction of many of us to a statement like that might be, “that is the responsibility of the child’s parents.” While that is true, in the case of a child of divorce the very foundation of their being has been interrupted and divided into two different components. It is hard to know what and who to believe at the beginning of the coming apart of one’s family, and as those who minister to children we can stand in that gap.
Of course, life living skills need to be surrounded by the presentation of the gospel. However, we must gain the trust of a child and build a relationship with the child in order to effectively present the gospel to them. It is hard for a child to understand there is a loving heavenly Father when his earthly father (or mother) has disappeared. While the gospel is at the center of all that we do, when we are ministering to children of divorce, we may need to spend more time on life living skills in order to prepare their hearts to receive the gospel.
While we’d like to say set it up this way or do that and everyone will fit into the group and behave, the reality is these kids are hurting kids and they need a different environment. Opinions and personal feelings about divorce have to be set aside as you delve into truly understanding the child of divorce and their needs.
If a child came to your class with a broken arm, you would accommodate him. You might help him with his coat or find the scripture in the Bible for him. If a girl came to you in a wheel chair, you would accommodate her. You would realize she couldn’t stand up to play a game or do the movements to a song. When a child of divorce comes to us with a broken heart, we must accommodate their broken heart as well.
In a publication, “The Orphaned Generation” by Scott Wilcher, Mr. Wilcher talks in general terms about today’s youth, but what he says describes the child of divorce and their needs.
“In their abandonment, they hope to be adopted. In their anger, they hope to be calmed, but hope deferred makes the heart sick. (Proverbs 13:12)
They still hope someone older and wise will teach them how to be an adult, that someone will care enough to see their need for spiritual parenting, and get close enough to see the potential in them to be unlikely but powerful heroes for the Kingdom.”
Support Groups for Children of Divorce
Children of divorce can heal but it takes time. During that time you can set up a separate divorce ministry, or you can accommodate them in your regular classes and groups. If you do set up a group to accommodate the child of divorce in reality you are creating a children’s support group.
It is hard to think of children as needing a support program but that is exactly what the child of divorce needs.
They need to come to church and be involved in a class that is going to support what they are experiencing.
They need to be in a group that has other children experiencing the same hurts, trials and feelings.
They need to be in a group where members support each other and they are one of those members who receives the support and who gives the support to another.
They need a facilitator to help them navigate the hard road to recovery.
They do not need a teacher or a leader instructing them in what to do or how to feel.
Divorce Care 4 Kids
In developing Divorce Care for Kids, we set it up to mimic and imitate a group support type of program. In DC4K there are several activities to choose from known as stations. In other words there are several activities going on at the same time. Many leaders that have worked in traditional children’s ministries think the group is out of control because it appears no one is in charge. In other words, there is no one leader standing in the middle of the room talking or giving instructions. But there are facilitators aiding and helping individual children steer around the bumps and boulders on their road to healing. These adults are facilitating the healing needed.
The session continues with a mixture of quiet small group activities combined with larger “circle up” times where everyone is included in an activity such as a video, stories about other kids in divorce, or a Bible story. Children are involved in hands on activities, crafts, role-play, music, dance and exercise designed to bring deep breathing and stretching to relieve stress. There are dramas, stories, group games and group projects.
Training for facilitating is different than training for teaching. Facilitating is making it possible for the child to find healing. It is smoothing the way out of the hurting turmoil these kids experience. It is helping rather than teaching and or instructing. All of these activities are encircled with God’s love from the facilitators.
These children are the orphans talked about in the Bible. “They are scared and alone, longing to know the full love and blessing of their Father, to find community that feels like family, a purpose that focuses their lives and a destiny worthy living for.” (“The Orphaned Generation” by Scott Wilcher) The church and a consistent divorce support group for children can become the temporary family they need to pull them through this turbulent time in their lives.
This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on Divorce Ministry 4 Kids on September 14, 2012.