This is a draft. Comments on how to improve it are greatly appreciated. 🙂
As divorce rates rise, our idea of family is shifting. No longer will a church be full of nuclear families with very little variation, but congregations are now full of a myriad of families – two common forms of which are single parent & blended families. This must lead us to consider how to most effectively minister to and with these family units.
There seem to be three key elements in ministering to single parents & blended families that we must consider – we must consider their unique stories, their practicalities and God’s perspective.
It is easy to place families within categories and address them all as one, assuming that they have the same problems, complications and backgrounds, but it must never be forgotten that each family that we come across in ministry will have a story of their own. These stories are especially relevant as we think about single parent & blended families.
Church can be seen a place where masks must be worn, and the scars of a life lived in a sinful world must be hidden. This perception is problematic at best and a tragedy at worst. As families come to church, they are not coming to receive intellectual input on theological ideas or to understand greater the place of Leviticus in the canon of Scripture. They are coming to encounter God and His people.
As we delve into the depths of the story God tells us throughout the Bible, we do not see perfect people. We see broken people who are sinful themselves and also marred by the sin of others. The only exception to this rule is the person of Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us a story – a narrative in which God is both the primary actor and story teller – and it would seem that we are inclined to tell stories and to engage with them.
As a church, we need to be a community where stories are not merely tolerated as an occasional part of a service, but where stories are allowed and encouraged to be told constantly as a way of engaging with each others lives and with the God who is sovereign over them. When these unique stories are told, it means that single parent & blended families are not made to feel as if their stories are shameful, and that they must hide their histories. It means that we are all standing under God, in a broken and sinful world, but also reminding each other of His grace as we respond to each others stories.
Stories left untold seem to stir up bitterness within us as we stifle our own voice, biting our tongues in hope that no one will come close, but when we are a community where stories are freely told, we are then free to engage with each other and with our God.
Knowledge of a story will allow us to understand the practicalities of different families lives. In one case of a blended family, a 12 year old boy’s father bought him season tickets to his favourite baseball team’s games. The games took place on a Friday night for almost half the year. His mother was angry because that meant he couldn’t attend youth group for that period of time. As a youth team, it is important that we do not step into the conflict of the family, but that we do still consider these options.
Custody must be considered. Do the children stay with different parents on different weeks? If they do, then our teaching programs must not be so separate each week that if a child is to miss one week they would be completely left behind. Do we make them feel guilty for missing a week? We definitely shouldn’t.
Legality must be considered as we come to particularly volatile family situations. If a parent or family member is not allowed to pick up a child or be near them, we need to be alert to that and make sure that we pay particular attention to who is around the child without making them feel like they’re living in the Big Brother house. Perhaps the best way to do this is simply relational – spend time with and genuinely care for the child. They are not just a number in your program. No child is.
Partnership is a key element of children’s and youth ministry. We are not ministering to just a child. We are working in partnership with parents. That becomes particularly perplexing when engaging with a blended or single parent family in which parents may have different faiths, or even just attend different churches.
Family is a volatile idea for many. Brokenness can be synonymous with the idea of family and thus the role of God’s family is an important one. As a child or teenager wrestles with the brokenness in their own lives, their image of church as a family will be an important one in shaping their faith. As brothers and sisters are torn apart in a divorce, will they see unity and love and grace among their brothers and sisters at church, or will they perceive judgment and awkwardness? It is often the experience of young people that their friends and companions do not know how to react to stories unlike their own, and so their reaction is either negative, or they do not react at all – which is perhaps worse.
God’s perspective is important to see among all this. God’s plan to bring all things to completion. God’s grace shown to us most of all in Christ, stepping into a broken world to redeem it, giving us hope for a future where our tears will be wiped away. Not only this, but we must know that we live in a time where we have received the promise of salvation – the seal of the Holy Spirit – but we wait for the completion of God’s good work. We must rejoice in God’s work now, but also mourn and ache together as we hope for the day when our tears are wiped away and we join the joyous chorus of final redemption.
God’s story must be considered as the grand narrative that we all live within. Broken stories that comes together to create a melody of grace and redemption completed in Christ, sung by the faithful. Single parent and blended families have unique stories, unique practicalities and the same great God who rules over us all.