Dealing With Divorce As A Small Group Leader?
Kathey Batey – Divorce Support Anonymous
Fran and Jim, attended small group faithfully years ago. Then they began missing a few weeks. And then they stopped attending all together. Joan, who knew them well hesitated asking for prayer for them in the group with concern it would be gossiping if not done with the purest heart. So, she shared the news with their group leaders. Fran and Jim were getting a divorce. What should the leaders do? How do they handle it? Joan and the group leaders were shocked. No one would have ever suspected. What is the right answer? How do you handle it as the church? As a small group, you are the church. (Matthew 18:20)
Don’t rush to judgement. Judgement is God’s department. You don’t know what is going on (nor do you need to know the dirty details if they are not ready to share). You can cause great defensiveness and people shut down under judgment. You want them to be open to bring themselves into the church. Love opens us, judgement shuts us off. Love the sinner, hate the sin.
What about calling out their sin? Again, God’s department. Not sure why people feel it is their responsibility to call out the sins of others. Just be present.
What about church discipline? Talk with Jim. If he is having an affair or leaving for non biblical reasons and obstinate and refuses to listen to the word of God, take another with you second time. If he still insists in his sin. Bring it (privately) to the church leadership.
Here is the word of caution. Jim may be leaving his wife because of her own sin that killed the marriage. It is not simple, it has taken years to compound. If she is an alcoholic or in an emotional depression she refuses to get help with, physically violent or other examples. She was the one to leave the marriage. Not Jim. Jim is just trying to bury what is already dead and trying to survive this horrendous marriage. So, be careful throwing any stones. Judgment is for the Lord. There are times to stand up in biblical discipline but do it with extreme caution. Keep in mind, there are other ways to leave the marriage than walking out the front door. Fran may have left the marriage spiritually, mentally years ago. So, to punish Jim only adds to his distress.
Reach out individually to each person. A man reaches out to a man, a woman reaches out to a woman. Be protective of those who wish to take advantage of the vulnerable. Protect Fran and Jim if you sense there is a predator among you. (Yes, sadly it happens).
Pray of course. Miracles happen, reconciliation is possible. If they do get through this crisis, receive them warmly into the group. But if the divorce does occur now is the most vital time to prove the group is the church God intended. Jim and Fran are going to need support. If you shun them now, you can scar them from wounds of the church.
Where Do I begin with Jim? Reaching out. Contact: “Hey Jim, this is John. We miss you at small group and just wanted to let you know. Are you doing OK?” (pause and listen)Can we meet for a coffee?
Nine times out of ten Jim will tell you what is going on if you are trustworthy with his sacred pain. If he doesn’t and refuses coffee. “I care Jim. And would really appreciate your time. Maybe meet at the basketball court or golf course?” If you meet with Jim, keep his confidences private. Consider the honor of holding someones sacred stories in safe keeping. What I tell my support groups, “If you must talk about what you hear in this group, talk to God about it in prayer.”
If Jim will not meet with you, then let it go. You can send him a text or an email a week later, just to let Jim know you are there. Do not underestimate the value you give to Jim by doing this. Do not interpret his reactions in any way. People going through divorce don’t know how to deal with this trauma. He’s in terrible pain and especially for men, it is difficult to reach out and admit they need help.
The same plan for Fran. Reach out to her. If you remain quiet and do nothing they will feel even more alone and that the church doesn’t care. Care. I am convinced this time of trauma is as powerful as it is painful. And people’s spirits are raw, bewildered and with real need of comfort and support. God is able to do great acts through small gestures. I remember the words people spoke to me when I went through my divorce. The simplest were profound. Dorothy, “You’re going to be OK.” Retired Pastor Leroy from Hopewell Church , “How can I pray for you?” It didn’t take much, like a sip of water when you are parched or a simple touch on the arm to give comfort. They gave me oxygen so I could breathe.
In my many years of holding support groups, domestic mediation and coaching individuals I see the need for the church to rise up and meet this need in people’s times of pain, shame and confusion. Offering support and love to the divorcing is more important than you realize. Jesus is the answer for all of life, including divorce. There is something profound about being there in their time of need. It’s called ministry. And isn’t that what God called us to do and to be?
Don’t be afraid of the opportunity to minister. Raise to the challenge of loving the unlovely, weeping with the hurting.
Don’t be afraid of tears. You don’t have to fix it. Chances are almost 100% you can’t. But letting them cry will help them flush out some of the pain and be able to cleanse their heart.
Don’t be afraid of silence. A person in trauma needs to speak, but sometimes the words cannot come out. Just like a funeral. Just be there, there are no words or fast Bible verses to paste on this problem to make it go away. Yes, scriptures are powerful. But tend to their need first, teach later. Let there be silence.
Listen with your whole heart. Show empathy. Be in their moment. It is powerful for them. Pray for God to give you the right words.
With God’s great help through the church, Fran and Jim will get through the trauma of divorce. The dust will settle, they will work through their issues through a support group and life will get to a rugged new normal. But Fran and Jim will always look back and ask, “Was the church real to me in my deepest need? Or were they cold, afraid, and judgmental? I pray they can look back and say, “Wow, God met me in my most critical need through the people of my small group.”