Linda Ranson Jacobs is the Creator and Ambassador of DivorceCare4Kids. DC4K is a 13-week program that provides an opportunity for your church to encompass the child of divorce with the loving arms of a church family and demonstrate God’s love. Ms. Jacobs has also created resources for divorced or single parents available at the ParentZone.
How does a church, which focuses on traditional family ministry, minister to the child of divorce? This seems to be the question many churches are wrestling with as they try to define exactly what family ministry looks like. Divorcing families have indeed changed the landscape of what families look like within the church.
In 43 years of ministering to children of divorce, I have personally observed many of the issues researched in the report, Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith? I’m beginning to think it is not so much the “shape” of family, while that has a lot to do with influencing children’s faith, but it is the shape of the church surrounding the family.
In my observation, many divorcing parents who are emotionally absent, in shock, or spend hours working to support their family, may not have the physical energy to take their children to church. If they take them to church they may not have the spiritual stamina to disciple their children in the home.
One component that needs to be addressed in this discussion is how children’s ministry leaders and volunteers need to be educated and trained to work with and accommodate the child of divorce. Ministering to children of divorce isn’t like traditional children’s ministry. In a series of articles on Divorce Ministry 4 Kids (www.divorceministry4kids.com) Wayne Stocks, who is a children’s minister, and I have written about the culture shock children’s ministers have when working with the child of divorce. These kids bring many issues with them; the biggest one being the chaos that follows them to church classes. Addressing behavior issues, helping the child fit in, and knowing how to work with the single parent are critical if we want to keep the kids coming to church.
Churches and understanding leaders can bridge the gap between the child and their relationship with a heavenly Father by coming alongside the child. A church can replicate a loving family who can step up to the plate to assist and co-partner with the single parent to provide spiritual teaching and training to the children.
For almost ten years we have watched a shift in how many children are processing the divorce of their parents divorce through a program called DivorceCare for Kids. (www.dc4k.org) This program, which was released in the summer of 2004, is designed specifically for churches. It is non denominational in nature and reaches across a wide spectrum of issues.
Currently almost 70,000 elementary age children from kindergarten through fifth grade have been equipped with the DC4K materials. Over 3,000 churches worldwide have been supplied with the DC4K kit which includes children’s DVD dramas, music CDs, hand held feelings puppet, storybook, and many other tools to help children process their parent’s divorce. The kit also equips leaders with training DVDs, extensive lesson plans and a Leader’s Guide educating leaders about how to successfully minister to the child of divorce.
In these small groups relationships have been formed, scriptures have been introduced and Christian principals have been set forth. While most of us don’t like to think of young children being in a support group, that is exactly what they need and what churches can provide for them through DC4K.
We have children who were twelve and thirteen years of age when they first went through DC4K and are now young adults. While they aren’t fully into their adult years with families of their own, we are seeing how they are staying connected to the Lord in their faith walk. We are seeing sixteen- and seventeen-year-old teenagers come back to DC4K as teen leaders. They want to reach out to the younger children and help them as they themselves have been helped. And we’ve had countless adult children of divorce share with us how much they have grown in their faith walk and relationship with a heavenly Father by leading DC4K.
We don’t know yet but believe that the majority of the children who experience DC4K will have better outcomes overall. We do know that the door has been opened wider than ever before for these kids to stay connected to a religious community.
After having worked in a Southern California school system; run my own therapeutic childcare for over 20 years in Oklahoma; trained as well as educated thousands of teachers, childcare staff and church leaders about the child of divorce; created the DC4K curriculum and raised my own two children in a divorced family; I know first hand how important the church is in shaping children’s faith. Churches must accept the challenge to confront the issue of divorce and they must do it head on and do it now before we lose another generation to divorce.