If you were to go to any student ministry in the country and ask the question, “How many of you have divorced parents or know a friend with divorced parents?” … everyone in the room would have a hand raised. Statistically, at half of all marriages resulting in divorce, this is something unavoidable in student ministry. As a student pastor or volunteer leader, your heart breaks for these students who are simply trying to survive a really broken situation. Here are a couple things to be intentional on when ministering to a student facing these circumstances.
While middle school and high school students are still developing emotionally, most of the time they have no idea how to cope with the devastation divorce can cause. As a leader in their life who hopefully has proven your care for them, start the conversation they may not know how to start themselves. This is to help them process what they are feeling about the situation and then understand what to do about it.
Your questions should come from a heart of interest in their wellbeing and not from a basis of trying to gather information about the ‘why’ behind the divorce. You often hear of struggling students lashing out or withdrawing within. This is usually because of a deep hurt they have no idea how to deal with. You can be there to help them articulate right where they are as well as be a guide in what to do about it.
This can seem like a given, but do NOT forget to just simply listen. As your students answer questions you ask, or even open up about the depths of their despair, the temptation can be communicating too quickly how to “fix” a situation rather than just being there for them in their hurt. Chances are, a student will indeed ask for your advice eventually, but don’t miss the opportunity to cry with them like Jesus did with Mary and Martha when they were hurting over the loss of their brother, Lazarus (John 11:35). Jesus says blessed are those that mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4) and this is very important in processing hurt. Be present and listen in order to love well with what’s next.
Remind Them of Truth
In any area of difficulty, the enemy and the world are trying to constantly sell lies to destroy. Students can believe things like the divorce is their fault, the parents will love them less now, God is inactive in their hurt, history will repeat itself for them when they get married, etc. I was one of those kids with divorced parents who believed all of those lies. I just carried them until the Lord saved me in high school and my student pastor explained those burdens I was lugging around weren’t actually true.
As a voice of reason to students facing such sorrow, you get to ask questions which leads to listening that then leads to reminding them of what is true: they are loved, cherished, looked after, purpose-filled, and masterpieces of God. You can remind them that Jesus isn’t the way out but rather the way through.
The truth is: God cares for them within their hurt and this difficulty is on opportunity to get to know God’s character as He walks with them through it. Give wise counsel to your students as they can actually minister in their own families or with others going through the same thing. If you have built a relationship with a student, you may even have the in to be able to speak truth straight to the parents, as well.
For really broken situations, don’t ever hesitate to seek wise counsel yourself.
You don’t have to know everything to be hope in a student’s life. Jesus is the hope that we just have the privilege of pointing to. Walking with someone going through a really hard time can drain you so don’t forget to have an area to process and talk through it all yourself with a mentor, community group, counselor, etc. Pray diligently for opportunities and the right-timed words to guide students within their hurt to the cross.
This post was written by Robb Hollifield. Robb serves as the senior high student pastor at Cross Creek Church in Fountain, CO. In addition to his role at Cross Creek, Robb serves weekly in a local skateboard ministry called P.R.O.C.E.S.S. in Colorado Springs.