Navigating Divorce With Families in Your Church


Not sure how to support kids and their parents as they navigate divorce? Read on for helpful insight and practical examples of how to help kids and families process divorce. 

Your job title may be “Children’s Pastor,” but don’t forget—children come with parents and caregivers! A children’s pastor’s work involves interaction with family members just as much—if not more—than teaching Bible lessons to kids at your church. You’re a “Parents’ Pastor,” too.

As you wear your “Parents’ Pastor” hat, there may be times when you feel in over your head. You accepted this important role in your church because you’re good with kids. Yet now you’re braving the waters of ministry to grown-ups, too. Yikes!

How Divorce Impacts Ministry to Children

As a young children’s ministry director, I recall feeling especially out-of-my-league when it came to ministering to children and families going through divorce. Divorce impacted my leadership and our church’s ministry to kids and families in three significant ways:

1. Attendance

Kids may be with mom one weekend and dad the next. Back then, our church still relied on rewards and attendance charts to motivate kids (I’ve rethought things since then). I recall talking with fretful kids and their defeated single parent about frustrations that came with not “winning” because of their more sporadic schedule. I wish I’d done things differently.

2. Safety

Some families navigate stressful custody situations. As their children’s pastor, I needed to be diligent in our church’s pick-up policies to ensure that all family members were on the same page regarding who’d pick up kids from church. Not wanting that stress to affect the kids, I had to proactively communicate with families to know how to serve them best.

3. Support

Divorce is hard. Period. As a children’s pastor, I needed to learn how to listen and respond to parents’ hurting hearts, brave choices, and concerns for their kids. Admittedly, though, I just didn’t know what to say. And I didn’t know how to encourage and support parents as they guided children through divorce.

Perhaps you’ve felt a little ill-equipped, too. Thankfully, children’s pastors aren’t alone and don’t have to know it all. God has uniquely equipped wonderful experts, including mental health professionals, with tools and wisdom to help families navigate two-household dynamics.

I asked Mandy Milner, a licensed professional counselor and contributor to Group’s Team Family (an new year-round approach to intentional family ministry), to share insight and advice on how to talk with children about divorce. Her practical insights will help you talk with children when they’re at church. Additionally, consider sharing these tips with parents as you offer pastor them, too.

How to Talk With Children About Divorce

For Mandy, how we talk about hard things with kids is as important—if not more important—than what we say. She suggests:

For all kids, regardless of age, be clear, empathetic, and reassuring. Sometimes we try to skirt around the truth, but it’s best to be direct, whether talking about your own divorce or someone else’s. In these kinds of conversations, kids are not only learning about the topic at hand (in this case divorce), but also how we talk—or don’t talk—about hard things.

We want to be a person kids know they can come to with questions and to process life’s hard stuff, and we set the tone for that in how we respond when they ask questions about awkward topics. So pause to breathe, pray, and manage your own discomfort as it comes up, and then do your best to respond.

When talking with kids about divorce, Mandy recommends that parents, caregivers, and children’s pastors keep these three communicate strategies in mind:

1. Be clear.

When kids have questions, answer them honestly, and don’t answer more than they ask. (This applies to kids whose parents are going through divorce and kids at your church who want to talk about their friends or relatives who are going through divorce.) You don’t need to give all the backstory or your interpretation of what happened; start with just the simplest truth.

For example: When a child asks, “What’s divorce?” You might say, “A divorce is when two people who are married decide not to be married anymore.” Then wait to see if they have follow-up questions. You just need to go one step at a time.

2. Be empathetic.

It’s important to acknowledge the feelings that come up when talking about this topic. Do your best to show empathy to others and to children as you talk.

For example:

When kids ask what happened in a friend’s family, you might say: “I don’t know everything that happened either, but I do know that this was probably a very hard decision for them to make.”

Or when talking with kids whose parents are divorcing, you might say: “It’s normal to feel a jumble of emotions in conversations like these—what feelings are you noticing inside of you?”

3. Be reassuring.

The most important things to emphasize to kids when talking about divorce is:

  • This is not their fault (or the fault of any kids involved).
  • They are loved no matter what.

Those tend to be the big questions that get stirred up for kids when they process divorce, so it’s good to anticipate these questions and remind kids of these truths even before they voice them.

For example: Reassure kids that their parents will never, ever stop loving them no matter what. Identify other people who love them no matter what—like you and their children’s ministry leaders. Remind kids that Jesus loves them the biggest of all!

How to Support Parents Who Are Going Through Divorce

Thinking of how children’s pastors can support parents going through divorce, Mandy suggests:

(When parents) are navigating a divorce within their own marriage, it can feel overwhelming to carry their own emotions, as well as those of their children. Encourage parents to give themselves grace. Remind them that showing up, trying, and repairing when things go amiss are much more important than saying or doing the perfect thing.  

Encourage parents to look for ways to increase support for their children so that they are not carrying this all alone. Be ready to offer a few names of therapists in your area if meeting with a therapist would benefit the child. Remind parents that giving their kids appropriate support from other adults is a gift to the whole family during this time—no one needs to do this alone!

Your friends at Group and are here to help and support children’s pastors as you help and support children and their families. That’s what family ministry is all about!

Want more articles to help you serve and encourage families today? Check out this article to help you work with families who struggle with anxiety or consider how this article can help you talk with children about the death of a loved one.

Mandy Milner is a licensed professional counselor who lives and works in State College, Pennsylvania. Mandy received her MA in community counseling from Slippery Rock University. She has worked at 6 different universities in counseling and other student-focused roles. Mandy is a contributor for Team Family, Group’s brand-new  family ministry resource, available Summer 2024. When Mandy is not at work, she enjoys reading a great book, sipping tea, knitting, visiting new places, and living ordinary moments alongside family and friends. 

© Group Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. No unauthorized use or duplication permitted.


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