Divorce is to a family what a lost wing is to an airplane in flight. As the shepherd of your flock, your heart breaks with every report of yet another broken family in your church.
You want to do something to reverse this devastating trend, and preaching is your most powerful tool. But how do you approach such a sensitive topic when statistics alone indicate that a significant number of the people in your congregation have been adversely affected by it? The answer is: cautiously, factually, and, above all else, lovingly.
The Bible’s position on divorce is clear; God hates it (the divorce, not the person) because, with rare exception, it breaks down the nuclear family. This, by the way, is not a statement of judgment; it is a statement of empathy. I would venture to say that those who have been through a divorce will say that they, too, hate divorce.
However, because modern culture widely accepts it, the number of cases has risen to an all-time high. The key is not to shame the divorced—it is to influence a reversal to this rising trend by exposing the cause and offering solutions that will help prevent it.
Interestingly divorce, in and of itself, it is not a sin. Even the Bible makes provisions for a sanctioned divorce. There are times when a divorce is the right decision. On the other hand, there are times when it is simply used as a way of escaping an otherwise workable situation. In either case, it breaks down the family and brings with it a host of complications and emotional baggage. This brings us back to the reason God hates divorce: first of all, two people He joined together to help each other are now at each other’s throats and soon will be separated. And then there are the precious children, totally innocent yet bearing the emotional turmoil of their family falling apart. Chances are they too will consider divorce one day when their marriage hits a tough spot—because, after all, that’s how Mom and Dad handled it.
We are all familiar with the scripture that says “For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce…” (Malachi 2:16 NKJ) but a sermon using this scripture is incomplete unless it answers the question “Why does He hate it?” from a biblical view. The previous verse provides the answer: “He seeks godly offspring” (Malachi 2:15 NKJ). The potential for offense here is huge if not handled properly, because it may imply that divorced people cannot produce godly children. This, of course, is not true. However, the message cannot avoid the fact that divorce has a negative effect on children. First of all, most divorced people could testify at length to the adverse affect their divorce had on their children. Secondly, children need help overcoming the challenges the divorce can create in their development.
So when you preach on this subject, add a balance to this stinging fact by incorporating several encouraging and helpful tips on how to overcome the challenges of raising children after a divorce. Reinforce the fact that their children can turn out just as godly as those not affected by divorce, but the parents will simply have to work a little harder to overcome the negative effects their children suffer as a result. Divorced people know it’s been rough, and their children know it’s been rough. Cut through the awkwardness of the subject and give them the specific and practical help they need.
I faced this challenge at a church I pastored several years ago. I, too, was frustrated by the devastation divorce was causing the people in my congregation. But every time I began to put together a message on the subject, I would second-guess how the divorced people would handle it. So, I conducted a focus group of divorced people in my church to get their honest input.
To my surprise, I discovered that they unanimously wanted me to hit the subject head-on without being preoccupied by upsetting them (albeit in a way that did not cause their children to disrespect them for their choices). As it turns out, they—like God—literally “hated” their divorces and did not want others to suffer the same damaging experience.
With their support, I launched a series of messages on divorce, and the outcome was very positive. When stating the negative effects of divorce and remarriage, I encouraged those affected and pointed out the need for extra effort to overcome the potential pitfalls inherent to divorce and blended families. Looking out into the audience as I preached, I was actually encouraged by the affirming nods and “Amens” of the divorced people I originally feared upsetting. Ultimately, I was able to preach on divorce in a way that influenced the divorced to never repeat the process, and all others to guard against it ever happening in the first place.
The pastor delivering a message on divorce will have both strengths to pull from and challenges to overcome. If the preacher has never experienced a divorce, their marriage can serve as a good example of how God intended for marriage to be. The challenge will be convincing listeners that you understand and relate to their pain. The same goes for a preacher who has experienced divorce; the strength will be in your shared experience, and the challenge will be to discourage it after you’ve chosen the option yourself. In short, any preacher can deliver an effective message on divorce, but woe to the one who thinks he can avoid the controversy altogether.
A message on divorce is well worth the in-depth preparation needed to deliver it. Consider the following steps:
- Conduct a focus group of parishioners who have experienced divorce and get their honest input. Start by reading Malachi 2:16: “For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce…” Point out the fact that that is a statement of empathy, and then ask the question, “How many of you hate divorce?” Establish that they are on the same page as God concerning the matter, and then ask if they would wish their experience on anyone else. When they respond with a unanimous “No way!” ask, “Then what can we do as a church to help others avoid it?”
- If a church has a Divorce Recovery group, make sure to ask for their input. Allow them to participate in the ministry of the message by receiving their input and suggestions.
- Prepare the congregation with an introductory message on marriage conflict the week before to unify the church on the subject and to “draw a line in the sand” and prevent future divorces.
- Make an appointment with a Christian family counselor and ask him or her to explain to you in their own words the challenges of divorce, both for the couple and for their children. Ask how they would overcome these challenges from a therapeutic perspective.
- Research and gather accurate data on the state of divorce in America. When using statistics that indicate that divorce is just as bad in the church as it is in the world, be careful to qualify the phrase “in the church,” so as not to influence some to get a divorce because “everybody’s doing it.” Search well, and you will find reports that indicate that devoted Christ-followers are actually less likely to divorce.
- Offer generous support for those affected by divorce. This would be a great time to start a Divorce Recovery group in your church, if you do not already have one.
- Pray for wisdom. Only the Holy Spirit can lead you through preparing and delivering a message on such a needed topic. Ask God to open your spiritual eyes and ears to the needs of your people. A message spoken through compassion will touch people’s hearts and give them ears to hear.
Other factors to be considered in pre-planning would concern the content of follow-up messages emphasizing the importance of building strong Christian families.
Divorce is a complex subject; therefore an analogy may be necessary to help people understand the need to address it. One possible analogy would be that of an automobile accident; in general, causing an automobile accident would not be considered a “sin,” but the accident could divide a family and cause great hardship. On the other hand, consider an accident caused by a sinning, careless alcoholic, whose lack of godliness robs an innocent child of her father. In either case, do we “hate” the driver? No. Do we hate automobile accidents? Yes. So then, should we avoid talking about automobile safety? Absolutely not; we spend millions of dollars annually on programs like “Click It or Ticket” and other life-saving campaigns. How then can we possibly avoid preaching about divorce? Just as auto-safety techniques can help us reduce automobile fatalities, proper teaching on marriage and family can help us avoid divorce.
When preaching on this important topic, keep in mind that you are really addressing three different audiences:
- Those who have never experienced divorce, so they can avoid it
- Those torn apart by divorce, so they can overcome it, and
- Those who have moved on after divorce. so they do not repeat the process and can overcome the challenges of blended families.
The trend of divorce did not sky-rocket in one weekend and will not be reversed after one message. But God’s Word will have a powerful influence against this dividing tactic of the enemy… if we will but address it with truth and love.