Meeting the financial needs of divorcees
- Tuesday, August 10, 1999
There is perhaps no more emotionally charged area of Christianity today than that of divorce. Approximately one-half of all current marriages fail in the first six years of marriage, including couples who profess to be Christians. Failed marriages within the church leave us with a great many divorcees. But recent statistics also indicate that many divorcees become Christians and, thus, find their way into local churches. It is estimated that if the trend continues into the twenty-first century, a typical local church membership would be made up of from 40 to 60 percent of divorced people. At least half of these would be single, divorced parents--primarily women.
THE ISSUE OF DIVORCE
To teach that God condones divorce is to make God's Word conditional. In other words, if you keep your word, God will keep His. If that's so, then we're all in big trouble. I count on God being faithful and never changing, no matter what anyone else might do. If I have vowed to remain with my wife for life, then that vow is unconditional. If it's conditional, then it's not a vow; it's an option. "It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay" (Ecclesiastes 5:5).
NEEDS OF SINGLE PARENTS
Because of limited space, I would like to focus on the largest and neediest group: divorced mothers. Obviously, there are divorced men raising families and divorced singles with no families. They have the same emotional and spiritual needs as divorced women who are raising families. But few people understand the financial needs of these mothers, and that is the primary purpose of this article.
The estimated average income for a family of three (husband, wife, and one child) is about $22,000 a year. The minimum need level is about $16,000 a year, and the official poverty level is about $13,000. For a typical divorcee with one child, her income is about $11,000, including Aid to Dependent Children. Her lifestyle is one of surviving from check to check and hoping that nothing breaks down, because there's no money to fix it. She will typically spend 30 percent of her net take-home pay on child care (usually inadequate). Her housing is usually a small apartment that takes 40 percent of her pay. The 30 percent that is left over has to cover food, clothing, transportation, medical, dental, and so on. It just won't stretch far enough. If she has more than one child and is over 30, her problems of finding a job are compounded.
Of course, we could take the position that she's reaping what she sowed, but so far that hasn't done much to reverse the trend, so I would discount that as being God's attitude. I have counseled enough divorced parents to know that quite often the divorce was not their option.
A young woman I'll call Sherri is a typical case. Her ex-husband was a chronic gambler who divorced Sherri for another woman and left her with $6,000 in credit card bills, because her name was also on the accounts. She lives in a small apartment with two children, owns a seven-year-old car, and makes minimum wage. She is a Christian and attends a major denominational church. When she appealed to the benevolence committee for help, they sent her to the state welfare department for assistance. Her financial needs are at least $300 a month more than she makes, with no foreseeable end to this need over the next several years. She desperately desires fellowship for herself and her children but no longer fits into a family unit. She feels like an outcast and feels betrayed by a church where she tithed regularly for several years. Sherri's financial needs fit into a typical pattern for young divorcees with children:
- CHILD CARE - She has a four-year-old son and an eight-year-old son. The four-year-old is in a day care center (non-Christian at a monthly cost of $250). The eight-year-old is home by himself for about two hours a day after school. He wanted to play Little League baseball, but his mother couldn't arrange transportation.
- REPAIRS - Her seven-year-old car has need of brakes, tires, and a tune-up. Even a minor repair of $100 strips her of any surplus funds for two to three months. Appliances are simply left broken for the lack of any mechanical skill to fix them and no budgeted funds available.
- MALE INFLUENCE - She is particularly concerned that her two boys are growing up without a good role model for becoming young men. Her ex-husband lives out of state and refuses to take the children for even a short period.
- LOW INCOME - She knows that she is basically peaked out on her job as a typist and would like to go to school for computer training. She lacks the funds for child care or school. The credit card company is threatening to attach Sherri's wages for $100 a month. This would literally destroy her ability to provide for her family.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
We could choose from any of nearly 20 Scripture references about helping those within the body of Christ. By doing so, we're not condoning divorce or raising divorce to some official status; we're merely following Christ's example of showing our love, rather than just talking about it.
Consider Christianity from Sherri's viewpoint when she is told that the church can't meet her needs but the government can. She knows that by accepting government aid she must also accept government supervision over her children. Christianity must seem a little inconsistent to women like Sherri when the very same church is in the midst of a very expensive program to build a youth center to attract young people and their families to the church. That is not to imply that the building program itself is wrong, but churches sometimes are guilty of having the form without the substance of Christianity.
I wonder when we will wake up and recognize that more programs and buildings don't attract the lost to God. The lost are attracted by the love and dedication they see. If a program can attract them to the church, then a bigger program can attract them away again. "Whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth" (1 John 3:17-18).
There are several programs that any fellowship can start to minister to the singles (divorced and otherwise) within their midst:
- HELPS PROGRAM - Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God (1 John 4:7). Any church can organize a program to help single women in the area of repair and maintenance of machines. For example, several churches can organize a joint effort to assist single women in repairing their cars. I'm aware of several churches that have done this. One Saturday (usually every other month), the men of these churches who have any mechanical ability meet in one of the church parking lots. The single women who have need for minor repairs on their cars can bring them to be fixed or serviced for only the cost of parts--or nothing at all. Obviously, there must be controls and supervision, but that is normally done by a trained person. The work is scheduled through a church counselor, and to participate a woman must be actively attending church and counseling. Other churches also have appliance repair centers where single women can drop off appliances for repair without cost. Some churches even offer volunteer repair crews for work on homes, such as painting, roofing, yard work, and the like.
- COUNSELING - Churches with "helps" programs should always operate under the guidance of a singles' counseling center. The purpose is to work at restoring the family unit if possible and to share Christ with those who are lost. The singles who are involved with the helps programs should be discipled and encouraged to work in other services for the church, such as babysitting, visitation, health care, and so on.
This counseling center must be under the guidance and supervision of the church leadership, and all rules for singles' counseling should be observed. This is especially true of men counseling single or divorced women.
- CHILD CARE CENTER - Even if an individual church cannot afford to operate a child care center, certainly several churches (or businesses) working together could. There are several churches now doing this as a ministry, not a business. These centers are provided as an outreach to single parents in the church and are operated on a donation basis. The purpose is not just to babysit children but to nurture them in the Lord.
If you really want to reach these single parents for the Lord, start ministering to them through their children. They will respond. Helping in a child care center can be an excellent ministry for mothers within the church who have child care and educational training skills but need to be with their own children during the day. "By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples" (John 15:8).
- CLOTHES CLOSETS - Within every church there are both needs and surpluses. God's Word indicates that they will nearly always offset one another. The difficulty is in getting those with a surplus together with those who have needs. A "clothes closet" is a way to do this. This is a common location in the church that is used to hold goods one family no longer needs, until that need in another family surfaces.
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