Individuals who remarry face challenges first-marrieds usually do not. While the church offers counseling and enrichment for couples, all married people often are lumped together.
“I think some churches might have some difficulties in cases of remarriage after divorce,” said Randall Maurer, professor of psychology and family ministry at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas.
“Also, there exists an assumption that partners in remarriage don’t need any special help. They’ve been married before and surely know something about marriage.”
Church leaders need to be aware that remarrieds do face unique challenges, Maurer added. Those who choose to marry again may still be dealing with emotions over the loss of their former spouse through divorce or death.
Issues involving children of a previous marriage will complicate the new relationship. If they have children from a marriage that ended in divorce, they likely will continue to co-parent with their former spouse.
Also, new partners and their offspring face the challenge of becoming an “instant family” and understanding their roles, even if children are now adults.
The individuals also may come to the new marriage with different motivations than each had for the previous union, Maurer said.
Because of those unique challenges, ministers and congregations should and can provide resources and targeted support for the growing numbers of remarrieds in their communities and in their churches, Maurer and other experts say.
Congregations can begin with something as simple as conversation about remarriage. “Start the conversation and have the tenacity to continue the conversation,” noted Amy Hartsfield, counselor and assessment consultant at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.
Hartsfield believes that churches tend to operate and to develop ministry from a couple or nuclear family ideal. Often congregations push people toward marriage and remarriage, she said.
Clergy and other church leaders must find ministries that help all people become “as fit as possible physically, emotionally and financially” to sustain a marriage, especially a second or third.
“If the church wants people to remarry, we need to offer support,” Hartsfield said.
She suggested offering workshops on self-understanding and self-empowerment. “You must know yourself. When we know ourselves, we are better able to make faith commitments and commitments to others,” she said.
That’s especially true for those who have experienced the loss of a first marriage, either through death of a spouse or divorce, she added.
Church dialogue might begin with basics, noted Richard Olson, professor of pastoral theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary and co-author of several books on the family. Church members need to discover what the Bible says about sexuality.
They must explore: What does responsible living look like? What does sexual morality look like? A discussion can open when members acknowledge there are no easy answers to those questions, Olson said.
Churches can offer affinity-based small groups for remarried couples. Workshops or longer-term sessions can be offered by utilizing or modifying available programs and resources. Targeted classes and seminars “could extend into the community as enrichment,” Ruth Rosell, Central Seminary assistant professor of pastoral theology for pastoral care and counseling, suggested.
Gundar Lamberts, pastor of Fremont First Baptist Church in Fremont, Neb., uses DivorceCare, a support-group-based program. The material’s advantage is its focus on forgiveness and healing before starting a new relationship, he said.
Regardless of the ministries offered, church members must remain aware of their own and the overall congregation’s attitudes. The church walks a line between condemnation of people and condoning behavior.
“We need to try to meet people where they are…but still be upfront” about the congregation’s biblical understanding, Rosell said.
“What we can’t become is too judgmental or condemning…and we can’t do away with our beliefs,” she added. Ministry “must be done carefully and lovingly.”
Great care must be taken, too, because of the role the church plays in believers’ lives. Though the church as an institution may not hold the same place in society as it may have in the past, it still exerts influence, Hartsfield stressed.
“The church is a very powerful faith parent,” she said. “It tells us what is right and wrong.”