Nearly two decades ago, Gary Sweeten joined the staff at College Hill Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, with a vision for a Christian interpersonal skills program. He enlisted Margaret Rinck to help develop a program that integrated biblical teaching on relationships with listening skills and self-discovery.The result was the church's Teleios Ministry, which equips believers to offer help to the hurting, including a sizable number of divorced persons. Today the congregational care ministry (including Teleios Ministry) has over 225 trained lay helpers officially caring for others, as well as hundreds who minister to the congregation informally.In developing such ministries, Rinck applies "a theology of failure." She cites the many failures in scripture used by God, and she calls for understanding human sinfulness and our need for redemption. "We cannot pretend any longer that Christians do not fail."Following are Rinck's fundamentals for developing a climate of healing within the church.What is helpful to people struggling with divorce and remarriage? What can the church do to bring healing to people whose marriages are broken?As with most complex problems, there are no quick fixes. To help people recover from sin and failure's wounds we need to create a "healing community", a place where it is acceptable to be broken, have problems, admit failure, and where help is expressed in concrete, practical ways.How does a local church build a healing community? It begins with, as World Vision founder Bob Pierce used to say, "letting your hearts be broken with the things that break the heart of God." It begins with a willingness to listen before we speak, and a humbleness that realizes, "there, but for the grace of God, go I."Developing interpersonal skills training opportunities in the church us one way this can happen. Such training equips people to work together to meet needs for all kinds of hurting people, including those struggling with divorce, remarriage, single parenting, and blended families.We found several imperatives helpful in developing such training:

  1. Equip a team and draw on many members' gifts. Asking pastors to care for all the needs of a congregation limits what can be done.
  2. Build a solid base of trained listeners. They can provide pastoral care and refer the hurting to professionals when problems warrant.
  3. Educate members in daily living skills through classes in communication, anger management, and emotions in the family.
  4. Offer support groups or small group Bible studies led by lay people. Hurting people need support systems and friends.
  1. Be prepared for problems to pop up. Once people know it is safe, they start telling the truth about their pain.
  2. Have a list of qualified Christian professionals to whom you can refer difficult cases.
  3. Be patient. It takes years to develop a solid base of empathic lay ministers. But it will be worth the effort when needy people find hope and healing.

This article originally appeared in the December 14, 1992 issue of Christianity Today.

Related Elsewhere

Other stories from the 1992 CT Institute on divorce and remarriage include:CT Institute: Divorce and Remarriage | An introduction to our 1992 series on what divorce means for families, churches, and our country. A Marriage Counterculture | In addressing divorce, the church must adopt the strategies of the missionary. By David Seamands Sex, Marriage, and Divorce | Results from a 1992 Christianity Today reader's survey. By Haddon Robinson Divorce and Remarriage from Augustine to Zwingli | How Christian understanding about marriage has changed—and stayed the same—through history. By Michael Gorman Can One Become Two? | What Scripture says about Christians and divorce. By H. Wayne House Remarriage: Two Views | Two New Testament professors debate whether remarriage is acceptable for Christians. By Craig Keener and William A. Heth How Not to Fail Hurting Couples | We need a kind of shock therapy to become alert to missed opportunities. By Thomas Needham