Once Overlooked, but Not Forgotten
About the Guest
Many broken families feel marginalized in the church. Pastor Dave Wilson knows how they feel. His parents divorced when he was young, and he's always felt that his family was "less than" in the local congregation. Dave recalls one of his Sunday sermons when he publicly apologized to the broken and blended families in his congregation for the church's weak attempts to reach out to the divorced and hurting families around them.
Pastor Dave Wilson recalls one of his Sunday sermons when he publicly apologized to the broken and blended families in his congregation for the church’s weak attempts to reach out to them.
Once Overlooked, but Not Forgotten
Bob: How does a young man or a young woman, growing up in a blended family, feel when they show up for church on Sunday morning? Pastor Dave Wilson says, “He understands how that young man or young woman feels.”
Dave: I was that kid. My family divorced when I was seven years old. I always felt, as a child in the church, “less than”—judged. My mom was always pushed to the side because all the families at church were perfect, and we were very imperfect—you know—alcoholic dad, alcoholic mother trying to find God / trying to do the right thing—and I always felt “less than.” But I tell you what—I’ve been a pastor at that church for 24 years, and I’ve never said that.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Dave Wilson joins us today. He tells us what happened the Sunday that he apologized to blended families in his church.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. You know, I think a lot of churches / a lot of pastors look at the issue of blended families in their churches and they think to themselves, “I have no clue what to do to help these folks.” They have a desire to help—they are just not sure how to go about it.
Dennis: And they are afraid, if they do help, that some people will accuse them of dropping their standards because of the issue of divorce and remarriage. There are a lot of blended families in the church, who are looking at the church and the church staff, and they are going, “You really don’t have a clue about what to do for us, who are in blended families. As a result, we’re kind of wondering, ‘Do we fit in? Should we be here? Is this the place for us to be? Are we not welcomed?’”
Bob: You and I had the opportunity, back last fall, to be with a couple hundred leaders, who had gathered together for the second annual FamilyLife blended summit. We were calling together folks who have a heart for blended ministry in a local church or in a community and talking about: “How can we be more effective in meeting the needs of couples in blended families who are coming to our churches?”
One of the guests that we invited to speak to this group was a pastor from Detroit—a friend of yours and mine—Dave Wilson, who had a chance to talk to these folks about how he addressed this issue at his church.
Dennis: Yes, you do what you do best—which you interviewed both Dave Wilson and the head of our blended family ministry, here at FamilyLife, Ron Deal, in front of this crowd of 200 folks, who are champions for blended families.
Bob: Tell us about this clip. This is from a message that you did at church; right?
Dave: Yes, you want to tell them?
Ron: I would like to set it up.
Dave: I thought you would.
Ron: Correct me if I get the details wrong.
Dave: I thought you would. Go ahead.
Ron: Okay. Dave preaches for a large church in the Detroit area—and it’s a multisite church; right?
Ron: How many sites?
Dave: We just opened our sixth site.
Ron: Okay, and how many people in a weekend are connected to those six?
Dave: Fourteen/fifteen thousand.
Ron: Okay, so a lot of people. They were in this series that they were doing, as a church; but really, the cool back story is that they had a whole group of churches in the Detroit area going through the same lessons—how many churches?
Dave: Six hundred fifty churches.
Ron: Six hundred fifty churches were also talking about blended families on that weekend, as well as doing a very similar study. Isn’t that unity? How rare is that? [Applause]
Dave: It was.
Ron: Dave wanted to communicate some things to the people, and he did so with—in the form of a video. They shot a video—then, he played that video. When we rolled the clip, you’re going to kind of come into the middle of him talking about complexity in stepfamilies.
But then, coming out of the video, he had a very heartfelt message to the people in his church that rocked my world.
[Segment of Dave’s Sermon]
Dave: But Jenny meets Bill, and they fall in love. So, they get married. Let’s just focus on Bill and Jenny here. What do we have now? We have a blended family—with Ted, Sue, Jack, Pam, and Kyle all connected—sort of, to Bill now and Jenny because they have visitation rights. There are some times when all five of these kids are living with Bill and Jenny now. Isn’t it an interesting deal? Are you following this whole thing? Is it making any sense?
Also, we have a relationship here between Kathy—who these are her kids—now, sort of has a relationship, all the way over here, because she used to be married to Bill and, sometimes, he gets those kids. Bill has a relationship here. Sometimes, Bill and Jenny have a relationship over here. They need to get Frank over here—when these kids all come over to stay here—sometimes, he’s with those kids. It gets chaotic; right?
You’ve got all kinds of relationships. Then, you’ve got ex-husbands, right here—Jim and Bill—and you’ve got ex-wives—Jenny and Kathy—and it can be really, really complicated because all kinds of things are going on when Kyle spends time with Ted. He could influence Ted, even though they are stepbrothers now, and they are sometimes together. It just gets crazy, and you have people and relationships with different people in relationships.
Let me tell you—when a crisis happens to this family, you see all the complexities come out. I was involved in one of these. I walked into a situation where we’ve got the real mom with real son—then, we’ve got the stepmom in the same room—and the dad fighting with this one and the dad fighting with that one. It got really complicated really quickly. So, what do you do with this?—because this is the reality for many, many families. I believe God has an answer and wants to speak into this chaos of the blended family.
So, there you go—it gets complex. There are all these different relationships going on. I almost drew a football plan in the middle of that thing; but I mean—it was just crazy. In fact, it gets so crazy—I couldn’t remember who I wrote on the board. Wow! This is not the nuclear family. Can God work in that? Oh, of course, He can—but it’s a different world for a divorced family, or a broken family, or a blended family than it is for the nuclear family.
But here’s the first thing I think I need to say on behalf of myself and Kensington to divorced families and blended families—two words—“I’m sorry.” I’m sorry if you have felt “less than” at Kensington because you are divorced or blended. I think you need to hear that from us because—I don’t know what you’ve felt here—but if you have felt like your different or you’re not as good as the nuclear perfect, little, biological family—that everybody here is—
—which we aren’t, obviously—but if you’ve ever felt judged or “less than”—would be the best way I can say it—at this church: “Shame on us! / Shame on me!”
God loves you and has a plan for your life, just like He does for my life or any other nuclear family. He absolutely is with you and loves you. If you’ve ever felt like you walk in here and there is sort of like a scarlet “D” on your forehead or a scarlet “B” for blended, that is not God’s heart at all. God is with you / God loves you. God has a plan for you. God can restore you. You have a home here. Do you understand me?
I just needed to start there—to say, “I am sorry.” If we—or any leadership, or anybody in this church, any small group leader / anybody has ever made you feel “less than” because of the brokenness of your life / and your marriage vows being broken and you couldn’t—God forbid us from ever making you feel that way. That is not the heart of God.
So, I just wanted to start there to say, “I am sorry if you’ve ever felt that.” I want to make sure, as a leader here, that isn’t what you feel from us or from the heart of God because that is not His heart at all.
Bob: I was watching the folks, here, as you were doing that. I was watching them nod a lot as you were talking—I thought some of these folks were going to cry. What happened there when you did that?
Dave: They cried. I mean, I started to tear—I haven’t watched it since the day I did it. I was that kid—my family divorced when I was seven years old. I always felt, as a child in the church, “less than”—judged. My mom was always pushed to the side because all of the families at church were perfect, and we were very imperfect—you know—alcoholic dad, alcoholic mother trying to find God, trying to do the right thing. I always felt “less than.”
But I tell you what—I’ve been a pastor at that church for 24 years—
—and I’ve never said that. It never hit me to that—until I read your material / until we decided to do that weekend on the blended—I made us do that weekend. The series was going a different place; and I said, “We have to have”—it was a six-week series—“We have to have a week where we can speak to the divorced family / to the blended family.”
Yet, as I started to put the material together—really reading that great material from Ron—God got hold of my heart. He’s like, “You have never said to the people what you felt all those years, and you know they felt the same thing from your own church.” And I just—it hit me. I mean, I did that four or five times that weekend—in the different services. Every time—I mean, watching it now, I got emotional again. It’s like: “That needs to be said by the church to the blended family, everywhere around the world,” because I bet you every church—
Dave: —hasn’t done what I have done; you know. [Applause] So, I had no idea Ron would ever see—I didn’t call him and say, “I did a good thing!”—you know. [Laughter]
He just contacted me later—I don’t even know how he discovered it because God did use it. God used that weekend—He really did.
Bob: Tell me about the conversations you had with people from the church following that Sunday.
Dave: The first conversations were “Thank you.” I had a guy—I played guitar in the band that weekend. Before I could leave the stage—and usually you meet them down on the floor—this guy ran up on the stage. I was putting my guitar on the stand, and he said: “I’ve been at this church 15 years. I’ve never heard you say that. Thank you!” And he gives me a big hug. He goes: “I’m that guy! I was ready to leave this place, and I think you meant it.” [Laughter] What he meant by that, obviously, is “Will you follow through?”
Dave: And that was, then, the next step: “Will we have workshops? Will we have small groups? Will we wrap our arms and embrace the blended and help them?” And we’ve tried our best to do that, and we are doing that. And there are hundreds now of those groups on our campuses, just in our little church, to say:
“We don’t want to just say it because everybody says it,”—and any preacher can say it. “We want to be God’s hands and feet to help you.”
Bob: Did I hear you right that there were 600-plus churches in the Detroit area—
Bob: —talking about blendeds that weekend?
Dave: Yes, I think that, when I was up there, doing that—650 churches just in Detroit were speaking the same thing in some form.
Dave: That was remarkable to see God work, and it was really powerful. We called that weekend—the whole series is called Home Remodeled. It was sort of the vision of a house being rebuilt. We had the kids’ room, and we did a week on the kids. You know, the bedroom—we did a week on sex.
Then, we had this last one called “House for Sale” because nobody ever thinks, when they get married, they are ever going to put a “For Sale” sign in the front yard; and I experienced that as a kid. I remember that was such a depressed moment in my life.
Dave: So, that was what that day was about “What happens when this happens?”—and 50 percent of our churches are blended or divorced.
Dave: And why are we not loving them, and talking to them, and helping them?—because they feel like we always help the family—
Ron: Can we get an “Amen”?
Dave: —but we don’t understand. Yes. [Applause]
Bob: So, you said that, after the service, you were doing something somewhere else. What did you do, following the sermon?
Dave: I mean—we have a champion / really a whole group of champions of the blended, really—using The Smart Family material; you know? And they have started a revival ministry, just in our church—of champions, at each campus, that say, “I will lead this initiative at our campus.”
Bob: There had to be some who were nervous with the idea of addressing this issue because, in the back of people’s minds,—you know, this—
Bob: —there is this thought that we’re going to find somebody in a troubled first marriage—
Bob: —and they’re going to hear the message: “Go ahead and get a divorce and find somebody new. It’ll be better.”
Bob: Did you get any pushback from people saying, “We can’t talk about this”?
Dave: The first pushback was our team/our staff. They said, “Do not do the weekend.” I never told you that.
Ron: I didn’t know that.
Dave: I had to fight for it. They were like, “No, we don’t need to do that.”
Dave: “You can’t use the whole weekend for the divorced, and the broken, and the blended.” Then, after we did it, it was the opposite. When people saw it, then, there was a response that was like: “Oh my gosh—that is the heart of God,” because we’re all broken. It’s in your book—I mean, is there a functional family in the Bible?—not really! The ideals are there, but the reality is a different place. That’s where we live. So, all we were doing was saying: “We know where we live. The complexity is beyond our means. How can we help?” So, we just said: “God wants us to help you. God wants to restore you.”
I can tell you there were some real miracle stories of blended families that never got any help—that, as a result of the weekend / came to the workshop—realized: “I am accepted here / I am loved here, and I can move forward to restoration here. I’m part of a church that is going to help us do that.”
Bob: Can you think of one—a story that—
Dave: Oh, I mean, I can tell you multiples. A guy that I know very well—known him for a long time—was—
—they were at wits’ end—it wasn’t working. It was never going to work, and I didn’t know what to say to him until I read your material. I never understood the kid part—even the “It takes seven years to blend.” All that kind of stuff was new to me! So, I’m reading this; and all I offered them was a little bit of wisdom. I sent them to Nino and Sid, who walked the journey with them.
But they were going to leave because they were attaching to their insiders / their kids—and the outsiders / the other kids were—so, they basically both said: “I’m going to stay with my kids because they’ve gone through so much. I need to be more loyal to them than to my new spouse.” We told them that / gave them your material—and I’m not here, doing a Ron Deal, “Buy his stuff,”— but it was like: “Oh my gosh, God used that to remind them, ‘You married each other. Of course, your kids matter; but you’ve got to make this relationship work.’” And they did, and they are. Now, they are leading a small group to help others do it. [Applause] So, it’s pretty cool. I could tell you, probably, 20 of those stories—it’s really cool.
Bob: If you were talking to a room-full of pastors, instead of this room, what would you say to the pastors—because these folks may just go home and just say, “Let me tell you what this other pastor said”; right?
Dave: First thing, I would say is: “You’re a pastor—you are a pastor.” If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, Ephesians 4 says, “You’re a pastor.” You are as much a pastor as I am. God has gifted you in probably different and better ways than I am, and God wants to use you to be a pastor to somebody—to shepherd somebody / to lead somebody. So, that would be the first thing I’d say—God wants to use you. You know this reality better than anybody—“God wants to use your gifts and your experiences to wrap your arms and good material—to walk the journey with them.”
But I’d also say, “Go back to your pastor and say: ‘Pastor, wake up! Look at the reality of what’s going around,’—and just say: ‘Man, these people are not to be judged. They need to be loved and understood. They are broken, just like you and me,” and figure out a way to create a strategy. The material is out there to say, “What can we do to help these people be used by God to then be ministers to other people?”—
—because this is the church today. You can’t say that to your pastor, but I would just encourage them to say, “Do something—help.”
Ron: What I love about what he just said is the “us” language; right? “If we don’t partner with the senior pastors of our churches…” “If we don’t get that ‘us’ language…” “If we don’t come together around what can happen in the pulpit, in conjunction with what can happen in small groups, then, we’re just going to continue to kind of just get along.”
Bob: What did you hear from other—some of the other 650 about what happened at their churches?
Dave: I heard pretty much the same thing. Sort of—from the pastors was “I had no idea.” Once you open this topic, they felt the freedom to come and say, “That’s me,”—not being ashamed anymore—but say: “Really? Is there hope?”—because, you know, the real question for them is: “Is there hope? Is God with me? Will God restore?” And He certainly will; but until somebody says that in leadership, sometimes, they just don’t know.
I think there are thousands—
—if not hundreds of thousands—that don’t even come to our churches because, maybe, they did once and they felt that and they just walked away and never came back. So, we need to open that door wide to say, “You are welcome here.”
Ron: That’s it. We talk about bridges of grace in our ministry, all the time, where we are trying to constantly communicate bridges of grace to stepfamilies and let them know that they can simply come and that it’s alright.
Bob: You had an interesting experience, this year, in a couple of churches. Share with everybody about these.
Ron: I call this “The Tale of Two Churches” because, to me, it just represents the contrast between what often is and what we want to be. Church one—I went to / showed up. It was on the calendar for the church for nine months. Two months before the event, the entire pastoral leadership team at that church planned a staff retreat on the weekend of our stepfamily event. Nobody from the staff was even in town.
The very next month, I went to church number two.
The senior pastor was there. The children’s pastor was there. The youth pastor was there. Their recovery ministry coordinators were part of the volunteer team, and they had couples from their stepfamily group that were all part of the volunteer team. I walked into that church—into their fellowship hall. They had a little stage setup for the conference. Above it was their church mission statement: “Attracting outsiders in and building insiders up.” Now, this was their church mission statement.
I went to the senior pastor and I said: “I cannot tell you how perfect that is because that’s what stepfamilies are trying to do—is take outsiders and bring them in—and then, try to build one another up in the stepfamily experience to become family to one another. That is not only your church mission statement—that’s the beautiful mission statement of what we are doing this weekend. It’s so fitting that your entire ministry team is here in support of this event. That just tells me something about your mentality,—
—as a church, toward your church members and your community.”
Bob: How critical was it for you to have this lay couple in your church step up and be champions and say: “We will be here to lead this effort. You just tee up the ball, and we’ll run with it”?
Dave: Yes, I mean the most critical. We feel that about any topic we have—we really believe: “You’re the ministers,”—
Dave: —the congregation is. So, yes, I knew, as I said—that I was not going to meet with people all week—Nino and Sid and their army were. They were like: “Thank you! Thank you for giving us a mission and a mission field!”—because all we did, like you said, was tee it up for them.
Bob: So, I hear you deputizing all these folks:—
Dave: That’s it.
Bob: —“Go be the Ninos and Sids.”
Dave: That’s it! “Go and do…”—exactly. [Applause]
Bob: Would you thank Dave Wilson for being here with us? [Applause]
Dave: Thank you. We done?
Bob: We’re done.
Bob: Can you tell there was some enthusiasm in the room?
Dennis: And if our listener didn’t feel a hand, reach through the radio, or your computer, or your iPhone and tap you on the shoulder [Tapping sound]:
“This may be you. You may be supposed to start this ministry in your local church. Or maybe, you should just help start a marriage and family ministry in your church.” The Art of Marriage® is a great way to do that.
But blended family is also a great way to reach out to a group of folks who will just soak it in because they are thirsty and hungry for what the Bible has to say about the place that they are in.
Bob: Well, and we’re working hard to develop resources that anyone can use to help other folks—whether it’s The Art of Marriage, either the small group study that you can go through in a small-group setting or an event kit so that you can host an event at your church. There is The Smart Stepfamily DVD series that Ron Deal has put together that has been used in a lot of churches to help start a blended family ministry.
You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
If you click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER,” you’ll see information about the resources that we have available to help you start a marriage ministry or a blended family ministry in your local church. When we talk about you starting it, we’re thinking: “Everybody listening—you could do this.” You could go to your pastor or to the leaders at your church and say: “We want to help. We’ll facilitate this. We’ll host it in our home.” Rather than going to your pastor and saying, “Will the church do this?” go to your pastor and say, “We’d like to help make this happen.”
I also want to mention the Blended and Blessed™ Summit that’s coming up in Southern California this fall—if you are involved in blended ministry or if you think this is an area that you need to pursue in your local church, we’re gathering together with hundreds of like-minded folks, from all across the country, coming out to Southern California in the fall for our third annual event around how to minister effectively to stepfamilies.
You can get more information about the upcoming Blended and Blessed Summit. Again, it’s on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the “GO DEEPER” button and look for the link, and the information you need is available right there. Or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
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And we hope you have a great weekend this weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in church. And we hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk about how, as parents, we can do a better job of making the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection a little more front-and-center in our homes during the Easter season. Barbara Rainey is going to join us with some thoughts on that. Hope you can be here.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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