When I was a kid, I heard people call my mom a single mother. Usually, it was said with a hint of pity, but she seemed fine to me. I did not notice any difference in her ability to have fun or spank me as compared to the other mothers on the block. As a matter of fact, she seemed better at those things than the other mothers. She worked, she helped me with my homework, and she was always making some kind of special dessert. Maybe my obliviousness was compounded by the fact that my dad was in my life to do all the dad-stuff with every other weekend.
Two jobs have helped me reevaluate my perspective. As a youth pastor, I have been able to compare my mother’s experiences with that of other single mothers in the church. The reality is that my mother was tired and did not have many friends as she cared for three busy kids and worked long hours at a restaurant. As a police officer, I was able to see what potentially could have happened if my mother did not have Christ or his church. One occasion stands out: I had to arrest a single mother who was high on drugs, and I had to take her son away from her.
If we want to help single mothers, we have to understand they carry the burdens of family life alone. Many times her closest friends are her children. In one way, this situation makes her uniquely gifted at connecting with her children, but the reality is that her children cannot provide the kind of friendship and encouragement she needs. Instead, she has to make sure their needs are met, and so she is forced to move on with life at an intense speed just to provide for them. As she provides for them, cares for them, disciplines them, and tries to enjoy them, her children serve as a reminder that this painful situation was not created alone, but she will face it alone.
The church has an opportunity to make sure the single mother is not alone. We can address the issues she is facing with careful concern. Instead of mentioning the single mother in sermons as an example of “the hard life” and leaving it there, we could publicly acknowledge her situation and exhort people to offer encouragement to the single mothers they know. It does not take much effort to take our current Internet and print publications and add the words “for single mothers.” When we serve single mothers as part of our church ministry, we are not saying they didn’t make mistakes during their marriages. We are not saying teenage pregnancy is good. We are saying that we understand that people sin and are sinned against, but no matter what, we will help minister the grace of God to all those who need it. Single mothers need us to intentionally communicate they are accepted. Many times they feel like outcasts in the church because their marriages failed. Once they know they are wanted, we can begin to meet their needs.
The single mother’s greatest need is knowing Christ who will not fail her or ever leave her because of her faults. Our evangelistic efforts and discipleship ministries could go a long way with single mothers if we used believers with a consideration for their situation. Their discipleship will not look that much different from other people, but it does require some sensitivity to their schedules. Single mothers may take twice as long to complete certain Bible studies because they simply do not have a great deal of free time. Our expectations should consider the difficulty of their lives. As we disciple these women, we also need to keep in mind that they are the spiritual leaders of their homes; they will be the ones passing truth to their children.
Single mothers need friendships consisting of married and single women. The problem is that these ladies are usually working or spending time with their kids so they have to be very selective about whom they get to know and what church activities they attend. Single moms can’t keep up with the pace of fellowships that exists with childless single adults, and they do not always feel comfortable in a room filled with happy couples. We have to meet them where they are in life. Small groups for single mothers led by capable married and single women would be a great start. If the small groups meet during times when their children are being ministered to, we will be communicating our love for the people they love most.
Ultimately, the single mother will appreciate ministries that target her, but she will always be thinking about her children. The pastors of the church need to identify trustworthy men who can minister to her children. A man who is doing an activity with his son could bring along the son of a single mother. In the same way, a man with a daughter could invite the daughter of a single mother into his home for a meal with his family. The conversations that take place during these ordinary moments could be life changing.
Those are some of the ways a couple families ministered to my family when I was growing up. They gave us their friendship, and we often lived life together. One time, a man from the church paid for my brother and me to attend a Promise Keeper’s event with him. I do not remember a single thing taught at that event sixteen years ago, but I will never forget when that Christian father and husband knelt down on the ground and prayed for my walk with God. He wasn’t trying to be our dad or be a hero to my mom; he was just caring about us the way his heavenly Father cared about him.
About the Author: Rene Gomez (B. A., Moody Bible Institute) is associate pastor for youth ministry at Ninth and O Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. Rene has been happily married to Julie for 11 years, and they have three children.
[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry 2.2. You can view a PDF version of this article here.]