Note: This article was co-authored with Zach Schlegel. His bio follows:
Zach grew up in Nebraska with a family where he heard the gospel and saw it lived out among other family members seeking to follow Jesus. After attending the University of Nebraska to study Mechanical Engineering, he moved to Chicago to go to Moody Theological Seminary. There, he met and married his wife Katie and they had their first son, Hudson. After serving as a pastor in Chicago for four years, the Schlegel’s moved to DC to join the work at Capitol Hill Baptist Church where Zach currently serves as an Assistant Pastor.
Look at the typical evangelical church and you will find singles dating one another. Stop and look closely for a moment. Many of their dating habits are patterned after worldly thinking. The devil is probably laughing at us. He really doesn’t have to do anything to stir up a mess in evangelical dating culture. We’ve created our own mess by thinking more like the world rather than distinctly as Christians.
Here’s a sample of what we mean.
- Territorialism: You declare your interest in someone in order to stop others from getting in your way. You tell friends that you are interested in a certain someone who has caught your eye. And you do this to get dibs on the person. By declaring your interest, you make it socially awkward for anyone else to ask them out. Yet, because of your nervousness, or because you’ve been really busy, you haven’t spent the time that is needed to get to know the person, or more importantly ask them out on a date. You’re slow in doing something about it, and you prevent everyone else from pursuing the person since they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Our advice to you: Fish or cut-bait. You either need to do something about the relationship, or back off so someone else can initiate with the person.
- Paralysis: You (men) hesitate to initiate because of a fear of the high-stakes nature of dating. In this situation, you are afraid to initiate and ask the girl out. It might be that you are simply being passive and need to have some courage. Or, you might be concerned that any indication of showing interest may be mistaken for something more—that the first date has to end with a marriage proposal. For both single men and women who are considering dating, remember why we date—to carefully and prayerfully determine if this is the person God would have you marry. So, instead of letting fear paralyze you before you initiate or give a relationship a chance, pray about it, do your best to get to know the person, get wise counsel, and then give it a shot! Men, don’t be scared to take a risk. Sadly, a lot of women would give you a chance, but you don’t have the guts to ask them out.
- Narrowness: Being so set on dating one person that you miss someone else right in front of you. Whether you’re hoping to date someone specific for the first time or hoping to get back together with someone you dated before, there are times you can’t get them out of your mind. Being overly preoccupied with one person causes you to be blind to other possibilities. Maybe you have your list of admirable characteristics you want in a spouse, and you’re waiting around for the person who fits your profile. If another person comes along and doesn’t fit, you say, “No.” You may complain that no one ever asks you out, when you actually should be saying, “My ideal person never asks me out.” Now, this is not to say you can’t like someone specific; it’s not to say you can’t date someone you previously broke up with, it is simply a reminder to be open. Who knows, your future spouse may be someone right in front of you.
- Stalkerism: Thinking you need to know everything about the person before dating. Now, taking the time to observe someone before dating is an important thing to do. But, it’s a little freaky when a stranger approaches you and says, “You know, I’ve been watching you and I’ve come to the conclusion that you’d make a great spouse.” That approach is probably not going to help you find a spouse; it will probably get you arrested. So, what are things you can do to avoid ‘cold-turkey’ dating?
- Hang out in groups: This is a natural way to get to know each other without the one-on-one focus, plus you get to see how they interact and care for others around them.
- Be a friend: Relate to them as you would to any other friend. Remember this is your Christian brother or sister and it is good for you to treat them as such. It should be normal for you to have good friendships with men and women where you care for each other as brothers and sisters aside from a romantic context.
- Talk to others who know them well.
- Evangedating: Dating a non-Christian in hopes that they will become a Christian while dating. This can be tempting for a number of reasons: you spend a lot of time with non-Christians at work, school, or your neighborhood; you’re getting more attention from non-Christians than you are from Christians; you became a Christian while you were dating and it’s hard to break up. Regardless of why, it is a good desire to see someone trust in Christ, but mixing a dating relationship with evangelism can be confusing and clouds the decision of the person considering the claims of Christianity. The Bible is clear that it is a sin to be unequally yoked in this way in marriage—it doesn’t make sense to enter into the most intimate of relationships when you don’t share or agree on what is most important.
- Vagueness: You (men) are vague and ambiguous about your intentions for the relationship. You don’t take the time to deliberately define expectations for the relationship. You perpetually keep the relationship undefined. Maybe this is because you don’t know what you want, so you avoid saying anything that defines the relationship. Maybe it is because you want the benefits of a dating relationship without the commitment. Guys: A part of maturing and being a godly man is being clear about your intentions from the beginning. Don’t string a gal along by being vague. It does horrible damage to her heart.
- Test Driving a New Car: Flirting and vulnerability prior to dating. I (Deepak) remember several years ago I was talking to a single man who had been talking, emailing, and texting extensively with a young lady in our church. He had been spending a lot of time getting to know her and asking deep questions to get her to be vulnerable and open up to him. But here is the kicker: He still wasn’t sure if he wanted to date her. He was still evaluating. He opens up her heart, leaves her exposed, and he’s not sure if he’s going to pursue her yet. Sadly, she went along with it because she was really interested in him. They were still at the friends stage without having made any kind of commitment. Guys: Take time to get to know someone you are interested in, but be very careful how much you ask a girl to be vulnerable. Too much vulnerability in a relationship is likely to lead to an emotional divorce when things don’t work out. After a while of getting to know the woman, be courageous enough to either commit to the relationship (and communicate your intentions) or move on. Don’t test drive the girl and then drop her.
- Keeping Too Many Ponies in the Stable: You (women) take advantage of the fact that men are interested. You are an attractive woman who has several men ask you out. Rather than picking one and sticking with him, you decide to check out every one of them. You prefer not to commit because you’re constantly waiting for the “right” guy to show up. You like to keep a couple of ponies in the stable because you want to keep your options open. One woman commented after going out on a dinner date with a different guy every night: “After all, a gal’s got to eat, right?” Women, please don’t do this. When you take advantage of a man’s interest, you are defrauding the man (1 Thessalonians 4:6). From early on, you need to train your own heart to be committed to one man. It’s good preparation for marriage. Keeping your options all open shows that you can’t trust God in your dating relationships (Proverbs 3:5-6), and that you are more of a selfish than you might want to admit.
- Promiscuity: Taking now what only belongs to marriage. Sex is a privilege of marriage. In our oversexualized culture, we’re constantly tempted to lust because we’re surrounded by tantalizing imagery everywhere we look. Couples can quickly rationalize premarital sex: “Only this one time.” “We’ll never do it again.” “We’re not having intercourse, so what does it matter?” “I love her so I want to express it.” “If I don’t, he won’t stick around.” But none of these lies matter when you consider our holy God whose wrath against sin should make us shudder. Jesus reminds us in the beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). Don’t give in to the culture’s pressures (or maybe your boyfriend’s pressures) to be sexual in your relationship. Purity is a worthy battle simply because God asks it of us (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Don’t pretend to be married and steal the privileges of marriage when you are in fact just dating.
- Selfishness: Wanting to be married so badly you become preoccupied and only concerned with yourself. Marriage is such an idol for you that you gear your entire life around the hope of getting married. Essentially that means you are building your life around one person—you. How do you know if you’re being selfish in your dating habits? Consider three questions that can help you assess whether you’re being selfish:
- Are you thinking only about what you want rather than what is good for the other person? Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
- Are you acting married when you’re not? In other words, are you expressing intimacy with words, acts, or physical affection before commitment? Song of Solomon 2:7b: “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”
- Are you ignoring others’ counsel to get what you want? Proverbs 18:1: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.”
We could give you many more examples, but that gives us a good sampling of things that might go wrong. So, the million dollar question is: What can you do about this?
- Start thinking distinctly like a Christian. If you trust that God’s Word is sufficient, then it’s going to have something to say about everything, including dating. Seek out the biblical principles that will make your dating look more Christian than worldly. Reading God’s Word is a good starting point.
- Find some older couples in your church and ask for help. There is a lot of wisdom that’s needed in dating relationships. Don’t try to figure this out on your own. Find a gospel-minded church, join it, and then ask for help. Dating shouldn’t be an individualistic endeavor, but a community effort.
- Pastors: Take time to teach about dating. When pastors never say anything about dating, singles are left to figure it out on their own. Singles breathe in the culture’s air of worldly dating all the time, so pastors need to teach them how Christian dating can look different.
Join the Conversation
What additional biblical counsel would you give to singles about dating?
1 Corinthians 7:39b “she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.” Also, 2 Corinthians 6:14.