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Missionary Dating

More blogs »Posted on Mar 14 2013

When I was in high school active in our church’s youth group, there was a phenomenon we called ‘Missionary Dating’. This referred to a Christian dating a non-Christian. I was somewhat sensitive to this subject, given that I was the ‘nice young man’ that Christian girl’s parents wanted their Christian girls to date. That was the kiss of death to any such relationship. Apparently it rendered me boring, predictable, and safe. Instead of going out with any the teens who attended church youth groups across our town, some believers preferred to go out with edgy, exciting, maybe even dangerous youth who did not go to church, anywhere, any time. Not limited to gender, Christian boys sometimes dated on-believing girls.

When we challenged this phenomenon in our youth group meetings, we were told that while it was true that this dating led to a relationship ‘unequally yoked’, there was a greater good in mind. The Christian sacrificially pointed out that this was intended to win the non-Christian over to Christ, it would just take time. However long it took, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a soul won to Christ?

The problem with this is that rarely did the non-Christian even make a pretense of attending church services or youth group meetings, though the Christian tended to appear in places or situations not consistent with a Christian lifestyle. Most often, we did not see this new soul enter the Kingdom, ever. In fact far more often, over time we ceased to see the Christian attend church services anywhere. ‘Missionary Dating’, became a negative term whereby a naïve Christian exposed himself or herself to an influence that would most likely lead them away from an active walk with Christ, almost certainly with hurt and consequences added. My advice to any Christian who is dating is to only date someone you can see yourself marrying, someone who is a strong positive influence with values you admire, someone who will encourage you in your Christian walk, not start out questioning it and represent a threat to it.

I do think this is an important truth, ‘being in the world and not of it’ does not mean entering a relationship characterized by sharing and intimacy with someone who does not support the most important relationship in your life (that relationship with God), and in fact is a threat to it. That said, I think some churches in the past 20 years have done much the same thing. In order to win someone into the Kingdom some have gone out into the world and have toned down their Christian witness in order for it not to be a stumbling block to the unchurched. I recall the black billboard with white letters proclaiming “The church for those that don’t like church”. Seeker sermons became the norm on Sunday Morning, and sermons offering Biblical guidelines for daily living never got preached. Controversial stands on subjects were not taken because they would be off-putting to the lost. When I was in seminary, the single’s group at one church had the reputation of being the easiest place in town to enjoy the quickest, most intense, least committed relationship for the weekend. These are examples of something very like missionary dating, with a similar result. Instead of souls won, there is discipleship lost.

To have success in dating or evangelism requires something similar. You have to know who you are, be honest about it, and stand on it. We know that dating often constitutes a game, whereby both people put their best face forward, and downplay weaknesses. But honesty is the best long term policy. If you present yourself as something you’re not, that in time will be revealed, and the disappointment will likely drive the other person away. As a Christian, you should not be abrasive, but if you compromise you will end up not being the Christian you could be. If you want to be respected, you have to be strong, and healthy relationships require that. “Easy come, easy go” applies more to relationships than anything else I’ve ever seen.

So whether you are dating or evangelizing, be a person of integrity and strength, respected for the strength of your convictions as much as for your attractive bearing. The more you are respected, and respectable, the more likely you will be listened to.

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