I begin this post by giving a disclaimer that it's not about anyone specific at the church where I serve as a pastor. If you're among the many people at Celebration Church who have recently experienced a breakup, this isn't about you personally. I could have waited to write this post until no one at Celebration is breaking up but the truth is, if that was the case I'd never write the post. Breakups happen in our church body all the time. I'm sure it happens at your church too.
So let's unpack this issue that all of us who are Christians and a part of a local church, face.
Dating stinks for the church. It's only a win if the people actually get married, and well...let me ask you...did you marry the one and only person you ever dated? A few of you will be able to say yes to this question. For most, the answer will be no. And in some cases, it's not a win for them or the church if they get married but aren't really right for each other but get married anyway.
Why does dating stink for the local church?
Because rarely are two people mature enough to date, break up, and both stay with their church. Most of the time at least one of them moves on to another church, unless they drop out of church altogether.
Some of the time both people leave the church, in an effort to get away from anything that reminds them of the place both of them spent a lot of time at during their relationship, claiming that memories are hard to deal with.
In all the time I have been pastoring, I only know of one (count it, O-N-E!!) situation over 25 years time where the people dated, broke up and both remained. There are two individuals in our church, both of whom I have extremely high respect for. They dated very seriously, broke up, and both remain not only in our church but highly involved there. I will not single them out, pardon the pun. (Get it, "single" them out?? Ha ha!) I'm not sharing their names, because they are both private people. But you know who you are -- and to both of you I say -- I am so proud of you. And I am so glad both of you are still at Celebration.
Most of the time when people break up, the person who has been there longest stays. The person who has attended the shortest time moves on.
When dealing with teenage dating, I have found it amazing that even some parents will make the decision to transfer churches so their son or daughter doesn't have to face their ex! This hit home for our family personally. Years ago our son dated a girl in the church and broke up with her. The very week of the breakup her mother let us know they would be transferring churches, that it would be too hard for her daughter to stay in the same church with our son let alone see him ministering on the platform, playing his instrument, etc. She said she couldn't worship and have to stand to look at him on stage. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Seriously, out of a grown forty-something year old woman! So many things I wanted to say -- and so many things I restrained myself from saying. Stuff like, "How long has it been since you abdicated the leadership of your home to your daughter?" Kudos to parents who don't let their kids run away from awkward moments or situations but help them work through it with maturity and grace.
I called a few other pastors or pastors' wives to ask them if they ever encountered anything like this. Would you believe the first three pastors I called told me the exact scenario I shared was why they don't allow their teenage kids to date anyone in the church? They all said it creates the potential for too much drama, fallout, and possible transition. If their son/daughter dated, they had a family rule that it had to be someone they met from another church, church camp, or other pastors' kids, etc.
Well, we prayed about that and felt that for our family, we didn't want to go that far. Larry and I didn't feel it was fair to forbid our kids to date anyone in the church. What if a person in the church is the mate God has for them? Would we be standing in the way of God's will? We chose not to do that.
That's not to say that we didn't have a lot of talks about the possible damage that could occur and begged them to be careful. I have felt a bit of guilt as a parent about sitting down and having that kind of talk with my kids. Probably no one in the church except the pastor has sat down and had a talk with their teenage or young adult children pleading with them to be careful who they select to date because of the possibility of church conflict. But we have. Just keepin' it real.
When sharing why dating stinks for the church with some Christians, here are the responses I've heard and my response to each:
1) This is just life, Deanna. These kinds of things happen as people live, grow and change. It's a given. So just focus on helping them as a person and be a blessing to them as much as you can, while you have them.
I see that point. I agree we need to help them grow as a person. That is not even a question to me that we should do that. Yet as much as we can help them grow-- it still stinks for the church to have to say goodbye just because they broke up.
2) What's the big deal if they choose to go to another church?
Well, the bible doesn't say that those who hop to another church every time an awkward situation comes will flourish. It says those who are planted will flourish. If people uproot every time they are uncomfortable, I believe it stunts or prohibits their growth. How can you possibly be healthy as a Christian if you are breaking up with your church family all the time? Is there ever a reason for a person to leave a church? Yes there are appropriate times, but if people leave every time a dating relationship ends, some will switch churches many times. They might even transition many times within a year. That can't be healthy for people or for churches.
3) They are still in THE church, the body of Christ, so that's all that matters.
I realize that. They are not abandoning the faith by going to another church. Yet for the local church who will miss them, it stinks.
4) Why can't you just "sow" those people as a blessing to another church?
Well, we can. Absolutely we can. And we do. And...still that stinks for the church. Because they dated someone and then broke up, their local church now has to miss them. If we didn't miss them wouldn't there be something wrong with us? What an uncaring bunch we'd be if this didn't matter at all to us. We can sow people, but that doesn't mean it's not a grieving process at times. People aren't just objects to be thrown away or even "sown away". These are lives we're talking about.
5) But don't you understand when you sow them, you reap back even more people than you sowed?
Well, perhaps. And, probably. But are people really disposable? I don't think so. Again, do we care about these people, or are they just numbers? By so glibly saying to sow them to another church it's like you're saying, "I'll trade you two dating rejects for 20 married people and I get a ten fold blessing!!" How ridiculous. I don't believe people are just numbers or disposable. When people leave, we miss them. Even if twice the amount of people come and take their place. As for the two leaders I mentioned in the beginning of this post, who pressed through and stayed in the church -- I can't imagine my daily life without either one of them and I don't want to. They belong with us, even though it didn't work out with them, their relationship status with our church is unchanged. Just because your Facebook relationship status has changed doesn't mean your church should change!
6) Who cares if they leave the church -- if these people are that important to you, you can still hang out with them outside the church.
Yes, and that still stinks for the church. Because let's face it, rare is an abundance of spare time, for anyone. If church is important to you, you spend quality time with those in your church. Hopefully never to the point of ignoring the rest of the world (that would defeat our purpose) but as Christians when it comes to hanging out with other Christians, we understandably do that a lot. The early church set a pattern for us. It's healthy. They modeled for us breaking bread, spending time together daily, hanging out. I do stuff like that with the people in our church and I love it. Once someone leaves, it's kind of hard for me to carve out that time to spend on a regular basis. When people leave the church you don't see them as much anymore. So when they go - it's not impossible to spend time but it's much more rare. And, that stinks for the church.
7) Don't you think this is more of a maturity issue than a dating issue?
Perhaps. But whether it's one or the other -- it still stinks for the church.
8) What about that person? Do you care about how it feels for them?
Yes. Yes I do. I care deeply, for each person. But this post isn't about them. It's about the church. And once more I just say...dating stinks for the church.
Dating means that the local church says goodbye to a lot of people.
People they don't want to say goodbye to.
People I'm convinced that in most cases they shouldn't have to say goodbye to.
When people in the church start dating, I inwardly cringe. Because I wonder how long it's going to be until I have to say goodbye to one or both of them.
It hurts. It aches because you love people, and you don't want to say goodbye.
9) But don't you realize that people, the church and society wouldn't produce married couples in the first place if no one dated?
Yes, to a degree. Perhaps courtship instead of dating makes more sense, not just for people but for the local church. There has to be something to stop the insanity of the cycle of breakups and transition. The problem is that on their way to marriage, the path is usually littered with a bazillion breakups. This hurts not only the person, but the church too. It's a lose-lose for both, in my opinion.
10) Couldn't you have been more positive and written a post, "why dating is a blessing for the church?"
Yes, I could have. But I didn't.
There wasn't much if any information to draw from.
I am hard pressed to find any way at all that the local church is blessed by dating.
If you can think of all the manifold blessings the church receives by two people dating, please share them with me. I'm all ears.