In celebration of Hoboken Grace’s 10-year anniversary, we recently featured the stories of eight couples who met through the church and are now married. But for every beaming wedding photo and heartfelt “I do,” we realize there are undoubtedly dozens of deleted pictures and plenty of “I don’ts.” We thought we’d use the Love Project series as an opportunity to sit down with Pastor Chris to talk about the benefits of dating someone at church, the risks, and everything in between.
Q. What are the potential benefits of dating someone at church?
A. The advantages to dating within your local church are numerous, but here are what I would consider the top three.
You get to see someone’s character on display before you begin to date them. Character is the basis for trust. Character is a foundational pillar of your relationship. God calls us to tie intimacy to character. When you date without knowing character, you’re taking a huge risk. Being in a local church together gives you a chance to see who has demonstrated character and pursue them.
You can also identify spiritual chemistry. You aren’t just a physical and intellectual being. You are spiritual. God calls us to tie intimacy to spiritual chemistry. He calls us to pursue people who are pursuing Him like we are. It’s very difficult to see that outside of a local church context. Within the church you can see how they pursue God and how they value Him.
Finally, you can see who actually helps you accomplish the mission. This isn’t your life to do with what you please. You’ve been given a mission. The person you spend your life with should be the one who best helps you accomplish that mission. How can you see that outside of the local church and being on mission together?
Q. What are the risks or dangers of trying to find love at your church?
A. I don’t think dating at church is inherently risky. It only becomes risky if you choose not to follow God when you date within the church. Here are two of the concerns I hear from people considering dating and what I tell them:
If we break up we can’t attend the same church: I’ve only seen that happen when a couple doesn’t listen to God about tying their intimacy to a marriage commitment. If you sleep together and break up, that will be true. If you follow God’s instruction and you don’t, you’ll be fine. Every time I’ve experienced a breakup where the couple couldn’t attend the same church, it was because they stole something from one another that wasn’t rightfully theirs.
I don’t want people to know about my dating life: Secrets are almost never safe. Accountability is good for relationships, not harmful. You also don’t have to broadcast it on social media. I often know who is dating well before anyone else because they will secretly hold hands while sitting together on Sunday thinking I can’t see them. It happens more than you think. I’m always cautious of someone who wants to hide their dating life from their “friends.”
Q. What advice do you give to couples starting to date at church?
A. Leave them better than you found them. That doesn’t mean that the breakup won’t hurt, but if you love them by helping them follow and pursue God, it won’t leave scars. Make every decision in your relationship based on making sure that they will be better off because of your influence in their life. Ultimately, that’s what love is. It’s serving the other person. Helping them find their way back to God. As long as you do that, you’ll be fine in the end.
Q. When couples choose to date within a friend circle or within a workplace setting, if the relationship ends, there can often be permanent damage to that group. As a church, how can we do dating and breaking up better?
A. Again, when things end badly it is usually because there was sexual intimacy outside of a marriage commitment, but there are other factors that can contribute as well.
Love is honest. We need to be honest with our friends about rejection. You don’t get to hate someone because they don’t want to spend the rest of their life with you. Rejection, while painful, does not impact our identity. Our identity is found in Christ and what He has done for us. When someone is finding their identity in a relationship, it usually ends really poorly. We need to be honest with them about that.
Break up faster. People get hurt when you drag it out. You’re not staying with them because you care about them. You’re staying with them because you’re comfortable, haven’t found anyone better and don’t want to do what needs to be done. We need to break up faster.
Q. What else have you learned from watching couples do this well and less well over the years?
A. The people who date well follow a few simple steps:
— They pursue character, not charisma. There are fools within the local church. Don’t date them even if they’re rich and beautiful.
— They aren’t afraid of rejection.
— They pursue the mission together. They watch how the other serves and gauge whether they see the mission the same way.
— They pursue God together. They talk about applying God’s word together and watch one another take steps. They challenge one another.
— They have accountability sexually. They have people they are honest with, and they tell the truth about their physical intimacy. They don’t take what isn’t theirs.
— They ask for help. They ask couples they respect to speak into their lives. They seek guidance.
— They commit. They don’t wait five years to commit to one another, putting unhealthy pressures on the relationship. When they see that they can pursue God better together, they commit to one another.