Missionary Dating

Many single Christian women would love to be married. Sometimes marriage is an idol. It’s the thing that they think will satisfy them beyond their wildest dreams. It’s the thing that will make them unbelievably happy. They don’t want to hear that marriage isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. That doesn’t really help. They’d settle for an imperfect marriage because, as far as they’re concerned, anything’s better than being single. For them, heaven is being with a man who will love them unconditionally. Hell is being left ‘on the shelf’. As they approach their 40th birthday the possibility of marriage seems increasingly remote. Social convention, parental expectations and individual aspirations mean that being single just feels awkward and embarassing. It ought not to feel like that in church. But it does. Sustained reflection on their situation in life can lead to profound disappointment. The opportunities for sin to seize upon this disappointment and for it to become an occasion for resentment and bitterness are very real.

In these painful circumstances some are tempted to try what has characteristically become known as ‘missionary dating’. They take on an an unbelieving boyfriend in the hope that he’ll respond to the gospel and become an eligible option for marriage. Most people know at least one person who did this for whom it all worked out brilliantly. Some even married and the guy was converted. Praise the Lord. And it gives them sufficient reason to think that they might be able to repeat it. But no one really talks about the marriages that began to resemble car crashes.

I know of a number who have either tried missionary dating, are in the middle of trying it or face increasing pressure to try it. The blokes aren’t blameless. But it’s not as prevalent. How do we approach what’s a matter of great sensitivity? It’s worth remembering the following points.

1. Singleness is not inherently worse than marriage

The Bible teaches that both marriage and singleness have a central part to play in God’s purposes. Jesus was single and he was OK with that. He said that some will remain unmarried because they were born unable to marry, some will have singleness forced upon them by circumstances and still others will renounce marriage for the sake of the Kingdom [Matthew 19]. Paul takes up this theme in 1 Corinthians 7. But the point is that being single isn’t the end of the world, or the end of a life. It’s just different to being married.

2. Believers should not marry unbelievers

The Bible is crystal clear on this issue. The Old Testament didn’t permit marriage with people who wern’t part of the old covenant people of God. The New Testament applies the same standards to the new covenant people of God. The reasons for this are obvious. The believer and the unbeliever don’t share the same spiritual status, they don’t share the same spiritual priorities and they don’t share the same spiritual destination. ‘Intermarriage’ of this sort is fraught with difficulties.

3. Dating is a preparatory stage

Dating is not the same as marriage. So technically dating a non-Christian is not a sin. But let’s not be idiots. We know where it’s heading. The biblical prohibitions against ‘mixed’ marriages don’t sepcifically govern the dating period. But we mustn’t be naïve about where these relationships are going. Dating is a culturally acknowledged convention during which marriage is being considered. If there’s no intention of marrying a partner it raises the issue of why an exclusive romantic relationship has been formed at all. If it’s all a bit of fun and romance then the warning lights ought to be flashing. This is a context within which there’s increased temptation and opportunity for inappropriate sexual activity.

4. ‘Mixed’ marriages are fraught with difficulties

At the start of their married lives few people are able to look into the future and predict the problems that will arise. Paul alludes to the existence of tensions in 1 Corinthians 7 and church leaders would be able to flesh out the details from couples they’ve advised throughout their ministries. People need to see beyond the first few years of marriage and reflect on how life will operate once there are children. It’s often the case that single women don’t think beyond the first five years of marriage. When the implications of a mixed marriage are spelt out they find it emotionally distressing. As they should. But we need to help them appreciate the difficulties ‘ahead of the game’. We’re not making this stuff up. It’s striking that in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul accepts taht a ‘mixed’ marriage could be so problematic that an unbeliever wants out. And he permits divorce under such circumstances.

5. Compatibility is overplayed but wise

Compatibility has some merits. In a knee jerk reaction to the overly stringent standards that we look for in a prospective marriage partner, it’s been suggested that as long as the person is a Christian, of the opposite gender, unmarried and not a close relative then we should go for it. I’m not persauded. We need to be wise not pious. You’ve got to be clear that this is the person you’d like to have a go at spending the rest of your life with. They may fit the four criteria but if you don’t actually like them all that much, the writing’s on the wall! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or indeed a relationship counsellor, to see where it’s heading! However, it would be worth remembering that no one is able to predict with any accuracy how circumstances will shape the development of our characters. Therefore what appears to be overwhelming compatibility in our twenties can become an occasion for disagreement and dissension in our forties.

So what do we do? These four things, at least.

Encourage repentance and faith
We need to encourage people to repent if they’ve started inappropriate relationships. They need to entrust their futures to the Lord. Most of us find it difficult to trust the Lord when our lives are not going the way we would have designed them. But that’s when trust starts. Anyone can trust the Lord when things go as we’d like. We need to help people to resist the temptations to wallow in self pity and to harbour bitterness and resentment when things don’t go as they’d choose.

Encourage compassionionate concern
Without being patronising, we ought to sympathise with friends in this situation. Most churches are not awash with young eligible men. That’s perhaps especially true of church plants. There’s a cost to staying and contributing to the gospel work of smaller churches. The bigger London churches look very attractive to a single 20 something! But let’s not create the impression that life begins when you get married and everything’s on hold till then. And let’s not allow anyone to suggest that being single is second class.

Encourage male evangelism
The statistics of male to female proportions in local churches make depressing reading. In general our churches are not reaching men. One of the ways in which we can show love to those who struggle with this is to support and encourage male evangelism. There are better reasons for male evangelism than providing blokes for our sisters in Christ to marry. But it’s not an awful one. There can be times when the emphasis given to male activities or male evangelism in our congregations is unwelcome. Usually by the women! It sounds counter intuitive but when there are so many women in church to be catered for, we actually need more male orientated activities. It won’t be popular, but it’s true. If we keep shaping the church programme to accommodate the girls we need to know what that’ll mean. It’ll mean that every bloke feels like he’s walked in on a church that caters for women but not men. It’ll mean that we don’t prioritise men’s discipleship and give this the resources and attention that it needs. And this’ll mean that we won’t reach unbelieving men with the gospel. Prioritising the women is, I would argue, short-sighted, counterproductive and unloving.

Encourage singles to keep serving
Paul doesn’t share our negative view of singleness. The ‘spinster’ may be a figure of fun, but the great Apostle thinks she’s fortunate. She has opportunities for ministry and undivided devotion to the Lord not enjoyed by those who are married. In our churches those who are single perform much of the influential ministry. It’s no coincidence that Dick Lucas, John Stott, Jonathan Fletcher and Vaughan Roberts have influential ministries. They’re currently single. I think the ship may have sailed for Dick, Stotty and Fletch. They’re not in our church, I know. But the point is that the Lord has used them for the good of the Kingdom and it’s hard to imagine that He could have done that if they had wives and kids to look after. Let’s encourage single people not to waste the opportunities that God is giving them for useful service. Obviously one potentially significant ministry opportunity for single women is to to encourage their sisters who struggle with this issue. Our churches need mature single women whose open acknowledgement of struggles, honest biblical reflection and godly example is invaluable. Imagine the transformation that could be wrought in our younger women by the support of a handful of older sisters who can help them in their struggles and encourage them to flourish in the situation that God has called them to.

The following books and articles have been helpful on this topic
Don’t Date a Corpse’, Tom Seidler, Evangelicals Now
Relationships Revolution, Nigel Pollock, IVP
Hanging in There, John Dickson
God, Sex and Marriage, John Richardson
The Single Issue, Al Hsu
What Could I Say, Peter Hicks

19 thoughts on “Missionary Dating

  1. Phil C March 27, 2009 / 10:15 am

    John Piper has a talk on iTunes/his web site called “Q&A on Singleness” which might also be helpful.

  2. Christine Pembleton March 28, 2009 / 8:59 am

    I liked your section on compatibility. We don’t teach people how to find life partners that are suitable as much anymore, and we need to do that.

  3. Phil C April 11, 2009 / 5:30 pm

    PS And Phillip Jensen’s talks “Love, Sex and Marriage” are (surprisingly) good as well.

    • theurbanpastor April 21, 2009 / 9:11 am

      Surprinsingly?! That surprises you because the rest of Phillip’s stuff is usually poor? You can’t have meant that, can you? Or is it that you hadn’t appreciated that alongside his contentious stand for the truth there lies a deeply pastoral heart with a concern for people and the truth of God’s word?
      I agree that his material on ‘Love, Sex and Marriage’ is good. It’s worth listening to and recommending, so good on you for speaking up about it.
      I’m sure Phillip will be delighted receive your rave reviews! I’ll pass them on!

      • Phil C February 28, 2011 / 4:53 pm

        Almost two years on, I’ve seen your reply! I think I meant, simply, that they were even better than I expected, as opposed to his other stuff being poor, which I have never thought to be the case.

        (In fact, I listened to parts of his talks on this very recently, and have passed them on to other people in the last year or two.)

  4. D-Man September 22, 2009 / 10:12 pm

    Thanks a lot urban pastor! I found this message to be filled with Truth! I’m close to a family, specifically with the believing brothers. They’re cultural background is different from mine. I’ve developed a friendship with their sister. She says that she’s a believer, but isn’t bearing the fruit of a believer. I think about her, care for her, and try to point to Jesus by what I say and do. As you may be able to tell, this isn’t a smooth ride! The part in this article that I think was most helpful was find people to pray. Jesus is the Shepherd, and He is the One whom He leads unto Himself. Thanks again for the article, and God bless you!

  5. Evangelist John Teets May 15, 2010 / 6:22 am

    I am surprised by the lack of logic on sites such as date2save.com and those who advocate Missionary Dating.
    I wrote a drama on the subject which will be on the radio May 15th in four markets and on the Internet starting sometime the same day. I would be interested in your comments. There is a link to The Gospel Word where it plays at the lower left corner of our website, http://www.kingdomgospelministries.org where you see “Hear a Drama Now”. Finishing up from playing this past week is “A Summer Love Story” which deals with predators coming to churches to win over Christian girls. God bless.

  6. Kyle October 24, 2010 / 2:44 am

    “…Most churches are not awash with young eligible men. ”

    Really?! I’m a 22-year old sing Christian guy and I’ve met tons of cool dudes in various churches I’ve attended over the years. They tend to be more attractive and more appealing overall that most of the girls I’ve encountered in church. If anything it’s the GUYS who are likely to be tempted to missionary date! I’m still holding out for a nice Christian girl but it is very frustrating when I never meet anyone appealing in appearance or character.

  7. Robert Stanier July 4, 2011 / 11:41 am

    “Believers should not marry unbelievers

    The Bible is crystal clear on this issue.”

    I’ve never understood this position.

    “For the unbelieving husband has been sancitifed through his wife and the unbelieving wife has been sancitifed through her believing husband.” 1 Cor 7.14.
    Surely, the Bible is crystal clear, but in the opposite way to what you describe.

    Now all the other stuff, compatibility, singleness, well, interesting points.
    But surely the New Testament is just fine with it.

    Quoting the Old Testament with Jews sticking to Jews (Ezra-Nehemiah etc.) is essentially irrelevant, it seems to me, or certainly has less mileage than an unequivocal bit of Paul.

    And if you’re going to say, “Well, you’ve got to read Paul in context”, then welcome to the world of the liberal. It’s a very interesting place to be.

  8. Aaron Marcus April 30, 2012 / 9:31 pm

    Coming up on over a year later, but who knows. Maybe you’ll see it Richard!

    “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” 2 Corinthians 6:14-15

    Paul goes on a bit after that. He lays down a blanket statement for believers to not be yoked with unbelievers. Hard to see a more ‘yoke’ relationship between two people than a covenanted relationship until death separates you.

    While there’s leniency it seems in those ‘mixed’ relationships, it seems to be a bit of a concession (I am currently thinking of those couples where one person comes to faith, the other doesn’t), the Lord hates divorce, period, regardless of who is involved believer or unbeliever. So, He isn’t calling them to destroy what is a precious display of His relationship with the church in creation when one of them comes to faith. Certainly not a simple situation, but it seems clear (though I will admit this isn’t the clearest or fullest look through this passage, more of a drive-by).

  9. Stuart June 26, 2012 / 10:31 pm

    Have to say that though I’m sure the underlying point is right “Don’t date a corpse” must be one of the most crass titles for a book I have heard in a long time – rather like shouting at people in the street “You’re all going to hell” – true but likely to come across in perhaps a not good way to most people. I also am not clear about the point he is making re

    ‘Already married?

    For those already married to non-Christians: ‘If anyone has a spouse who does not believe, if the spouse is willing to stay married, do not divorce’. For you may be used in the salvation of your spouse, and in any case, the children need you both (1 Corinthians 7.12-16).

    We cannot do as we please in this matter…

    And if we are inclined to think still that we can ‘become one flesh’ with one who is not born again and do what we want in spite of what it is clear Christ the Living Word commands, then the Spirit questions us ruthlessly and frankly as to our understanding – ‘Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body’ (1 Corinthians 6.19,20).’ ‘

    Perhaps its just poor paragraphing but reading that following on as it does from comment on those who are already married to non-believers (where he is clearly making the point that the believer can’t just up and divorce their spouse) might seem to imply that those in mixed marriages shouldn’t be indulging in marital relations with their non- believing partner. I am fairly sure he can’t mean that though taken in conjunction with his bad taste title, I suppose he might well be advocating separate beds until/unless the spouse is converted! As someone who back slid for years and has recently come back to God (and who got married in that time!) this is a topic I’ve thought and prayed about and perhaps hence my reaction to his tone. Part of my return to faith is to see that I don’t have to buy everything that even apparently sincere other believers tell me and not to judge the Church on the basis of what some people in it say and do.And of course racists in some churches in the USA and RSA used I’m sure the same texts in the past to inveigh against inter-racial marriage too.

  10. Stuart June 26, 2012 / 10:32 pm

    Not a book of course, but a short essay!

  11. Stuart June 26, 2012 / 10:36 pm

    Quoting the Old Testament with Jews sticking to Jews (Ezra-Nehemiah etc.) is essentially irrelevant, it seems to me, or certainly has less mileage than an unequivocal bit of Paul.
    —————-
    Some of the OT aspects are surely more to do with cultural/tribal survival – as a lot of the kosher stuff is to do with hygiene in a hot climate.

  12. susan gonzalez April 22, 2013 / 2:45 am

    I have a reply for you… I dated an Seventh Day Adventist- I met on line. He listed himself as a Protestant which I guess is technically correct… I was raised a Catholic but consider myself more of a Christian as I don’t believe much of the dogma I was raised with- funny not much different than how SDA’s are brain washed.
    Any way in the end it occurs to me he was probably Missionary dating… he cut off the relationship when he figured out I actually had a brain in my head and and had my own mind. I really liked him and thought he was an ethical person. I love the hypocrisy in that these folks think they are better than us “non believers” and that WE will not be saved. I told him in the end that his judgement of me was not exactly christian like in that it was arrogant and ignorant of others. It does not respect us. He entered this relationship dishonestly and did not reveal his true intentions. Isn’t that covered in the commandments …something about “thou shalt not “bear false witness” or what my mother taught me ” don’t lie to people or misrepresent your intentions”- this is exactly what missionary dating is. It hurts people and is is against what god teaches – If that is the only way you can convert- I guess in the end we aren’t the whores – you are.
    When I think back on everything he tried to find out what I liked- claimed he liked it as well. He used me emotionally and when it ended one of the last things he asked me is if I wanted him to send me a pamphlet. – I guess you know what you can do with your pamphlets. How can you call yourselves Christians?

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