By Scott Douglas
As a student minister, one of the hardest areas for me to have influence in teenagers’ lives is with their dating choices. I have had many instances where a student has brought so many boyfriends or girlfriends to youth events that I begin to lose track of who they’re dating now. I also notice that the “grieving” period between breakup and rebound seems to be pretty short. I joked with one high school guy if he’d even waited long enough for the phone to click before he asked out the next girl. He didn’t laugh, and I took that as a bad sign. I see the Instagram selfies of the couple kissing, hugging, or looking all sweet and gushy with the “______ & ______ 4-ever” caption, only to scroll through the timeline a couple weeks later and see the same pose with a different guy. The relationship status changes on Facebook are so frequent that it almost becomes a joke. On top of that are the countless 15 year old guys who mope and whine on their statuses about how they’ll never find love and their life will be lonely.
What I fear is that the message this sends is one that is nothing more than divorce preparation. When a relationship becomes an accessory that can be added, changed, or removed without much effort, it plants a seed. That seed comes up much later in their marriage where someone better looking comes along, when they realize the feelings aren’t there like they were, or when they just tire of the relationship. Because there’s such a long history and pattern of breaking commitments, it makes it that much easier to end a marriage. I’ve dealt with several married couples who treated their marriage vows like two 8th graders at a dance acting like they’ll never break up.
And sadly, there’s so much more than that. God offers you so much more. Treating your marriage like an 8th grade romance is like being offered an opportunity for the finest filet mignon at the nicest restaurant and passing on it because you have a coupon for Denny’s. C.S. Lewis described our desires like this: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
1) Don’t date anyone you couldn’t see yourself marrying
I know this is really hard to swallow in middle or high school, and that’s for a good reason. I want you to totally rethink what you believe about dating – who you date, when you date, and why you date. And that all begins with looking at who. In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul lays out the relationship between believers and unbelievers – in particular look at 6:14-15 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?
When you do decide to date, dating with intentionality involves not wasting your time with pointless relationships. I want to pose this question to you: if the most important thing in your life is your relationship with Christ, then should that not also be the most important thing in their life? If it’s not the foundation for your relationship, do you think it will be the foundation in your marriage? Be wise in who you date, and only pursue a relationship with someone worth it. That doesn’t mean asking someone to coffee is a marriage proposal, but don’t waste their time or yours. It does mean, however, that dating is something that should be seen as a preparation for marriage, rather than something to do. You need to really examine if you should wait to date until you’re ready to start thinking about marriage.
2) Focus on developing friendships
I’ll show my age real quick, there was a song in the 80s with the line “How can we be lovers if we can’t be friends?” Beyond the bad hair, there’s a lot of truth to that line. Whenever I talk to married people about their spouses, one of the first things I hear so many of them say is “I feel like __________ is my best friend.” Cultivating a strong friendship is the root of a strong marriage, because there is a deep, intentional, and relational commitment that comes with making a marriage work. Relying on emotions, or “the fuzzies,” will eventually wear off after the checkbook bounces or the garbage stinks up the kitchen.
In your teen years, it’s important to learn to build friendships with members of the opposite sex. These friendships need not become romantic, that will come in its own time. Song of Solomon advises us over and over to “not awaken love until it pleases.” We need to remember that there are boundaries to our friendships, especially those with the opposite sex. Building these friendships allows you to learn how the other sex thinks, responds, what their needs are, and how God has uniquely wired them – without the interference of romance or hormones.
3) Wait until you’re mature enough to handle a big commitment (marriage)
When I was a kid we successfully talked our parents into letting us get a dog. We ended up with a floppy eared Beagle named Sparkey. He was a cute dog, dumb as a rock, and we assured our parents that we would be the ones who took him out, fed him, played with him, cleaned up his messies, and such. That lasted maybe a week. After that, it was my already overloaded mother cleaning up after 3 children and a dog who struggled to make it to the newspaper. Unfortunately, I think this happens too often in dating relationships. You think you’re ready to handle it, you get in over your head, and then realize how unprepared you were.
Steve and Candice Watters, at a conference for high school students, made the argument that young people should wait to date until they are about a year away from being willing to be married (http://www.sbts.edu/resources/conferences/important-general-session-3/). I’ve watched middle school boys barely be able to order off a restaurant menu, much less survive on their own without their mom. There is no need for them to be involved with a young woman’s heart. So the best thing I can say to teenagers is this: wait. Be patient. Until then, take initiative. Guys, take on responsibility. Handle money, get a job, do projects around the house, learn from your dad what it means to be a husband. Society expects you to, at best, comb your hair and show up for school sorta on time. Do much more than that. Do hard things. Work hard. Ladies, discover how it is God has wired you, discover your passions and what you want in a husband/leader/provider, and make the best use of your single years by serving, loving, investing in others.
4) Involve your parents, their parents, and your church/es
You hate me now after reading that. I wish you could see me playing the world’s smallest violin as I write this. I write this more as a dad than I do as a student pastor. I want to know what girl my son is spending time with, and I want to know her family. Believe it or not, your parents actually know what they’re talking about. And as long as you’re in their house and under their care, they are your authority. Here’s more shocking news: so is your potential boyfriend or girlfriend. You have an obligation not only to your date but also to their parents. That means if one has an earlier curfew, or other restrictions/conditions for the relationship, you follow them. I’ve seen many relationships where one person has ‘stricter’ rules and they’re disobeyed. That’s not only stupid, that’s sin. Trust is something that must be earned and is not easy to gain or keep when you take the responsibility for someone else’s child. I remember the talk with my father in law while I was dating Carrie where he had 2 pistols, a rifle, and a shotgun when he asked what my intentions were. Thankfully he was playing a joke on me and wanted me to target shoot with him.
Involving each other’s churches does not mean that you need to go forward at invitation time and ask the church’s blessing to date someone. If you want to do that, go for it, but I’m not talking about that. What I am talking about is the importance of biblical community. If you belong to a church, then you are under the authority of that church as well. You are responsible to the leadership of that church and to the rest of the membership to 1) represent Christ well, and 2) represent the church well. That means living in obedience to God, being faithful, and submitting to the leadership of the church. I always joke with our students that they need me to approve their potential dates, except I’m not really joking. Let me encourage you to get your small group leader, your accountability partner, your youth minister, and if possible other leaders in the church. If they notice red flags in who you’re interested in, take that as wisdom from God and avoid the train wreck.
5) Pursue Christ first and foremost as your only true satisfaction
I’ll burst your bubble, your spouse will let you down. Many times. In fact, at times they might drive you crazy. And, you’ll drive them crazy. You will let them down. The important thing to always remember is that Jesus is your greatest joy, greatest hope, the most satisfying person, the greatest good, and the only source of hope. Any time you put that hope in someone else, no matter who, they will eventually let you down. But God declares that “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Your life should be lived under this truth. Chase after Jesus with everything you have. Make Him the center of your life. He is the only person who can truly fill the void in the human heart. Only He can provide for you everything you need. If you try to fill that void with a person, you’re doing more than setting yourself up for heartbreak – you’re setting yourself up a false god.
I also want to encourage you to, when you do feel ready to date and are ready for a commitment with another person, to not settle for anything less than someone who is seeking Christ as their only true satisfaction. Ask yourself some hard questions about the person you’re interested in. Are they as much in love with and seeking to live for Jesus as you are? Can they help you to love and live for Jesus more? What are they doing to serve Jesus with their life? How committed are they to personal Bible study, to church involvement, to missions, to giving, to living out their faith before their friends and family? I know this is a lot, but it’s important for you to make sure that the person you’re with for the rest of your life is a committed Christ follower.
6) Set limits to your time & dedication – Importance of boundaries
My wife gets final veto on my calendar, schedule, and travels for work. Why? Because we’re married, and every decision I make has an effect on her. She and I also spend the majority of our spare time together. Why? Because we’re married, and we must make investment in the other a priority. What I’m trying to say is that when you get married, everything changes. Until then, a couple would be wise to set boundaries on their time and dedication. All of us have seen that couple, the one who never spend time with anyone else, have no friends besides their boyfriend/girlfriend, and are way too clingy to each other. If you don’t know one of those couples, you might be in that relationship.
The book Sex, Dating & Relationships by Hiestand & Thomas lays out the claim that until marriage is decided on and a proposal is given/accepted, the relationship is one of “neighbor,” which involves purity, boundaries, and expectations that you would show towards a friend. So until marriage is the plan, it is wise and best to set limits to time and dedication. Guys, make sure you spend time with your guy friends, and invest in their lives. Ladies, make sure you spend time with your girl friends, let them invest in your life. Until you’re seriously talking marriage, you need to make sure you have balance. Also, until that DTR (Define The Relationship) of ‘marriage is in the future’ happens, you as a couple need to set boundaries. Those boundaries include phone calls, expectations to go out on dates, time together, and what interaction you have with the opposite sex. You’re not married yet but that doesn’t mean that you get to be a player or flirt around.
7) Involve others if you do decide to date – Avoid “Alone Time”
Should you decide to date, let me encourage you to double or triple date. Avoid spending time alone. You are opening the door for trouble if you allow too much alone time unsupervised. Time spent with other couples is a great way to help you be accountable, and also allows you to learn to develop friendships with other people, rather than focusing exclusively on the other person (see #6).
Here are some stats from the Cabinet of Health & Human Services and the Center for Disease Control on sexual activity among teenagers:
The numbers are overwhelming, those who claim the name of Christ and follow Him are doing no better than the unbelieving world in this area. Jesus calls for His followers to be salt and light in the Sermon on the Mount. That call for us is to be distinct, different, and reflective of Jesus in everything we do. Teens, you must choose to be different from your friends and classmates – make your purity a priority, and remove the temptations and distractions that could cause you to compromise.
7) Guys – Be intentional; Girls – Be pursued
When my wife and I were dating, I remember sitting on the pool deck at her parents’ house when out from the shed came her father, with 2 pistols, a shotgun, and rife saying very loudly “Scott! I want to know what your intentions are with my daughter!” After my stomach settled back to its normal position, my life was replayed before me, and my eyes came to focus, I saw the laughter on his face and realized he was inviting me to target shoot with him.
Guys, I want to give you some encouragement. Be intentional with your dating relationships. Intentional means that you have a purpose, a reason, a goal for dating. I would also suggest that your intentions be long term (like, marriage, for life, no return policy). Don’t waste your time if you don’t think it’s going somewhere. Have a plan for the relationship, make it clear to her parents (especially her father) what that is. Let it be clear to her what your intent is. And above all else, mean it. Don’t play games. Boys play games, men love and serve. Men hold open doors and offer to pick up the check, boys stare at their phones and hope she’s got cash.
Ladies, be pursued. Don’t always make the effort and do all the work. If he’s more focused on playing X-BOX and hanging out with his buddies, never has a plan for your time together, or has trouble committing to things, chances are he’s a boy who can shave rather than a man.
8) Pray for your future spouse
I know this sounds silly, but I can’t emphasize to you how important prayer is in your life, including how you date. God knows who your future spouse is (shock: it may not be the girl in your freshman biology class you’re crazy about!), and in His time that will be revealed to you. Better than serial dating, use your time to pray for your future spouse. Yes, I’m ending an article on dating by encouraging you to not waste your time dating and instead devote yourself to a time of prayer. That’s intentional, because my desire is for you to become complete in Christ (Colossians 1:29) more than it is for you to go to the movies with that guy. There was a period in college where I would take some every week and pray for whomever it was God would have me spend my life with. I had no clue who she was or how we’d meet, just that she was out there somewhere and eventually we’d run into each other. Some things you can pray for: their salvation, their walk with God, their pursuit of His calling, for opportunities to serve Him, for their education, for their purity, and for their preparedness for marriage.
Scott Douglas serves as Student Pastor at Westside Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He is married to Carrie Beth, and they have a son, Samuel. He is also a Ph.D. candidate in leadership at Southern Seminary.
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