Why Won't Christian Men Date Women From Their Church? Part II

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Last month I wrote an article about Christian dating from a man's perspective. I interviewed several single guys in Los Angeles and New York, ranging in age from 28 to 40. I asked how they felt about dating within their church community and their answers were rather surprising. Most had tried it, yet were left feeling disillusioned in the process. As a result, they had chosen to search for love some place else.

Over the past month, I've received hundreds of comments from readers who related to the article and had insightful perspectives to add to the conversation. It became clear that there was more to say on this topic. Much more. Why Some Christian Men Won't Date Women They Meet At Church

This time, I set out with a different goal in mind. My hope was not to uncover more problems, but to find answers. I interviewed couples that met each other at church, dated within that environment, and ended up getting married. How did they do it successfully? What were their secrets? What advice did they have for the rest of us—whether dating at church, or dating anywhere else?

I sought out a pastor named Steve Carter who leads a church filled with single people in Orange County, California. It's called Rock Harbor Fullerton and it's located in the vicinity of two major universities. Around 80 percent of the congregation is in their 20s and 30s, and about 60-70 percent of them are single. They often come to Carter for advice about dating and relationships, so I asked him what some of their questions were. How does he advise them? How can the Christian church, as a whole, be more supportive of single people? 11 Things Never To Say To A Single Woman

Lastly, in pulling together all of my research, I found there were three main observations everyone seemed to agree with about the church's treatment of marriage and dating:

1. "The only advice we're given about dating is 'Don't have sex.' The church generally doesn't teach us much about dating well, turning people down in a loving way, getting over break-ups, figuring out what we want in a mate." New Study Suggests Abstinence Classes Don't Curtail Sex

2. "There's a whole demographic of single people, ages 27-40, who are largely ignored and we feel like the church doesn't really know what to do with us." 

3. "Marriage isn't necessarily portrayed in the most positive light from the pulpit. Pastors talk about how hard it is, how you have to sacrifice so much, how you'll be tempted to stray, how there are times when you won't be having sex with your mate, and how we should embrace our singleness because it's such a gift and we have so much freedom. As a guy, I found this totally discouraging and wondered what the point was in getting married at all."

Any of that sound familiar? Then come along with me, and I'll introduce you to some married couples that were more than happy to provide their perspective on dating well at church. 

The married couples

Jeremy and Sarah Livermore, ages 31 and 28, just celebrated their first year of marriage. To be fair, they didn't exactly meet at church. They originally started talking through Match.com and found early on that they both attended Rock Harbor Costa Mesa. From there, they met in person, dated for the next three years at Rock Harbor, and got married last year. Chivalry Does Exist After College

Kevin and Traci Carpenter are both 29 years old. They have been married for six years, and dated for three before that. Do the math, and that puts them at the tender age of 20 when they met each other at a college retreat hosted by their church.

Scott and Mary Owens are in their 50s. They originally met in a church group and started out as friends. As time went by, they realized their mutual attraction for each other, and four years later, said their vows. They've been married for the past 35 years, and raised three children, all of which are grown and out of the house. Are You Mature Enough For Marriage?

While each couple has their own unique story, they all agreed upon certain behaviors and attitudes that helped them date better and avoid loads of heartache. Here is a sampling of their advice.

1. Approach dating with the other person's best interests in mind. When I interviewed the Christian men last month, one of their primary concerns about dating at church was that it could negatively impact their reputations. Yet, in order for that to happen, two events would likely need to occur: First, a guy would need to do something that upset the woman he was dating. Second, the woman would have to start gossiping about it.

You'll notice that both parties play a role in this scenario, and neither may have had the other person's best interests in mind. "There is an art to dating," Sarah says, "and it's possible to do it in a way that leaves both people feeling respected in the process."

For men, sometimes this can mean communicating with the women they date in a more open and honest way, especially if they've realized that they're not interested. "No one wants to be strung along," Sarah continues, "and I think there's a way to reject people with grace and courtesy. For example, just telling someone, 'I don't think we're a good fit,' is easy and it's respectful because it doesn't take anything away from what that person has to offer. It's not criticizing certain things about them." How to Deal with Online Dating Rejection

For women, this can mean cutting the gossip. Regardless of what a man initially did, or what his intentions were, women still have a responsibility to recognize that the things they say about men can be irreversibly damaging.

It can also mean finding more compassion for the guys who ask them out. "I don’t think women make it easy on guys," Sarah says. "They criticize, they're naturally gossipy, and they don't always recognize how hard it is for men who are always having to put themselves out there and risk being rejected by them."

Traci agrees, and comments on men's fear of being labeled based on the number of women they date at church. "I don't think that's necessarily true," she says. "As long as you're respectful, then it doesn’t matter how many people you've dated because regardless of that number, you're reputation is still that you're respectful." How To End A Relationship The Right Way — 9 Steps To Follow

She also adds that in dating, and in everything else in life, "We need to treat everybody with the understanding that they are the sons and daughters of God. If we really truly did that, then I think it would be possible to date within your own church."

2. Date prayerfully. Traci and Kevin both admit they were quite young when they met, and although they didn't always know what they were doing, it was helpful that they both went to the same church. "We both got to hear the same messages each week," Kevin says, "and that gave us the tools to combat whatever struggles we were having."

"It definitely helped us be more in sync," Traci says. "The church you chose to go to is the way that you respond to God, so when you're dating someone and going to church together, it's sort of like you're worshipping and responding to God in the same way."

Mary agrees, and advises singles to pray with the people they are dating and serve in a ministry together. She also adds, "Learn to value the differences in each other, and don't take yourselves too seriously." How To Add Prayer to Your Marriage Toolbox

3. Look at the larger picture. Sarah and Jeremy's experience of dating at church wasn't without its ups and downs. Prior to getting engaged, they broke up for a short period of time, and in that experience, they related to many of the problems that Christian guys had referenced. "It was hard being at the same church," Sarah admits. "We had a ton of mutual friends, and if I was going to move on with my life, it would have been incredibly difficult."

Jeremy agrees, yet still believes that dating women at church is worth the risk. This is how he explains it: "If a guy sees a girl at church and says to himself, 'She's hot. I want her—but I don't want to go get her because it could be awkward if it ends weird,' then that's ridiculous! It's totally illogical, and he's basically throwing away a future and a great possibility unfolding." 

Kevin's stance on dating at church is somewhat similar. When he first met Traci, he had just gotten out of a serious relationship and wasn't looking to date anybody at all. "I knew that the possibility was there for meeting a girl on this college retreat, but I specifically told myself going into it that I didn't want that. I just wanted to focus on God, and that was it. But then I met Traci, and by the end of the weekend I thought to myself, 'I just can’t let this girl go.'"

Granted, both of their stories have ended in happy marriages, but none of the couples were immune to experiencing prior heartbreaks. "Dating is always a risk," Sarah continues, "and you have to go into it realizing that and accepting all the possibilities." Bake Your Way Out Of Heartbreak

Conversations with a pastor

Steve Carter, the pastor of Rock Harbor Fullerton, is 32 years old and has been married for eight years. My conversation with him was twofold. We first spoke about dating better and seeking God in the process. Then we began addressing those glaring observations people made about the church's treatment of marriage and the lack of inclusion many single people feel. Here are his thoughts:

1. First focus on the why of marriage, and then focus on the how. As someone who's been attending Christian churches throughout my life, I will admit they haven't always been clear as to why marriage is important. The reasons they've given for marrying have shifted over the decades, and rather than being guided on this subject, I felt I was left to form my own conclusions.  What A Year In Marriage Taught Us About Love

In response, Steve spoke about "the abstinence craze," that filled churches in the 1990s, and ultimately led to many premature marriages. "You had pastors who were saying, 'Just wait! Sex is gonna be awesome once you're married!' And abstinence is still important," Steve explained, "I'm not trying to undermine that. But the result of focusing on it so much is that you had all these kids who were getting married for one reason: to have sex. In the process, they missed the whole point of the Gospel, and their marriages were falling apart."

The abstinence craze was then followed by a strong emphasis on the harsh realities of marriage. Pastors would discuss the commitment, sacrifice and difficulties of the marital union. "It's not going to solve all your problems, and it doesn't mean you'll be having sex all the time," some pastors warned. "Why Won't my Partner Have Sex With Me?"

As a result, many Christians felt discouraged and unsure of what they wanted. "Now, we're finally moving back to the message of the Gospel and how it equates to marriage," Steve says. "Marriage is an opportunity to live out the reality of the resurrection, so in dating, look for a partner that allows you to live out that reality and model what Christ did for the church."

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2. Think about who you are, as opposed to what you don't have. Just as career and talent are not true markers of identity, neither is relationship status, though we sometimes can forget that. Steve talked about the curse in the book of Genesis that was put on mankind after Adam and Eve sinned. "The passage speaks of how guys will find their identity in their career and in the sweat of their brow, while women will find their identity in the men that they're with." 

It's a struggle many are prone to, and in light of that struggle, Steve's ultimate goal is to get single people to remember who they really are: children of God. It's not about what you do or who you're with; it's about who you are in Christ. When you get discouraged about being single, try and focus on that reality and how it defines you more than anything else.

3. Ask yourself: "Is my goal to get married, or is my goal faithfulness and obedience to God?" As the overall age of marriage has been steadily rising for the past few decades, it can be difficult to watch the years fly by, as many continue wrestling with their unmet desire to find love. Rather than being consumed by it, Steve suggests taking it to God and asking him to show you what he wants for you right now.

He also encourages single people to embrace the freedom they've been given at this stage in their lives, and use that freedom to consider how God is working and who he created them to be. "How has he wired you? What are you passionate about? Rather than waiting for Mr. or Mrs. Right to appear, be empowered to live the life you've always wanted to live and trust that that person is going to come along in the midst of it." When It Comes To Love, Would You Let God Decide?

4. Remember that Jesus came to save you from your sins, but he also came to restore you and make all things new in your life. (Hint: This includes your dating life.) For single people in their 20s, all that talk of seizing the day and being empowered sounds like a healthy approach. But what about those in their mid 30s or early 40s that have never been married, yet are still strongly hoping to be?

"In that situation," Steve says, "I would try to help them discover if there are certain underlying things that have gotten in the way. For example, fear of commitment; past relationships they still need to heal from; an imbalanced pursuit of career over everything else."

It can be scary to take all of this to God, but perhaps the reality of not doing it is even scarier. "It's all part of the freedom we receive in Jesus, and it all goes back to the gospel," Steve says. "If dating is a part of your life that's broken and in need of God's redemptive grace, he wants to work there, and he wants to make it new." 10 Ways For Single Women To TREAT YO SELF Every Day Of The Year

5. Seek out a mentor. All of this is best done with help and guidance. As I spoke with Steve, it became clear that many of the men at his church were coming to him directly, and asking him to mentor them. It made me wonder: "Do the women come to you too?" 

"Yes," he said, "and I'll advise them as best I can, but since I'm not a woman, I don't always feel like I'm the best person for them to talk to. I'm constantly wishing there were older, wiser females on staff that could come speak into their lives. The Christian church is a 'male pastor' driven culture, and that's one thing we need to work on. We need to have more women in leadership that can mentor other women."

Speaking of things the church can work on, Steve also mentioned that the church, in general, is aware of the many unmarried people in their late 20s to early 40s and is working on ways to engage them that aren't based so heavily on life stages. "Most people who have grown up in the church have been shuffled from children's ministry, to middle-school ministry, to high-school ministry, to college ministry. Everything is based around life stages, and we're in the process of moving away from that model, and into one that focuses on the larger story of what God is doing in their lives."  How to Give & Receive Dating/Relationship Advice to a Friend

One way churches are attempting this is by gathering people based on their occupations or missionary goals. "Ultimately," Steve says, "when it comes to that 27-40 demographic, the church needs to ask, 'What do we hope for them? What do we hope for the future of the church?'"

Steve also has one idea that I'm quite excited about, and in many ways, it's downright revolutionary: "Next year, when our church hosts a marriage conference, I'm hoping to put together a dating conference, as well."

And all the single people said, "Amen." 

After years of hearing about Marriage Panels and Marriage Classes and Marriage Mentoring, it's refreshing to think that there could be something offered for the rest of us who need just as much guidance, but in a different way. If all goes according to plan for this dating conference, let's hope Steve finds a large enough venue, as I'm willing to bet that all the singles in Southern California will be coming out for it in droves.