the shape of leadership

Teaching Hungry Hearts

Three things to tell the single adults in your church

Lennon Noland on March 9, 2018

Single believers in our churches actually want guidance concerning marriage, romance and sexuality. Are we missing an opportunity?

While debates rage between the Church and culture concerning the nature of marriage, sexual orientation and gender identity, I think we are missing out on significant opportunities to help the more teachable hearts of single adults in our own sanctuaries and small groups.

Those of us who are married in ministry often forget the intensity of romantic longing in a single person’s heart. Church teaching on marriage and parenthood abounds.

Yet college students, older singles and divorcees are navigating the wild west of romantic culture with no real convictions or guideposts beyond the rarely heeded counsel: “Sex comes with marriage, not before.”

How is this working for us? Some of the worst dating advice comes from the mouths of well-meaning Christian friends and parents who, despite their own experience to the contrary, offer guidance with all of the depth of a Hallmark card: “You’ll know when you know” or, “The heart wants who it wants.”

This simplistic, pop-philosophy of love flies in the face of God’s wisdom. If we do not offer scriptural and common sense guidance regarding a phase of life that most of our congregants will pass through, we are missing an impactful opportunity to pastor well. There is a great need for wisdom.

I offer here three teaching points concerning dating and the search for a mate that draw on timeless scriptural convictions about life and romance. Dating as we know it was not a romantic custom in the biblical culture. Yet these scriptural principles apply, regardless of our cultural moment.

Attraction Isn’t Everything

Physical attraction is a necessary, but secondary, criteria for dating. While modern romance may seem like a free-for-all, our culture does live by a romantic equation of sorts. It goes something like this: Physical attraction + emotional intensity = relationship foundation.

Most Christians would emphatically say that a great relationship requires more than that, but they often (like the rest of our world) begin relationships based solely on these elements and assume they can work out the rest later.

The world is littered with the broken hearts of believers who, after months or years of dating and even marriage, saw the foundation of their romance crumble under weightier matters of faith in God and issues of character.

When love is tested — and it always is — the couple who doesn’t share faith in Christ has no reference point for the love and devotion required to make it through life’s trials. The trust in God that helps one can be resented and despised by the other.

Put simply, we must remind Christian singles that the modern foundations of love are too shoddy to build upon. There is nothing about physical attraction and flirtatious chemistry that is a worthy indicator of compatibility for the believer who knows there is more to life. Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

Sin Is Destructive

Premarital sex will keep you from getting what you want in a relationship. Scripture speaks of the profound nature, intention and blessing of sex in its intended context. For as long as sin has existed, so has the temptation to seek this blessing without the boundary.

We must remind Christian singles that the modern foundations of love are too shoddy to build upon.

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul warns us to control our bodies rather than being driven by passionate lust. He makes it clear that God will ultimately judge sexual sin, but there is also much to lose here and now. This is sometimes news to Christians who seek to justify premarital sex by saying, “We will marry one day anyway.”

Author Gary Thomas says sex has the power to make us see what we want to see in a dating relationship instead of what we need to see. He writes, “Even apart from the moral aspect, premarital sex is a foolish thing to do for this reason: just when you need to be most alert to make the best choice you can possibly make, one that will affect you and your future family for the rest of your life, sex creates a neurochemical fog that will confuse you.”

Here are some questions I’ve asked singles who, like many of us, have a past they’d rather not repeat: “Haven’t you had a past relationship that you were positive would last forever? When it fell apart, weren’t there some things in hindsight that seemed to be clear warning signs? Looking back, what do you think kept you from acknowledging red flags?”

All too often, the answer is simply that the couple was too deeply involved physically to think clearly. Everything seemed good because everything felt good, which is more an indicator of the power of sex than the health of the relationship.

There Is Wisdom in Counsel

If believing family and friends have reservations, we should, too.

A bad dating relationship is a common hindrance to a growing walk with Jesus. Often, a waning enthusiasm for Christ is coupled with increasing hostility toward anyone who isn’t on board with the relationship.

Indeed, this new romantic relationship can put the dating couple at odds with friends, parents and even children. Questions about the health or purity of the relationship are often met with a hard heart and consternation rather than conviction and repentance.

Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” And Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.” Simply put, sometimes what hurts to hear is what we most need to hear.

When a young man finds himself at odds with his family and friends over a dating relationship, he should be worried. If a divorced woman’s daughters express concern about a new man in their mother’s life, she should listen.

Questions I have asked that sometimes cause a light to come on in a clouded mind are these: “Who wants to see you happy more than these friends and family members who have loved you for so long? What must they see to be willing to risk your wrath simply by telling you the truth?”

This worldly approach to romance is so pervasive that many Christian singles have never been in a relationship that was affirmed or encouraged by wise counselors. Of course, the reverse of this principle is also true: When Christians who know and love a person the most also affirm and encourage their romantic interest, it can inspire greater confidence in the relationship.

These three points of truth are simple and rooted in Scripture. Yet after teaching them over the years, I’ve repeatedly encountered young adults and grandparents alike who say, with tears in their eyes, “I wish I’d heard this before. Why weren’t we talking about this stuff in church years ago?”

We should come alongside single adults as they begin their journeys, exhorting them toward wisdom and holiness in their romantic pursuit. In this way, we can seek to help them have all God intends for them in marriage, rather than merely resigning our influence to counseling and praying for the brokenhearted.


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