Over the last year as part of my ministry apprenticeship, I wrote an article of my reflections on Christian teens and our culture’s approach to dating. My hope for this blog is a bit of dialogue – you commenting and critiquing my ideas, with the hope that both your thinking and mine will be sharpened – iron on iron as I have heard said.
So I present the first part of a few of my draft article. Please feel free to comment away.
The sign is always ominous – the relationship status on Facebook for one of the guys in your youth group changing to ‘In a relationship’. In our modern world, dating is normal and commonplace for young people today and Christians are no different. For me, Christian teenagers dating always fills the pit of my stomach with dread, all stemming from the question, ‘how will dating impact my young charge’s relationship with Jesus?’. And I believe this question is one all of us involved in the lives of Christian teenagers – parents, youth pastors, youth group leaders, should seek to answer.
Dating and the modern world
Now for the purposes of this article, I will not be exploring whether Christian adults should or shouldn’t date – there are plenty of books out there that deal with this issue. What I want to look at primarily is how our culture of dating is affecting the spiritual growth of Christian teenagers, particularly those aged 10 – 16, and the implications for those involved in youth ministry.
Also, I want to add that I am not talking about Christianised kids, that is kids who have grown up in church but haven’t come to personally trust Jesus as Lord and accept him personally as Saviour. Although the reality of youth groups are far from that cut and dried, it is important that I point out that I am talking about regenerated kids, who are to be discipled in their relationship with Jesus.
So we should begin by defining what dating is and I would describe it like this: a form of romantic courtship between two individuals who may or may not expect marriage (wikitionary). The key elements are that it is a romantic relationship, as opposed to friendship alone; that it is exclusive; and that there is no permanent commitment to marriage.
It is this formula that makes dating so common today. We live in a world that doesn’t see marriage as the pinnacle of a relationship between men and women; instead, marriage is one option amongst many. People are reluctant to commit their lives to another easily so dating has everything people want (an exclusive romantic relationship) with none of what they don’t want (permanent commitment).
Amongst young people, dating is commonplace. In my experience, it isn’t unheard of for kids as young as 10 or 11 to have boyfriends or girlfriends, even with a sexual element to their relationships. I find a TV show like Home and Away to be an excellent barometer of public opinion on a variety of issues. It tries to capture the majority of mainstream thinking in order to be immensely popular, with a dash of the edgy to make it controversial. And when we look at that show, we see teenagers dating all the time. No one at home would ever raise an eyebrow now to the kids portrayed positively in the show dating others (though, of course, with a lot of breakups to make it suitably dramatic).
Christian kids live aren’t immune to this worldview. As they will reach puberty, their peers will start dating and so they will be tempted to date members of the opposite sex too. However, is that what is best for them? Is it compatible with what the Bible has to say on relationships between men and women?
Part 2 I shall unveil later this week