Disclaimer: “At the time I wrote this piece, David and I where in the dating stage of our relationship. Now, we are in the engagement stage and very excited how God has blessed our relationship. During the dating stage, we frequently discussed about church culture and the impact it can have on Same-church and different-church dating relationships. Since we attend different churches, here are some thoughts we discovered along the way in our relationship journey. Oh, and FYI, we will be attending the same church when we get married.”
“So I haven’t seen you guys at church together, what service do ya’ll go to?”
“Oh I go to the 9:15am here and he goes to the 11:00am at his church.”
“You don’t go to the same church?” “Yeah, you guys ARE dating, right?”
And so with my revelation my two acquaintances were shocked to hear my boyfriend and I attend different churches. Over the next few minutes we discussed what we thought about the intersection of dating and church attendance. I’d like to let you in on the conversation and get your thoughts too.
“Is that even biblical?” There’s an expectation in some church cultures that once we start dating we are expected to attend service, class and bible study together. Where did that came from? We all grew up influenced by culture (inside and outside the church walls) so maybe the expectation is cultural? The Bible doesn’t even mention dating, but it does talk about relationships. So let’s help one another say yes to healthy relationships rather than expecting mutual church attendance from dating couples.
“Don’t be playing the couple.” Relationships are best when they go through the process of stages and if we play “the dating couple who regularly goes to church together, stays together” we enjoy the emotional and sometimes physical sensation of security without the actual relational security found in the committed later stages of dating moving into engagement. Dating is not for the purpose of having someone to sit next to in church. Sometimes keeping church attendance separate until the relationship progresses past “fun” and “interest” stages allows for maintaining a healthy level of intimacy on every level of who we are as disciples: spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and physically.
“How are you accountable if you are not in the same church?” Most often this question deals with the goal of chastity or purity that involves others input or protection and comes with some fear of moral failure. Intentionally inviting trusted friends/wise counsel into our relationships helps behave wisely more often than not. More than just maintaining purity, an accountability partner helps with overall soul-health which increases the ability to focus on the good now and later. For those who have had previous non-Biblical relationships, having involved friends is key to re-training old patterns and that can happen in same-church or different churches.
“Grace is always at work.” In attempting to date in a biblical, and not cultural, manner we must rely on the truth that God’s grace is at work in our dating. See your dating life from God’s vantage point and change your approach accordingly. We don’t need to make choices based on expectations of others. We see a great relational example of this in Joseph as he heard of Mary’s pregnancy. He chose to be driven by great love and commitment to another person (Mary’s) well-being and also by his own inner conviction of how he wanted to behave. By getting to know the character of God, who we are in Christ and His design for relationships, then more often than not we will put grace-filled care into practice.
In our conversation we agreed dating is a form of a relationship that doesn’t have any biblical precedent, but because it is a relationship we have plenty of instruction to apply. Dating someone in the same church is just as risky as is dating someone in another church because most cities have a connected Christian community. If we are dating in a healthy manner it might not matter a whole heck of a lot whether it’s same-church or not.
So there’s some of our conversation.
There’s a lot we didn’t talk about, so let me hear from you.
Elizabeth Podgurski, M.A., NCC, LPC, is a Christian Family Therapist and Counselor at First Evangelical Free Church, Austin, TX and is the President of the Austin Area Chapter for the Christian Counselors of Texas. She is engaged to David Lawrence, lead blogger at ImpelMagazine.com. You can friend her on Facebook HERE and follow her on Twitter HERE.