Reforming College Dating through Discipleship
During my freshman year at Texas A&M, I began following Jesus. I had been girl-crazy since the second grade, so I was eager to understand how a Christian should think about and pursue dating relationships.
While some of my peers encouraged me through their counsel or their example, most other college men—even those who professed to follow Christ—approached dating like everyone else on campus. As a relatively new Christian, it was discouraging—and confusing.
Thankfully, I met a few older men in my local church who discipled me faithfully before and during my dating relationship with my wife. But my experience was unusual then, and 15 years later, it’s still unusual for most college men. Experience has taught me that most older men in the church fail to engage college men in discipleship, leaving young believers to figure out a lot of life—including dating—on their own.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Older men in the church can help college men develop a God-honoring approach to dating by encouraging them to imitate godly examples, embrace biblical values, and involve the church.
IMITATE GODLY EXAMPLES
First, we must encourage college men to imitate godly examples. Paul wrote, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). The apostle Peter exhorts elders in local churches to be “examples to the flock” (1 Pt. 5:3).
When examining the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, one of the first things you’ll notice is how ordinary they are. They’re remarkably unremarkable. And that’s exactly the point. Elders are to be examples to the flock, modeling ordinary faithfulness for others.
Many college men only focus on the type of woman they want to date and marry, and fail to consider how they must grow to become a man worth dating and marrying. Thankfully, God has given us clear instructions on which qualities we should encourage them to pursue. They should aspire to be:
…above reproach…sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable…not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. (1 Tim. 3:2–3)
With our encouragement, college men can aspire to more than winning the intramural championship or beating Call of Duty. They can aspire to godliness, which Paul teaches, “is of value in every way” (1 Tim. 4:8). And as they aspire to godliness, they will become the kind of men we’d be delighted to have leading our churches—and dating our younger sisters-in-Christ.
Paul told the Ephesian elders, “You yourselves know how I lived among you…” (Acts 20:18). For college men to imitate godly examples, they need to be able to observe our way of life.
Discipleship doesn’t have to mean adding more meetings to your already-busy schedule. Perhaps it’d be better to invite a college student over to enjoy dinner and to observe family worship. Maybe he would gain more insight—and life skills—from working alongside you as you rebuild a section of your fence on the weekend.
It’s been said that we tend to replicate what we observe. If that’s the case, the best thing we can do for college men is give them godly examples to imitate by inviting them into our ordinary lives.
EMBRACE BIBLICAL VALUES
Second, we must encourage college men to embrace biblical values.
In the 21st century, many college men have roughly the same criteria for a girlfriend as the rest of the world. They’re looking for someone physically attractive who shares their interests and has a likable personality.
Those are good, even desirable qualities in a potential girlfriend. The problem is that there’s nothing distinctively Christian about them, and to put those qualities at the top of the list is to major on the minors.
Take beauty, for example. Our culture idolizes physical appearance, but Peter commands women,
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Pet. 3:3–4)
The problem is that college men haven’t made it very easy for college women to prioritize “the hidden person of the heart.” College men have communicated, through their public comments and private addiction to pornography, that physical beauty is more valuable than cultivating “a gentle and quiet spirit.”
The woman described in Proverbs 31:10–31 has many desirable qualities. She is capable, industrious, and wise. But her greatest quality is her fear of the Lord. Proverbs 1:7 teaches us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That fear is displayed in personal and corporate worship, love for the local church, and love for the lost.
We must encourage college men to value women whose fear of the Lord is evident in their words and actions. And we must challenge them to repent of their lust—not in word and talk but in deed and in truth (to borrow language from John). Agreeing that using pornography is sinful is different than taking proactive steps to rid any hint of sexual immorality from your life.
Sermons, books, and articles (like this one) can be helpful resources, but only people (like you) can help college students repent of worldly values and embrace God’s values through conversation and prayer.
INVOLVE THE CHURCH
Third and finally, we must encourage college men to involve the church before and during the dating process.
It has been my observation (and my own personal experience) that college men tend to approach the dating process as lone rangers. Many students will notice a woman, begin spending time with her, pray about dating her, and ask her out—all before saying a word to any older men in the church.
In Hebrews 13:17, God commands us, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (italics mine).
Let me be clear: college men have the freedom to act on their own initiative and ask a woman out on a date. But the issue is not freedom; the issue is wisdom. Is it wise for a college man to enter into a dating relationship without first seeking counsel from those watching over their souls? I think not.
However, this is not something most college men have ever been taught, especially those who didn’t grow up in a healthy local church. The only way they know how to date is as lone rangers.
So, we’d do a great service to college men by encouraging them to date within the context of community. This doesn’t mean every dating relationship has to be “approved” by church leaders, or that every interaction between two college students needs to be chaperoned. But it does mean that college men shouldn’t allow their relationships to lead them to neglect gathering with the local church for worship and service (Hebrews 10:25). It does mean that college men should welcome accountability and practical help to “walk in the light” as they date their sisters-in-Christ (1 John 1:7).
Dating in the context of community is perhaps the most radical exhortation I could suggest, given the individualistic nature of our culture. But if we believe that involvement in a healthy local church is God’s primary plan for discipleship, then we must encourage college men to involve the church before and during the dating process.