Quit Playing Games with My Heart
By Adam Smith
June 21, 2012
The other night I was standing around after church with a couple friends. I remarked to one of my friends, a girl, that her outfit looked very nice. Our other friend, a guy, seemed a little nonplussed. “You are aware you have a girlfriend, right?” he asked me incredulously. I gently explained to him that one can compliment someone of the opposite sex without having a hidden agenda. I went on to describe how compliments are actually a normal part of a platonic friendship, not a lecherous scheme to woo someone.
In this same ministry, I know a couple of guys who have dated their way through every girl in the community. They are amazing, giving, generous and kind people—except when it comes to their relationships with women. With women, they are manipulative, noncommittal and dishonest.
I’ve been involved in a couple of young adult ministries at this point, and I seem to see the same couple scenarios playing themselves out. In scenario one, guys in the ministry burn through the dating scene, indiscriminately leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. In scenario two, guys seem incapable of even carrying on casual conversations with girls for fear that their intentions will be misread. Of course, women are hardly exempt from the problem. I’ve seen plenty of girls in young adult ministries who string guys along, toying with their emotions without wanting to commit. I’ve seen even more who demand that any overture from a man come with a lock-step commitment to marriage. In short, on both sides of the equation, young adult ministries seem to be a breeding ground for dysfunctional inter-gender relationships.
Inter-gender communication is, and always has been, an absolute minefield. If there’s one thing the sexes can agree on, it’s that we don’t understand each other. It’s a real trick just to interact without offending one another. So, it’s little wonder that the perils of interacting with the opposite sex spill over into Christian community. However, if we are indeed supposed to be set apart and different—a peculiar people, if you will—shouldn’t our communities be places where Christ’s love is exemplified between the sexes?
Part of the problem, no doubt, comes from our emphasis in the evangelical church on marriage to another Christian as the pinnacle of spiritual success. “We have to admit that we as church leaders are actually responsible for this dilemma,” says Josh Loveless, a former pastor of a church with a twentysomething ministry. “We are the ones who have sent conscious and sub-conscious messages that the church is the best place to find a soul mate who follows Jesus.”
Of course, a strong Christian marriage is a wonderful and amazing picture of God’s love for us and His Church. But, we need to stop applying so much pressure on our communities to find a mate. We’re supposed to be missional communities serving the world as we seek God, not mail-order bride services.
“So is your church a meat market or the best place to find your future spouse?” asks Loveless. “We can either explain away the tension of these two perspectives by choosing one message to tell our people or we can teach our people how to live in the tension in a healthy way.”
There’s another wrinkle to this: Some of the difficulty the genders have in treating each other with love and respect comes from a simple lack of training. As my mother would say, some people just weren’t raised right. They’ve never had proper inter-gender relationships modeled for them. As a result, they don’t know how to treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
I think the solution to this is two-fold. First, we have to stop pushing marriage as the only acceptable outcome for a well-lived Christian life. The vast majority of the people involved in your community will indeed get married, but we must begin to recognize that singleness can be an amazing gift. In order to even enter into a healthy relationship, one must be content in one’s singleness. Moreover, dating without the pressure that every outing must be a step toward marriage can actually be incredibly healthy. Without a doubt, the courtship movement brought some much-needed seriousness and responsibility to the idea of dating. But the pendulum seems to have swung so far this way that many people in our communities have lost the notion that people of the opposite sex can go to a movie together without exchanging engagement rings.
Secondly, we need to begin to take seriously the way people around us treat the opposite sex. There’s nothing wrong with using broken people in roles of leadership (after all, that’s what Jesus did), but how many of the volunteer leaders—not to mention the rank-and-file members—in our churches are terrible at relationships? This is not merely a personality quirk, it is a sin issue. When people in our communities treat their brothers and sisters in Christ in a hurtful manner, dismissive of their emotions, there need to be repercussions. When you see this happening in your church or community, it should be taken especially seriously. I would wager that in the vast majority of young adult ministries, some hard conversations need to happen with members of even the leadership team over the way they treat the opposite sex. It is simply not to be tolerated.
Discipleship is key in seeing people grow into healthy inter-gender communication and relation. We need to recognize the seriousness and severity of toying with the hearts of the opposite sex. We need to emphasize the gift of singleness and the necessity of contentment. Above all, we need to take the issue seriously. The Church shouldn’t be playing catch-up with the world when it comes to men and women treating each other with love and respect. We should be setting the example.