Written By Victor Goh, Singapore
“Hey, how ‘bout coffee one of these days?”
Guys, admit it, this is a tough question to ask a girl in your church—especially if yours is a particularly small community. Girls, admit it too, you probably wouldn’t say yes that readily. These aren’t uncommon scenes in the church and there could be multiple reasons why.
A recent article on Relevant Magazine suggested multiple reasons guys have not been stepping up and asking prayerful, godly, attractive women out on a date. Comments attribute this to a gradual normalization of a “Kiss Dating Goodbye” mentality sparked from Joshua Harris’ book of a similar title.
While I don’t completely agree with some points the article raised, it does highlight a few oft-ignored aspects of our lives that we need to prayerfully consider, as some of us seek to move past the dreaded friend-zone!
Finding a husband or wife is not the goal of going to church. Some churches might further institutionalize this by segregating congregations across male and female divides—literally with males seated on one side of the church and females on the other. The mentality that church is a place of worship often leads to a subconscious rejection of “distractions” like dating. Coupled with potential awkwardness within small communities should things not work out, most people would rather not start anything in church.
As one Facebook reader of Relevant also pointed out, “there are few post-college-age single women and even fewer post-college-age single men. Add to that the high esteem of marriage and the great fear of premarital sex (or any actions even slightly heading that direction), and you have an awkward courting situation.”
Indeed, the prevalent culture in many small Christian communities is that there is really little room for “failure” in dating, and anything that doesn’t lead to marriage is viewed with disdain—even though it may bring about personal growth and a deeper understanding of another person. And really, there can be valuable lessons to learn from healthy God-centered relationships even if they don’t end in marriage, and it doesn’t need to be through performing ministry duties together.
Like it or not, church culture plays an important role in facilitating whether or not you get to have coffee with someone you want to know on a more personal basis.
All of us grow up with diverse upbringings that see us developing differing convictions and opinions with regard to boundaries of interaction between genders. To some, asking a girl out for coffee could be perceived as predatory, sinful, dangerous behavior whereas others might argue that a casual cup of coffee should not be seen as a pseudo marriage proposal.
I don’t completely disagree with Joshua Harris. If any, he spells out very clear guidelines on how courtship or godly dating can take place, and within what sets of boundaries. Harris’ book emphasizes the importance of not defrauding another (1 Thessalonians 4:6). But beyond some of the clear expectations God sets for His people on conduct and morality, we need to be very discerning of the types of convictions each of us have and be sensitive to these beliefs.
My girlfriend and I were friends since early days in Varsity Christian Fellowship and conversations helped us understand each other’s personal convictions early on. Still, one of the first few things my girlfriend and I did when we started off our courtship was to establish ground rules and boundaries that we worked with, and would like each other to respect and honor. This has a lot to do with communicating expectations within a relationship.
Asking someone out for coffee is often misconstrued as a prelude to bigger questions.
Relevant acknowledges that one prevailing notion among singles today is that marriage should be the end goal of even casual dates. The problem lies when asking a lady out on a dinner becomes as good as asking for her hand in marriage, “forcing a depth of commitment that is best reserved for months and years later” and essentially putting the cart before the horse.
The rise of quick guides available (articles such as “10 women Christian men should not marry”, or “10 reasons to know that you should end the relationship”) that outline the type of people you should or should not consider marrying have drastically reduced options to only one potential, perfect marriageable person—Jesus. Such guides can create dangerous expectations of ideal but unrealistic standards, forgetting that marriage is essentially the union of two sinners seeking to better display God’s transformative power via the partnership. Many opportunities for building good relationships have been shut down because of unreasonable expectations.
This is further worsened by an overemphasis on the concept of “readiness”—the exaggerated spiritual, emotional, financial prerequisites—for marriage, or even courtship. No one is truly ready to be in such close proximity to another who is fearfully and wonderfully knitted by God. After all, courtship and eventually marriage are also processes of growth. We wouldn’t need another person to sharpen us if we were already that perfect.
It is extremely important to understand as well as communicate the various expectations one has towards courtship or relationships and discover the similar underlying convictions before dating.
A quick disclaimer before you think of me as an anti-establishment nonconformist:
Before I officially “dated” my girlfriend, I met her parents and sought their permission to do so, as well as offered them the opportunity to openly question me about my motives, personal history, as well as just get to know me in general. I also prepared a timeline of sorts for our relationship in which I sought their approval and advice (and I still continue to do so today and account to them how things are moving) and invited them to play active roles in this period of courtship. I was also one of those that wanted to be 110 percent sure and put the cart before the horse.
But that’s just my personal conviction. I think it’s important to understand both our church cultures and upbringings, show consideration for her parents (both Christians) who really love their daughter, and to begin as friends before actually deciding to take the next step.
Not everyone has similar privileges. In such cases, opportunities must be given for people to know more about each other before any commitment is made. To courageously ask, or accept an invitation to casual dinner, coffee, or even activities with a couple of other friends are great ways to start the ball rolling.
Guys and girls, pluck up the courage and go get some coffee.
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