Monday, November 14, 2011

Should a Single Pastor date someone who attends the same church?

This is a difficult question. One perspective would say, "absolutely not!" The possible damage is too risky. What happens when you break up. What about the gossip and if the relationship gets messy?! The minister's reputation would be damaged and would become a stumbling block to the congregation. The minister could be seen as desperate and preying on the singles of the church. Even if his or her heart is pure it is just too big a risk for the greater good, so "absolutely not!" "Look other places for a suitable mate, for the sake of the church don't date someone in the congregation." or at least if you are about to start dating someone in the church encourage them to change churches so the possible damage or gossip will be lessened.   

That is one perspective. There are many risks to dating someone in your congregation. It could cause problems for those who can't handle the fact that the pastor has a personal life and has feelings for someone of the opposite gender. There is a very legitimate fear that the relationship could go wrong and cause irreparable damage to the minister's "follow-ability." To some it could seem that the minister is putting their own desires before their responsibility for the good of the congregation. Yes, it is a very sensitive issue that will demand much from the minister, but here is another perspective.

Imagine this:

The minister has been in the congregation for a while. During these months or years the minister has become aware of another single adult, of the opposite gender, in the congregation. The minister respects the person's character, personality, and commitment to the things of God and God's people. The minister gradually becomes more and more interested in this person. When they are in groups together the minister finds their attention focusing more and more on this individual. The respect grows and the desire to get to know this person becomes something that is on the mind of the minister quite often. The minister doesn't know if it is just for friendship or something more, but it has definitely piqued the minister's interest.

The minister knows that our hearts are prone to wander, and that it is possible to "stir up love before its time." Because of this the minister takes several weeks (or months) examining their own heart trusting that as they delight in the Lord He will clarify if the desires to pursue the friendship are a desire from God or just a fleshly desire of man. If these months expose a distracted heart then the minister closes the door to the possibility, refocuses on the things of God, and guards his or her heart in regards to this person. If these months clarify that the minister's heart is focused well on Christ and that the desire to better know the person of the opposite gender is God-honoring then the minister moves on to the next step of preparation.

The minister confides in some trusted friends for accountability and discernment. These friends could be in the church, outside the church, or both. (Very Important!)  If these friend(s) are from inside the church just make sure the person(s) can be trusted to guard your personal information and not share it with others. These friends need to be people of truth and grace. They need to be people who are strong enough in their love for Christ and their love for you that they can say what needs to be said about your situation. They are there to help you see any "blindspots" that may emerge as your emotions get more involved in the possibility of a relationship with this person of the opposite gender. They are also there to help you discern what the Holy Spirit is saying each step of the way. This circle of confidants will probably need to grow if the friendship ever becomes a dating relationship. If possible, it would be recommended that this circle grows to include parents, fellow staff members, and possibly even married couples who are trusted friends. The "male/female" perspective could prove to be priceless at this stage.

If you are from a western society something inside of you may rebel against having others involved in an accountability and discerning role, but please listen. Our emotions and our longings are too strong to walk through this alone. For the sake of your heart, their heart, and the health of the congregation please submit yourselves to the Holy Spirit and to others. This will be one of the greatest safeguards against irreparable damage that could happen to you, your friend, your ministry, and your congregation. If you have examined your heart, and feel free to move forward, then ask God to help you recruit the needed "partners of truth and grace" that you will need during these days.

There is no exact way to go from here, but here are some suggestions. Start in a group setting. It may be that you involve those whom you have already confided in. Use email, or other tools that allow you to get to know each other better, but that don't put you in "dating" mode yet. If your "friend" seems to also share interest in getting to know you better then it would be good to have a conversation that clearly states each person's intentions. This will help guard hearts and help determine the next steps. If both people are open to the possibility of a romantic relationship then you continue with your friendship with this possibility in mind. Don't be too intimate too fast. (conversationally, emotionally, and definitely not physically) Continue to keep your "partners of truth and grace" with you every step of the way. They don't need to know all of the details, but if the relationship is God-honoring then there should be no fear of others' input. In a worse case scenario they will notice something that is harmful and give needed warnings for either changes in the relationship or even to end the relationship. In a best case scenario they will give testimony to the godliness of your relationship and give their full support of a possible marriage as the relationship grows.

Once again. You may want to rebel against these last few sentences, but if you are a minister of a congregation then your life is no longer totally yours. For the sake of your call, your congregation, and your future mate (partner in ministry) submit yourself so that your relationship can be protected, God-honoring, and an example for all of the other Christian singles who are watching.

If your relationship grows into something romantic that eventually ends in marriage you will have the confidence that you handled it in a godly manner. The Holy Spirit, through the process, will have guarded your heart, your purity, and hopefully helped many singles in your church to accomplish the same.

If the friendship never becomes something romantic it will not have hurt your congregation and will not have left either of you with shattered hearts. It might even have strengthened your credibility as people have watched even your personal life honor God.

In conclusion, dating someone in your congregation is risky and a dangerous undertaking. But for those who feel led to even consider it I believe your greatest tool for guidance and protection is going to be "partners of truth and grace." If you are not willing to submit yourself to the accountability of others, don't date someone in your church. Alone, and in secret, we are not trustworthy. The potential for horrible consequences is too great. Don't do it unless you are ready to embrace the blessing of community and submit yourself and your relationships to a trusted few.

Singleness and marriage are both gifts. Embrace the one that you are in today. Be patient. Delight yourself in the Lord and may you know the blessing of community and walk humbly with your God.

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