4 Reasons Christians Should Stop Pushing Courtship

In Advice and Encouragement, Dating, For the Guys, For the Ladies, Relationships, Single by Debra Fileta26 Comments

I thought we were way past the “Courtship vs. Dating” debates. 

I seriously did! I thought that was old news, that we’d laid to rest the “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” era, and moved on to new topics.

But apparently, I was wrong. Maybe you’ve noticed, but the Courtship movement is recently receiving some major attention from both national television and recent entertainment. To be honest, I have no problem with Courtship. I am not putting down the concept of courtship, and I never will. The truth is, different personalities need different approaches to relationships. And for some people, Courtship is what works!

My only problem comes, then, with how “Dating” gets compared to “Courtship” in such a flawed and negative way. As far as the Courtship movement is concerned, saying that you’re in a “dating” relationship is almost like declaring out loud that you’re living in sin.

I was looking up some of the so-called differences between “Courtship” and “Dating”, and to be honest, I was totally offended.

Here’s what this particular source stated:

“The main difference between dating and courtship involves the goals to be reached by spending time with a potential marriage partner. Men and women who choose to date often have no commitment to consider marrying the other person. Maturity and readiness for marriage are not considerations in the decision to date. Instead, couples usually date with the selfish goals of having fun and enjoying romantic attachments.

In contrast, courtship is undertaken only when both parties are prepared to make a commitment to marriage.

Dating tries to answer the question, How can I find the one who will make me happy? Courtship strives to answer the question, How can I honor God and discern His direction regarding my life partner?”

Wait, what?!

Is it just me, or does this definition make it sound like dating is for heathens, pagans, and people who have no regard for God’s will in their life? As though anyone who chooses dating is selfish, impulsive, immature, and have no understanding of commitment and absolutely no boundaries.

I totally rebel against this mentality. Maybe I’m reading into this, but I think the strong reaction I am having to this definition is because it’s not just words on a page for me, it’s something I actually experienced for a time within the context of the Church. I don’t point the finger at any Church in particular, nor do I blame any particular Church Leader. But somehow, this collective opinion was normalized from the books, sermons, talks, messages, attitudes, and opinions that came my way as a young Christian woman.

You see, for so many years, I was taught that “Dating” was the enemy. That it was “practice for divorce”. That it was for people who weren’t “waiting on God” but rather taking life into their own hands. And God forbid I would ever do anything like that!

I was a young woman who wanted to please God with all of my heart. And so, for a time, those Courtship scare-tactics totally worked! For many years, I didn’t date AT ALL – partly because I wanted to be in God’s will, but mostly because I WAS TERRIFIED SICK OF RELATIONSHIPS!

I was afraid of messing up. I was afraid of divorce. I was afraid of taking my life into my own hands.

And God knows I’m not alone with this! In fact, just today, with the words to this article still spinning around in my head, I got an email from a young woman that said this,

I’m 32 years old and  have never been in a romantic relationship because I bought into the ideal that true love doesn’t date. What I have come to understand is that God works differently with different people and that He has used my stance to further His purpose for my life. Reading your book helped me to realize that dating in and of itself isn’t wrong.”

I completely understand what this young woman is saying, because it also took some serious work and one particular “near-marriage” mistake to finally free my mind and heart to allow God to work in my life how HE WANTED, instead of HOW I WANTED HIM TO.

And in my life, GOD USED DATING *gasp*. Not causal relationships, not sex before marriage, not immature flings, and not all those other false definitions that get pushed as the enemy; but simply, dating.

Dating with boundaries, dating with purpose, dating with intent. 

I learned that there WAS a way to honor God in my relationships with the opposite sex, and it didn’t necessarily involve side-hugs, chaperons, a commitment to marriage before the first date, or even the no-kissing-before-marriage rule (though these are all fine goals to have so long as God puts them on your heart!).

I learned that healthy people make healthy relationships.  

What I am saying here, is that maybe the Church at large (and some groups more than others) need to stop pushing courtship and consider that there are truly other ways to honor God in relationships. Here’s why:

1. Because courtship isn’t for everyone. Just like different personalities respond to different kinds of music, food, hobbies, and career goals – we’re all wired to respond differently to relationships. Some of us thrive under strict rules, regulations and expectations; while others of us implode, rebel, or feel paralyzed under the weight of the confinement.  All that to say is that there is no cookie-cutter answer for relationships. As long as we stick to God’s principles and deal with one another in a God-honoring way, we have the freedom to pursue relationships in the way that works best for each of us.

2. Because courtship has it’s cons, too. Sometimes courtship is presented as the “best way to do relationships”. But I don’t think that’s true. Because, no matter how you look at it, one person’s pro is another person’s con. The pros found in the security of “moving only toward marriage”, are the potential cons of premature emotional entanglement and potentially devastating heart-break when things don’t pan out as planned. The pros found in the safety of zero physical intimacy before marriage, are the potential cons of guilt, shame, and awkwardness in sexuality after marriage. The pros of extremely involved family and friends in courtship, are the potential cons of a lack of boundaries within marriage. For each pro, there is a potential con depending on who you are and how you approach relationships. Healthy relationships aren’t about eliminating cons, because that’s not possible, but instead, they are about making the most of our interactions with the opposite sex by doing them in a way that leaves us with no regrets. And believe it or not, you CAN DATE with no regrets.

3. Because it’s not ALL or NOTHING: We tend to talk about dating like it’s the “bad” way to do relationships: casual sex, zero commitment, no boundaries; whereas courtship is the “better way”: definite commitment, marriage-focus, and safe rules. But the problem with that mentality is that it leaves so many people out! It’s not one way or the other when it comes to relationships. There is a middle ground! What about those people who want to honor God and feel left out of both groups? What if you’re not ready to “kiss dating goodbye”, but you’re also sick and tired of how the world views relationships? Christians need to stop pushing Courtship because there is another way to honor God with your life and with your dating relationships, and it’s found within the context of personal health, wisdom, balance, and good relationship choices (that’s what True Love Dates is all about!!) 

4. Because courtship isn’t the “only way”: I think the conversation of dating vs. courtship needs to be more about what works for each individual, rather than forcing a one-size-fits-all approach upon everyone. Courtship can’t be the only way because it really comes down to pursuing relationships in the way that God calls us to, rather than simply in the way we’re told.

I think of the hundreds of men and women I know whose stories may have broken the mold of tradition or culture, but who never broke the calling of God on their lives because their stories were part of a bigger plan.  A plan that trumps the debate of “courtship” or “dating” but that asks each of us to move into relationships with wisdom, godliness, and nothing short of God’s leading in our lives.

So, let’s stop pushing courtship or any other “formula” for that matter, because at the end of the day there’s no cookie-cutter way to do relationships. There is only a God who calls us to love him with all of our hearts, and to learn to love others as we love ourselves.

Within that calling there is GREAT freedom in relationships, but with great freedom, always comes GREAT responsibility. Whether courtship, dating, or something else- may God give us the wisdom to pursue relationships however He has called us to – but always with wisdom, love, and holiness.

Ready for love? Don’t miss our brand-new program!!! Join hundreds of others and jump-start your love life! Click on the photo for details!

photo (1)

Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, speaker, and author of the book True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life as well as the 21-Days To JumpStart Your Love-Life Program, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. You may also recognize her voice from her 100+ articles at Relevant Magazine or Crosswalk.com! She’s also the creator of the True Love Dates Blog!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter!

Leave a Reply

26 Comments on "4 Reasons Christians Should Stop Pushing Courtship"

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
John
Guest
Wiktionary defines DATING as “romantic” COURTSHIP……anytime that word “romance”is mentioned the first thing that comes to mind is intimacy, having to do sexual relationship. If the above statement is true, then I think Christians should be careful. In the Scriptures I did not read of any one who dated (so to say) before marriage, usually, the lady was espoused to the man, and between that time and the eventual marriage I think that was courtship…….but really “as many as are lead by the Spirit of God, they are the Sons/Daughters of God- Romans 8:14” . I believe we should not… Read more »
John
Guest

Forgive the typo errors

Julie
Guest
Hi. I have pondered this subject a lot too. I was blessed enough to know God’s seal of approval on the right man. We only “dated” 3 times before he asked me to marry him. I surprised myself and said yes! We were married a year later! And we honored God in the most intimate part of our marriage too. I do think it is extremely difficult to do this in our culture. Of “free for all” sex. Even many (dare I say most) christian couples I know have had “slip-ups” We were fortunate to have strong mentors helping us,… Read more »
Spiritual
Guest

Wow that’s awesome Julie. Can you pass me your email id , would like to know more about how you led people into great marriages..
Thanks!!

Henry
Guest

hello Debra!!
Sincerely, this discussion keeps coming up and i believe it does because the foundations are bad.
what i mean by this is that a lot of people (and probably myself) do not know the meaning of dating and courtship.
so, can you help give a comprehensive definition or description of the two terms?
Thank you.

Zimkhitha
Guest

as for me i dont agree with dating

Lynn
Guest
Thank you for pointing out that one way doesn’t work for everyone. Neither the dating nor “courtship model” worked for me. I had no desire to be pursued by a man, the idea makes me uncomfortable, so “courtship” was definitely out. And being mildly introverted, and extremely analytical – dating was unappealing as well. My husband and I were friends for 3 years until our friendship grew to a point that we both knew it was something more. We had a conversation, and called ourselves dating after that. But he never asked me out on a date. We just started… Read more »
Michael
Guest
I believe the biggest problem is in how we define the two terms and not in the processes themselves. For example: “My husband and I were friends for 3 years until our friendship grew to a point that we both knew it was something more. We had a conversation, and called ourselves dating after that. But he never asked me out on a date. We just started to spend a lot more time together and a yr later got married”. For me that’s a definition of courtship I’ve been taught. Getting to know somebody on a friendship level first before… Read more »
Alicia
Guest
Yes, yes and yes! “Courtship can’t be the only way because it really comes down to pursuing relationships in the way that God calls us to, rather than simply in the way we’re told.” For years, I was taught about “kissing dating (and even marriage) goodbye” at my church. If I was to be content in Christ, then why would I desire dating or marriage? At least that is what they taught and I believed it. I’ve lived it for years until a few years ago. Side hugs were not just encouraged but kind of enforced. And for years, I… Read more »
Cindy
Guest

Thanks Debra it had been a confusing concept. Thanks for touching on this topic.

Cindy
Guest
Hi Debra, I understand that courtship may seem like it was fitted more for the old testament and the culture at that time. But I also think the concept behind it can’t be old-schooled because holiness and guarding your heart doesn’t have an expiration date. I also think there’s an extreme to both dating and courtship. If we are not careful, courtship can become more of a legalistic thing and condemn all of those that don’t practice it, and dating can become very liberal and unguarded. You mentioned a balance, I wish you would define that in terms of boundaries.… Read more »
Sydnie
Guest

i don’t necessarily believe that what you are saying (accountability, chastity, etc.) is exclusive to courting. I think it’s just godliness. I date (when I have the rare opportunity, haha) and I strive for what you are saying. Whenever I have been on a date, my closest friends know all the details. Every person in a respectable relationship that I know is open and vulnerable to parents, mentors, etc. One of the perks of dating is that a guy doesn’t need to feel pressure to get permission from my unchristian and unwise (spiritually) parents.

Michael
Guest

My understanding as well Cindy.

Paul Eugene
Guest
Thanks for bringing up this topic. I agree that courtship is not for everyone and neither is dating for everyone. One thing that I found for myself that when I was not a Christian it seems so much easier to date. When I became a Christian I heard so many rules on what not to do, that I ponder what was there to do? Besides praying, reading the bible together, missionary work, going to church, it just plain boring. Just as two snow flakes are not the same, neither are two people. I thing in are American Christian culture, Christian… Read more »
Adam
Guest
Sex is such a taboo in so many “Christian circles” that it is hard to know what to think or how to bring it up as a single person. One of the things that I appreciate about this website and the book is that Debra talks about it in a way that doesn’t make it feel like something shameful. It is to be reserved for marriage but the desire to have sex is God-given and it is nice to remember that and be able to not feel slimy because the desire is present as a single person. Instead we have… Read more »
Luke
Guest

Thanks for explaining these concepts in the article Debra. It was confusing for a time for me discerning these concepts.

Anna Pat
Guest
Looking for advice. We taught our daughter from the get go all about courtship. Now she’s 18 and heading off to college and has been in a “relationship” for almost a year. She and he aren’t interested in courtship. He was never raised with it but she was and now is rejecting it. They both claim they are just friends and may be looking at marriage later but not now. College comes first for both of them. He’s a year ahead of her. They do not like our boundaries and say we act like they are horny all the time… Read more »
Anna Pat
Guest
Continued: My concern is to not bring division to our relationship with her and us. We don’t think it will last four years of distance though the distance will only be about and hour or so drive. Oh and the boyfriend though very nice with a good head on his shoulders is very quiet and hard to get him to talk much or go very deep. He seems more interested in her and her time but not us and we time as a family trying to include him and bond with all us. It’s just seems very awkward.
Dan
Guest
As an older man I’ve thought a lot about how I handled situations in my past. I was thinking of a gal I knew in college whom I almost asked out. I intended to do so but didn’t. I know that she eventually married and is a mom and grand-mom. I knew her well enough to know now looking back that she did well to marry as she did. It was for the best. Maybe dating would have clouded that. But on the other hand, I think back and have one reason to think maybe I should have asked her… Read more »
Michael
Guest

This is probably a good article but without the definition of terms it’s really difficult to make anything of it. Debra will you please give us your definitions for dating and courtship. For all we know we might all just be fighting over the terminology.

If dating means being romantically involved (kissing, sex, etc.) with the opposite sex then I completely understand why the church would be against it. If dating simply means getting to know the person you’d consider marrying without emotional attachments (which might be somebody else’s definition for courtship), then I see nothing wrong with it.

Leona
Guest

The problem with saying everyone does relationships differently, and there are many options out there because everyone is different, is that then people will argue that it’s ok for everyone to follow different religions because we are all different, and grew up in different cultures and religious backgrounds, and what works for one will not work for everyone. I am a christian, but I have to say this is a very strong argument, and hard to know how to respond.

Lisa
Guest
I’m really baffled by all the courtship hype. I’ve been a Christian my whole life but I didn’t hear about modern courtship until I’d been married awhile. I’ve met some other women who were raised in courtship culture. They’re all divorced. Frankly, if my parents had a major influence in who I married, it would have been a disaster. I’m in my 40s and married over 20 years. We dated. I’m raising my children to leave me. I am steeping them in God’s Word and discipiling them for as long as I can. Then they’ll leave and go out into… Read more »
Yhaceed
Guest
Thanks for this article. It kind of helps solidify some things I’ve been thing about. Not to stir things up but I actually don’t know how God wants me to pursue relationships and you may say just ask Him but I’m pretty sure I did. Due to someone else’s influence I actually stopped dating for a while and decided to date God for a year and a half but that didn’t work out so well and when I ask Him things He wants from me I get silence. That is until I started to understand His heart. For example you… Read more »
wpDiscuz