Thirty years ago, I attended a missions conference that changed the trajectory of my life. During three short days, God solidified my desire to go to the nations. At the time, I was in a serious dating relationship, so I immediately knew that I needed to talk to my boyfriend. If God was drawing my heart to the nations and if the young man I was dating was not committed to taking the gospel to the nations, then we needed to reevaluate our relationship.
I vividly remember the phone call. I told my boyfriend that I believed God was leading me towards missions and that I had surrendered to go wherever God would lead. I needed my boyfriend to understand exactly what that meant – that my top priority in life was to make disciples of all nations. As I shared these words, I was acutely aware of the potential for deep pain if my boyfriend didn’t feel the same way.
Acknowledging the very real potential for pain and even harm in ill-suited dating relationships, I’d counsel dating couples to consider three essential truths to help guide relationships from the very first date.
Dating is a Road to Marriage
Every dating relationship has the potential for further commitment. If you already know that you won’t marry someone who doesn’t meet certain standards, it’s time to stop dating that person. For example, a Christian should not marry a non-believer (2 Corinthians 6:14). Therefore, it’s simply not wise to date a non-believer. Likewise, if God is drawing your heart to the nations, and you are dating someone who is unwilling to at least consider going overseas, you should likely put that relationship on pause.
In relationships, clarity is kindness
In relationships, clarity is kindness. We don’t want to accidentally and unfairly “bait and switch” after someone’s heart is involved. If you feel like God is leading you in a specific direction, share that information early and often with the person you are dating. Don’t wait until a year into the relationship to reveal that you aspire to be a missionary when your hearts are already deeply intertwined. Start the conversation early in the relationship and honor your date with honest transparency.
Scripture is Your Authority and Guide
Many couples walk through the missions discernment process at different paces, and that’s okay. Maybe you are dating someone who has never considered going overseas, but who is open to considering it. Look to God’s Word for guidance and consider what the Bible says that all believers are called to (Matthew 9:13, 28:19–20; Acts 1:8, Romans 1:6, Romans 8:30, Galatians 1:6, 1 Peter 1:15–16). Consider together the role that wisdom, circumstance, gifting, and counsel from others play in the specific ways that God leads his people.
More than agreeing on the exact nature of a “missionary calling,” make sure that you both first decide on what is very clear in Scripture: that all followers of Jesus are called to make disciples of all nations, therefore we all have some part to play in this task (Matthew 28:18–20).
Mutual Commitment to Obedience Provides Freedom
Consider some check-in questions. Is the person you are dating wholeheartedly sold out to Jesus? Do you both agree to obey Scripture, including Jesus’ words in the Great Commission, as your ultimate authority? Do you both submit to the leadership of your local church and commit to involving wise godly counsel in your decision-making? If so, enjoy time together and see where God leads.
In all seasons, we strive to surround ourselves with people who will point us to Jesus and help us run our race well
Thirty years ago, when I told my boyfriend that God was drawing my heart to the nations, he responded with relief and encouragement because God had been drawing his heart as well. We didn’t know what the future held, but as we continued to date we sought counsel from our church and committed to obeying the commands of Scripture.
For our family, obedience to the Great Commission has looked different during different seasons of life. We have been actively involved in churches that send others. At other times, we have been more involved through financial giving and urgent prayer. And, in some seasons we have been the ones to go serve among the unreached. In all seasons, we strive to surround ourselves with people who will point us to Jesus and help us run our race well (2 Timothy 4:7). And, that’s really what dating is all about.