There are several guys in my church who are known as "serial daters." They have dated several women I know, and have left broken hearts in their wake. My question is twofold: Should the church leadership address this, and how?
Also, if one of these guys were to pursue me, how should I handle it? Should I ask about their intentions right off the bat? On one hand, I understand that people may need to date several people before getting married, but on the other hand, I don't want to waste time with someone who will never commit.
Yes, the church should address this and, in another day, likely would have. Depending on where you go, it's possible they might. It's called church discipline and there are still some churches that practice it. I'm aware of an affiliation of biblically sound churches that includes church discipline as one of the "Nine Marks" of a biblical church.
According to the 9Marks website, "church discipline is the whole complex of teaching, preaching, structures, practices, and censures which clarifies acceptable behavior from that which is unacceptable for members of a local church." Drawing its authority from Scripture (Hebrews 12:5-11, Matthew 18:15-17, James 2:14-26, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, 1 Timothy 1:20, 1 Timothy 5:19-20, Titus 3:10-11), church discipline includes both positive and negative elements. On the negative side is "warning, rebuke, admonition and excommunication." On the positive is "teaching, preaching, modeling, discipling, even implementing biblical structures of accountability in the church."
In the case of these "serial daters," I suspect church discipline might take the form of an elder or other leader approaching these young men and talking to them about the way their dating habits are defrauding the young women in the church. They might then let them know what the church expects of them: that they stop serial dating and instead, prayerfully focus on one woman with the goal being marriage. This process would be under the oversight of this or another leader or a mature Christian couple in the church.
Such top-down influence on the dating and mating habits of single men is rarely seen in our present day nearly-anything-goes, individualistic church culture. How your church handles this will say a lot about your church.
Among believers, dating relationships should be conducted with clear intentions (determining the couple's suitability for marriage), in a timely manner (no dating indefinitely for recreation alone), with oversight (either from the woman's parents or surrogate parent[s]) and with purity (no sexual activity before the wedding).
Sadly dating relationships rarely are. That doesn't mean, however, that you can't follow this biblical model on your own. Granted, it's not your job to discipline, but to guard your own heart with wisdom. You can require all of the above of any man who expresses interest in pursuing a romantic relationship with you — the serial daters included.
It's true that people may need "to date several people before getting married." But they don't need to leave a string of broken-hearted women in their wake. What you've described is a pattern of Christian men defrauding the women in their church (something we've addressed before). And it's not good. Nor is it necessary.
Regardless of what your church leadership does or does not do about serial daters in your midst, you can influence these men for good. My hope is that should one or more of them express interest in you, you would not date them; at least not under present circumstances. You'll protect your own heart and may even help turn them around.
Let me explain. Though you probably have little say in how your church elders weigh in on such cases, you do have the ability to influence your female friends in the church. Just imagine what would happen if you strengthen the "sisterhood of single believers" to require godly behavior of the young men you date. Yes, the men should be spiritual leaders and live righteously. But if they aren't, you and your girl friends have a lot of power to encourage them back toward how they should be living.
If all of you say no to serial dating and start requiring purposeful and pure relationships that are under authority, the guys won't have a choice but to change.
There's a chance that in raising the bar, they'll run. They may even leave the church for a place where the women aren't so exacting. But those are not men you'd want to marry, after all.
I think it's worth the risk to see what happens. They may rise to the challenge and one day thank you for pointing them back toward God's way.
Copyright 2011 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.