About two months ago some drastic changes took place in our church. The youth pastor and his wife left for another job, and Jesse and I were asked to fill their shoes for the time being. We quickly formed a wonderful bond. Our youth group talks turned into late-night chats and long phone calls. Soon we were spending lots of time together and getting really close. When I realized just how deep my heart was in this new-found relationship, I had to put on the brakes.
So a few weeks ago, I broached the subject with him. Basically, I told him that I’ve always been very careful about not only the appearance of guy/girl relationships but also the feelings involved. I told him, “I am getting pretty attached to our friendship, and I don’t know where you stand.”
He paused, held up a finger and thought for a moment. Then finally he said four of the greatest words I can remember hearing, “I like you, Kelley.” My heart soared. Soon after, the conversation led to him saying that at this time in his life, he isn’t ready to pursue anyone. He also said he didn’t expect to like me so much or to fall so fast. He’s never really had extreme feelings for anyone before; he thought he’d always be single. When I came along I completely surprised him, and now he isn’t sure what to do about it.
I respect his honesty, and I understand what he is saying, but I feel so confused now. Here is this guy: an amazing Christian, someone I am comfortable with, someone who challenges me spiritually, someone who respects my decision to save my first kiss for marriage, a man I trust, and a guy to whom I am totally attracted — those kinds of guys don’t just walk through the door every day! On top of all that amazingness, he likes me, too! I’ve waited 25 years for a man like this.
Tonight we talked; I told him that I feel weird about this. Now that we know where each other stands, where do we go from here? Are we just friends? Do we hang out? What about the one-on-one time and the phone calls? He didn’t have an answer; I’m pretty sure he feels just as confused as I do — perhaps more so because he thought he’d never want to get married. He asked me to write down my thoughts, and then next time we get together we’ll talk it all out.
My question is, what do I do? What do I say? Can I tell him that he is a man with whom I could potentially settle down and grow old? If he still isn’t ready to pursue, where is the friendship line drawn? We are still youth leaders together, so he’s in my life whether I like it or not. Any advice for getting through this stage or how to have this discussion?
Before you read my answer, you must read Steve and Candice Watters’ story. They were singles in ministry work together, and Candice’s experience was very similar to yours. I think you’ll get some great insight reading about their journey.
Here’s what I have to add to Steve and Candice’s counsel:
If only he were writing asking for advice, my job would be much easier. My first question to him would be, why did he think he’d never want to get married? That seems a bit unusual given the rest of your description of him. Marriage is the biblical norm, and as serious as he sounds about his faith in Christ, that stood out to me. Maybe there’s nothing to it, but it’s worth a conversation.
My wife tells me she never imagined herself marrying — until we started dating. She thought the institution wasn’t for her (given the poor marriage relationships she’d been exposed to), but what she later realized was that the institution wasn’t the issue; she just had never met a guy she could imagine herself marrying. Anyway, food for thought.
One thing is clear, though, and that is that the current paradigm cannot last for very long, and it won’t. Something will change soon, either about the “partnership” in ministry or the “brake” on the relationship. Ministry is work at an emotional level, and being in ministry together certainly won’t help dial down relationship emotions between two singles who share feelings for one another.
A change is coming with or without your consent, so let’s try to navigate it in a biblical way.
My first piece of advice is for you both to go to your leadership and let them know about the conversations the two of you are having. They need full disclosure on the kind of dynamic going on with their youth leadership, and you need to seek their counsel and embrace their accountability. (Meanwhile they really need to find a permanent solution to their youth leadership need that doesn’t place two singles of the opposite sex in ministry partnership.)
Second, no matter what happens with the relationship, remember you were first called to love and minister to those you were placed in leadership over, and that remains your call until that role changes. You’re now teaching, at a new level, biblical interaction with the opposite sex. Those under your care need to see it modeled in a way that benefits all and brings glory to God, no matter the outcome of the relationship itself.
This is a good thing and not something to resent about being in leadership. How the two of you manage this will be one of the most remembered things you teach your group!
Third, what do you say to him when you meet? You tell him how you feel at this moment in time — that’s all you can tell him. The most important thing he needs to know is that your feelings for him are only going to grow stronger the more time you spend together (as his will for you, if he shares the same feelings) and that will have immediate impact on leading together.
If he needs more time to figure things out, then I’d advise setting a deadline for how long you’ll lead together before a decision is made, and I’d suggest no more than a few months from now. At that point the world might look a little clearer to both of you.
If he likes the idea of moving forward, then by all means do it. At this point I would refer you back to my previous advice of full disclosure with your leadership and seeking their counsel. In my opinion this would be a great opportunity for modeling biblical dating/courtship for those you lead.
If he decides to not pursue the relationship for whatever reason, then you’ll need to decide whether you can still partner so closely in ministry with him. I think that would be very difficult for you, at least for now. You’re already far enough down the road to feel hurt if the relationship falters at this point. You might manage for a little while, but not for long. A different leadership scenario might need to be arranged.
He sounds like a great guy, and I really do hope things develop for the two of you. I know God will give you the grace to walk it out in such a way that brings honor to Christ and encouragement to those He has entrusted you to lead in this season.
Copyright 2011 John Thomas. All rights reserved.