Larry and Gail Mininger
“Don’t worry about finding a wife, Son. I’ll send our servant to my hometown. When he finds a girl who will draw water for him and the camels, he’ll give her jewelry, talk to her parents, and bring her home to your tent. It’s all in the Bible, a perfect plan.”
Well, most Christians realize that Abraham’s strategy for locating Isaac’s wife does not constitute a command for us today. But neither does the Bible specify a method of seeking a spouse. So where does that leave us as concerned Christian parents? What should parents tell their kids who are of dating age?
In our own youth, Gail’s mother gave us the most dating guidance. Benefiting from her wisdom, we prepped our children similarly. We were unaware of the courtship model, so it was not a consideration. Our intent was to follow general biblical guidance and work out a dating plan for our five children (now adults), with advice from trusted Christians, frequent collaboration between the two of us, and prayer. We share our experience with you, only because we were asked to. We are not OPC dating experts. So here goes! Take what’s useful, ignore the rest, and keep praying.
Theology. What should you tell your kids who are of dating age? First, don’t wait until then. Develop their theology of sex and marriage early. When teaching the Ten Commandments, we informed our small children that “Do not commit adultery” means a man should not live with a woman to whom he is not married or sleep in the same bed with her like Mommy and Daddy do, or something to that effect, in an age-appropriate way for that child. We taught incrementally about sexuality, as when Mommy was pregnant and she explained that Daddy helped make the baby inside of her when they were loving each other. Details were added over time! The subject of sex and marriage was not reserved for one big talk, but eventually there were longer explanations.
Modeling. Training our children includes not only purposeful instruction, but also modeling biblical marriage roles. We consider it especially important in our liberated society for moms to affirm that the children are to obey Mommy, Daddy, and God; Mommy is to obey Daddy and God; and Daddy as our head is to obey God. When parents downplay these roles, children find license to dishonor parents. When we parents disrespected each other, we confessed not only to each other and to God, but also to the children who were watching. The more your marriage portrays the joys of unity, love, respect, and forgiveness, the more effective your words will be in dating years.
Character Building. Prepare children for marriage by nurturing them in delayed gratification, self-denial, and self-control—in little things like waiting patiently for dinner, accepting that we cannot have everything we want, and being willing to wait a long time even for things we can have (eventually applicable to abstinence before marriage). Emphasize contentment with God’s plans, which may or may not include marriage. Tutor them to become out-facing, service-minded, generous, caring spouses or singles. Esteem God, not the children, as the center of the family, demonstrating that marriage is about serving God and one’s spouse, not about demanding rights.
Storytelling. Share stories with your children—how you met, why you married, why you did not marry others, what character qualities are essential in a spouse, how God kept you from temptation, or how he has forgiven you for sins you regret. Listen to their observations about other families—good, bad, mediocre—and discuss what to avoid and what to emulate.
Guidelines. Before the teen years, begin describing how dating or courting will look in your family, in a purposeful yet understanding, cheerful, and sometimes fun manner. Build an understanding that you will guide them in dating, that they will need to cooperate with your leadership. Prayerfully develop relationships of trust and teamwork with your children.
We can distill our chief dating strategies into two categories: God’s ways and our family plans.
Please God first—before you please any boy or girl (Col. 3:23).
Promises—God has plans for you; you don’t need to worry or go your own way (Jer. 29:11).
Pray—Pray about your relationships and your future (Phil. 4:6–7).
Parents—Honor them and seek their advice (Ex. 20:12).
Protect your heart—Scrutinize your thinking, media influences, etc. (Prov. 4:23).
Priorities—Date Christians. Dating non-Christians can lead to heartbreaking marriages (2 Cor. 6:14 ff.).
Proper roles—Could he lead you spiritually; would she follow your leadership (Eph. 5:22 ff.)?
Purity—No sex outside marriage (1 Cor. 6:18–20).
Protect yourself and others from temptation—Dress modestly (1 Tim. 2:9).
Postpone commitment until you are mature enough for marriage.
We taught our children to develop friendships with both genders, but not to be committed to a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” in their teens. Sometimes youthful commitments lead to repeated breakups, patterning a kind of marriage-divorce-marriage syndrome during the single years. Later, when actually married, some spouses divorce, seeking the freedom they yearn for, but never allowed themselves before marriage. Other young relationships get stuck out of insecurity and fear of change, leading to weddings fueled by habit and convenience rather than discernment and love.
Our children were allowed approved group or one-on-one dates to approved places with approved curfews, not before age sixteen, but only when we deemed them spiritually and socially mature enough to support our guidelines. This no-boyfriend/no-girlfriend strategy was not always popular with our kids or their friends. But our daughter Linda, now a mother of five, reflects, “My parents, by removing the option of having a boyfriend in high school, freed me to get to know boys and figure out how to relate to them, while relieving me of the social pressure of a committed relationship until I was more mature, confident, and discerning.”
As we walked our children through those years, and we, together with them, eventually began to deem their relationships worthy of committing to engagement and marriage, the guidelines nuanced.
Postpone physical contact.
It is not easy for our culture to understand dating for friendship, with freedom to date others as well. But, with the understanding that holding hands and kissing are best reserved for the one we marry, we have found friendship dating a healthy way to avoid intimacy before marriage.
Wait for God to bring him to you (no boy chasing!).
We taught our girls that the Bible always speaks in terms of the man finding the wife, not vice versa. Boy-chasing often results in marriages where the wife leads or is frustrated that her husband does not.
Keep talking to your parents.
It may be awkward, but parents are the God-ordained leaders. Marriage involves one of life’s most crucial decisions. A healthy marriage needs parental blessing, which is best preceded by parental dating guidance.
If you want to date our daughter, you must get permission from her Dad.
That step scares away some guys immediately, and is often a relief to the daughter! Dad will scrutinize his faith and instruct him to respect her and not to touch her or expect to own her. What a great foundation this is if the guy eventually seeks permission to marry her! Dad has established a relationship in which giving away his daughter is not a mere wedding formality, but a happy transfer of leadership.
What should you tell your kids who are of dating age? Lots of things. A good core might be the words on the calligraphic plaque we passed on to each child upon entering high school: “Those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed” (1 Sam. 2:30).
May God grant you wisdom as you prayerfully lead your children to honor our God. In relationships. In life.
Larry G. Mininger, pastor of Lake Sherwood OPC in Orlando, Fla., and his wife Gail have five adult children and thirteen grandchildren who worship in OPC and PCA congregations in five states. New Horizons, January 2016.