I know what you might be thinking: “I’m so over dating advice.” Slow your roll tootsie roll because this is different. For the most part, I hope this at least encouraging to the future Emerging Leaders of Downline Ministries as they navigate this awkwardness that is “The Dating Policy.” I love the EL dating policy and believe it should stay forever until Christ returns (like for real), but that does not mean the policy is any less awkward or frustrating. There are positive and negative approaches to the dating policy and I will at least try to unpack those from a biblical perspective.
I would highly discourage rebellion against the dating policy for the thrill/adrenaline rush of obtaining something that is forbidden. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil that God told Adam and Eve not to eat from in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:17) is an example we are supposed to forget, right? Of course not! Rebellion against a commitment you signed up for will increase your chances of being dismissed from the program. This approach is more geared to the fellas’ pursuit of a lady at the improper time. If you need a rush that bad, drink a Red Bull while reading the Bible.
Trust me, Downline has good reasons for instilling the dating policy, and it is for your good and His glory. This is a policy that you are expected to honor until after your last day of class, NOT just the last week of class. The best obvious approach is for you to wait until your Downline commitment is complete.
It seems that incoming Emerging Leaders often fail to appreciate opportunities these nine months present to a single student. I was in this category myself as I entered the program for 2013-2014 year. Singleness is a gift from God, not a curse or punishment as our culture portrays. Marital status, or any other title for that matter, is never needed in addition to finding our identity in Christ. Nine months spent in the Downline Institute will be a fruitful year in God’s Word leading you to know more about yourself as a man or woman of God. If you are single coming into your year as an Emerging Leader, it is not an accident. God is sovereign over all circumstances.
In addition, let us not ride the saddle of “I’m just not ready for a relationship,” when what you’re really not ready for is dying to yourself and your idol of independence. Likewise, be cautious of the idol of dependence and feeling as if you always need to be with somebody. During the first few weeks of Downline, I quickly realized that I wasn’t ready to die to myself and place someone else’s best interest above my own. In our own strength, no one is “ready” for a relationship in the beginning stages, but God will prepare His children during the relationship by the work He began in us when He first saved us (Philippians 1:6). The magical moment you think you are “ready” for a relationship as Downline ends, will be the moment you forget God in your assessment.
Something else to consider during your EL experience is that you have a unique opportunity to prepare for a relationship and ultimately marriage with another brother or sister in Christ. The best time/season to prepare for a marriage commitment is before you actually have one. For the majority of Christians, marriage is the next season in their Christian walk. Some might find that very scary (me sometimes) and some might be holding back all the praise-shouting they want to do! We can trust that God doesn’t hold back anything good from those who walk uprightly in this crooked generation (Psalm 84:11). Be encouraged, everything you are looking for in a relationship can already be found in our Perfect Jesus.
You don’t have to approach dating as a life or death sentence. Stop looking to your boo/crush to meet the needs Jesus already meets for you! He or she will NOT meet all those expectations perfectly, but Jesus can because you were built for Him. Seek Him, treasure Him, enjoy Him!
Knowing and treasuring Jesus Christ is the goal during the Downline experience, not finding a spouse. Learning the keys of discipleship is the goal during the Downline experience, not seeking your perfect match so you can be an award-winning couple. We are all naturally selfish human beings and it does not matter how fine or great he or she is, because you are still bent towards desiring yourself above anyone else!
Downline is not meant or designed to be your Christian Mingle. Embrace the awkwardness by faith, regardless of whether or not you get a date after Downline ends. Never forget that Jesus’ love is better than life itself (Psalm 63:3), which includes the time you’re single (great) or in a relationship (also great).