Eric Miller talks with Mark & Kristen Artrip about the world of dating in our culture today. We discussed how to help your students with healthy boundaries in dating, biblical principles, and even offer some ideas for what to be aware of when it comes to dating.
Mark is lead pastor of Movement Church in Hillard, Ohio.

A Guide to Dating: Helping Your Students

What is your story? How did you meet?

Mark and Kristin met on an Operation Barnabas summer ministry experience (a ministry of CE National) team when they were 17 years old. Mark had made a list of some important qualities before meeting Kristin and realized that she made the list. They dated throughout college, were engaged their senior year, and got married after graduating.

What has been your ministry experience with dating?

Kristin shares that the concept of dating was very different 20 years ago from how it is now – there was more of an emphasis on in-person interaction. Knowing the trends and the apps is helpful even in being able to connect with teenagers where they are at.
Mark shares that while the principles are the same, the means are different.

What are some key components of dating?

Mark shares that he believes dating is for marriage. This doesn’t mean you get engaged on date 2, but that marriage is the goal if God ordains it. As you walk the path towards marriage, you are guarding what you will give to your spouse in not having sex before marriage. Dating with purpose is important.

What does a healthy dating relationship look like?

Marks talks about 1 Corinthians 13 and how investing in each other, getting to know each other, and taking care of each other is a means of loving the other person. Everything you do should be done in that type of biblical love.

How do you explain to your kids what dating is?

Kristin explains that they’ve stressed how the long term goal is marriage and so they’ve told their kids junior high and high school are opportunities to make friends, be a good friend, and hang out in groups—not a time to find a girlfriend or boyfriend. They emphasis the importance of growing their character.
She adds that it’s beneficial to look around at other couples who are a step or two ahead and “doing it right.” Learning from them and talking to them can be very helpful.

What dating philosophies are important to you?

Eric talks about the idea of being friends first.
Mark agrees and says you can get to know someone by being friends and hanging out in groups, without dating.
To get to the point where you know you want to date someone, you have to know what you want. Look for indicators of that in someone’s character and in their life. Some things are non-negotiable and others are optional.
Often, you can tell how someone will treat you as a spouse by looking at how they treat their parents and you can tell how they will raise kids by looking at how they interact with their siblings.
The purpose of dating is the find out if you can marry someone and sometimes the answer is no, but dating still accomplished its purpose.
Kristin says that if purity is not a core belief for both parties (something written in permanent marker), it can quickly become something written in pencil that is negotiable. If you’re walking with Jesus, purity must be a core belief.
Mark says keeping our eyes on the long-term goal and that God designed sex within marriage to be a beautiful gift.
“How far is too far?” is the wrong question because the heart behind that is “How close to the line can I get?”  The right perspective is viewing sex after marriage as a gift God has given us because he loves us—working backward from that and guarding and protecting that gift.
Mark adds that no one ever gets married and says man, I wish I would’ve gone to third base more often when I was in high school or fooled around more in college. Thinking with the end goal in mind and being patient is so important.

How can adults, either parents or youth workers, engage in healthy conversations with teenagers about dating?

Mark shares his dad started the conversation young with him – age 10 or 12. Statistics now say the average boy starts seeing porn at age 9, so telling them “Hey, pornography exists” is a good idea. However, it’s a process and an ongoing conversation where you share more with them as they grow older.
So he would say start conversations early and make it an ongoing conversation so it’s not just a confrontation, but rather a result of an ongoing relationship.
Kristin shares her experience with youth workers and how quality time was so important. Sleepovers with other girls, getting ice cream, doing fun things together—conversations happen naturally that way. Sometimes their parents don’t listen or have the ability to listen, so being that listening ear for students is vital. Doing life together and asking questions—about friends at school, sports, how to be praying for them, being a good friend, who’s your best friend at school and why? “Why” and “What do you think about that” questions can bring up good conversations.

What do you do if, as a youth worker, a student asks you a tough question?

Mark talks about going back to the Bible and emphasizing your relationship with God. Not having sex before marriage has to do with honoring Jesus and biblical love is because God defines loves that way. It’s not about black and white rules just because that’s how it’s always been.

Are there any other resources you would recommend for dating couples?

Marks shares that Jefferson and Alyssa Bethke are very good – podcasts, books, videos, etc.
Also curriculum from Family Life – A Weekend to Remember and content from Dennis Rainey is good. This would be like any other curriculum where you take what you like, leave out what you don’t and contextualize the rest, however it’s a good starting point.

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