It sounds like the best of both worlds… missionary work and dating, right? Well, not so fast. This is a situation where a good thing plus a good thing turns out to be a not-so-great thing. Welcome to the concept of “missionary dating.”
Just to be clear, missionary dating is not when you date missionaries! For more on that, check out the first version of my definition of missionary dating that was posted back in January.
I’ve done some more research on this term and its related terms missionary dater and the handy-dandy verb missionary date, and so I’m posting this updated set of definitions, along with some fresh commentary.
To recap, missionary dating is when a Christian goes on romantic dates with a non-Christian. Sometimes the Christian’s motivation is primarily romantic attraction, and the Christian justifies pursuing the non-Christian by hoping to do some evangelizing. Other times the Christian’s primary motivation is evangelism, and the fact that the mission field is a dinner date or romantic walk through the park is secondary. Whatever a Christian’s primary motivation might be, nearly all Christian leaders and biblical scholars are in agreement that it is a quote-unquote “Bad Idea.”
The earliest reference I was able to find to “missionary dating” is from a book published in 1978. The book was written in a casual style in hopes that teenagers would be willing to read it, and so amidst the fun 1970s slang such as “don’t fall flat” and “went down the tubes,” there’s a reference to missionary dating. Probably the term missionary dating dates back a few years before 1978. As is the case with most Christianese, people are using these terms in conversation for years before someone finally uses the term in a published book or magazine article. That makes it hard to pin down exactly what year a term was first invented.
Do you and your friends or fellow Christians talk about missionary dating? Did you know that a Christian who practices missionary dating is a “missionary dater”? Check out all the Christianese definitions below.
missionary dating n. The practice of some Christians who go on romantic dates with non-Christians in the hope of evangelizing them and seeing them eventually convert to Christianity.
Critics of the practice of missionary dating often cite 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”
See also *date for Jesus; *flirt to convert; *unequally yoked.
• 1978 Tomczak Straightforward 102 : Brothers and sisters, please don’t fall flat on this commandment of our Lord. God means it: no missionary dating. I could sit and share with you for hours the names and addresses of disobedient Christians who defied God in this area, compromised the Word, and since have “gone down the tubes.” 1981 Wood Questions Teenagers Ask About Dating and Sex 37 : This question addresses itself to what is known as “missionary dating.” I’ve always smiled at that phrase. I’ve never dated a missionary, nor have I seen many missionaries dating! Anyway, I know what they mean. Can a Christian use his or her date as a means of winning others to Christ? 1986 MacArthur Guidelines for Singleness and Marriage 111 : The advice here [in 1 Corinthians 7:39] is to widows and widowers. Widowed believers are not bound to stay single, but if they remarry it must be to another believer. There is no such thing as missionary dating. 1986 Burns Handling Your Hormones 70 : I don’t, however, believe in what some people call “missionary dating”—that is, dating a non-Christian in order to make him or her a Christian. 1989 Hunt Now That He’s Asked You Out 33 : She doesn’t believe in “missionary dating”—when a Christian young person dates a non-Christian young person in the hope that the non-Christian can be led to the Lord. 1996 McDowell Handbook on Counseling Youth 124 : “Missionary Dating.” Should a Christian youth date a non-Christian? Can a Christian teen use the dating experience as a means of witnessing for Christ? 1998 McPherson The Power of Believing in Your Child 158 : Plenty of Christian young people … think they can lure a non-Christian into God’s kingdom. They’ll be friends, they’ll fall in love, then their unbelieving boyfriend or girlfriend will suddenly fall for God. Again, God has an unchanging rule on “missionary dating.” His Word tells us, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” 2002 Mattingly “On Religion” (syndicated column) (14 Aug.) : Church people have a name for what happens when young believers get romantically involved with unbelievers. They call it “missionary dating,” usually with one eyebrow raised in skepticism. Most of these relationships involve a good girl who is convinced that, with time, she can help a bad boy see the error of his ways and learn to walk the straight and narrow path. 2006 Strack Life: How to Get There from Here 60 : Today, we call that “missionary dating.” A student may think, I’ll date that lost person just once so that I can share Christ with him (or her). But most of the time, your non-Christian date shares habits with you instead.
¹missionary date v. For a Christian to go on romantic dates with non-Christians in hope of evangelizing them and seeing them eventually convert to Christianity.
See also *missionary dating.
• 1994 Stromberg Finding the Magnificent in Lower Mundane 226 : Ryan’s daughter called home from college to say she had decided to go ahead and “missionary date” the Mormon kid. 1995 Luce Quit Playing With Fire 53 : Many people try to “missionary date” and bring their dates to the Lord. Let me tell you, there are too many tragic endings to that story. 2003 Rainey So You’re About to Be a Teenager: Godly Advice for Preteens 125 : Don’t missionary date. Sometimes a young guy or girl will really like someone who turns out not to be a Christian. 2004 Meier A Girl’s Guide to Life 21 : Have you ever heard the phrase “unequally yoked”? It means that two people who aren’t in the same place spiritually end up together. This often happens because one person is trying to “missionary date” the other—to save them and bring them to Christ.
¶ missionary date someone into the kingdom v. phr. Or into God’s kingdom. For a Christian to successfully convert a non-Christian to Christianity while dating him or her.
• 2001 Brantley God, Sex, and Dating 45 : Please don’t think you can “missionary date” your intended spouse into the Kingdom. If you marry an unbeliever, you are signing up for a miserable life. 2003 McDowell The One Year Josh McDowell’s Youth Devotions II. 205 : You might think you can “missionary date” someone into God’s kingdom. Don’t fool yourself. If you are emotionally attached, you will do way better to remain single and pray for the salvation of that guy or girl.
²missionary date n. A romantic date that a Christian goes on with a non-Christian in hope of evangelizing that person and seeing them eventually convert to Christianity.
See also *missionary dating.
• 2000 Payne True Loves Waits Takes a Look at Courting, Dating, and Hanging Out 30 : A missionary date is when a Christian goes out with a non-Christian in the hopes of being a witness to the person. The courting or dating arena is not the place to begin an evangelistic emphasis. 2012 Formhals Moments of Truth 30 : A missionary date is going out with a person who isn’t saved. The hope is they will eventually come to know Christ.
missionary dater n. A Christian who practices *missionary dating.
• 1999 Young, Adams The Ten Commandments of Dating 38 : Dissatisfied with the “boring drips” and “slim pickin’s” from her church singles” group, she ventures out into the target-rich environment of the big-city bar scene. Cindy is a missionary dater because she has given up on the Christians around her. 2012 Fisher Not Another Dating Book 72 : We are called to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and make disciples of all nations, but not when it comes to dating. There’s always a temptation here to be a “missionary dater.” “It’s okay that he’s not a Christian!” you think. “I’ll teach him about Jesus!”