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Courtship Begins at Eight

Courtship Duties and John the Baptist

How Did I Get Into This and What I Found To Be Important


Courtship Begins at Eight

What is the right time to begin preparing your child for courtship? I talk with various parents and find that though they want courtship for their children, they wait until a suitor is knocking on the door before they think about it. As parents, I want to encourage you to think much earlier about preparing yourselves and your children for this critical stage of life. I will give you three specific things you can do to prepare for a future courtship.

You may ask, what is the big rush? Actually, the rush is to avoid a crisis at the end. If you want to have your children adopt an outlook or belief you begin early in their lives to teach them about it. So during their 8th-12th year, you can be training them on what a Biblical marriage looks like. This will involve teaching what God says about marriage: its permanence, its sanctity, its sacrifice. Have discussions on these topics. Current events will give you plenty of opportunities to contrast God’s plan with how the world handles marriage. You will also be a living testament to the concepts of leadership, submission, honor, listening, teamwork, love, placing the others needs above your own, manners, and all the other things worth modeling in marriage. Talk with your wife about how you want to demonstrate these things in your family. You will be building an image of what marriage should look like in the minds of your children. You also have the opportunity to talk about courtship as a way to protect your child for their future mate. A resource that’s available to describe Courtship using pictures and simple points can be seen at www.seasonsofcourtship.com

Sounds like a lot of work, right? Well the good part is that you can do it over a number of years. This is part of living out the Deuteronomy concept of teaching them when you rise up, when you sit down, and when you are on the way. Don’t kid yourself, it still requires work and persistence. Modeling marriage in front of your children is something that you must keep working toward. Besides, it will be a great benefit to the health of your marriage to practice the very things that God wants demonstrated.

One of the concepts of courtship that I advocate is refraining from relationships until your young person is ready to marry. This protects the heart from the pitfalls of the casual dating game. If a young man wants to date your daughter and is not ready to marry, then he simply wants a good time. I want to talk to young men who are ready to marry and have a serious desire to know if my daughter is the one God has for them. Our society has embraced a model of building (and throwing away) relationships long before young people are ready to marry. Your young person will not be immune to that societal pressure – so how do you counter it? Before they start forming relationships, you can take another step toward courtship. That step is to help them make commitments to protect their future. Some of the commitments that I have found useful are:

  • I will be a one-woman man / one-man woman
  • Accepting marriage as a lifelong covenant
  • Adopting moral purity now for the benefit of the one I will marry in the future
  • Determining appropriate conduct within friendships (treating men as brothers and women as sisters)

If they have been receptive to your teaching and modeling, and they have embraced these commitments, then you are ready to talk through the establishment of a covenant with them. What does this mean? That you will commit to your son or daughter to do certain things (pray for them, protect them, teach them God’s principles) and that they will do certain things (keep themselves pure, obtain your blessing before beginning a courtship or marrying). I hope this gives your young person an assurance that you care about them and prods you to carry out your promises.

If you have promised to protect your young person there are several practical activities you can use to accomplish that goal. First you can pray, and let them know you are praying for their life partner. Second, you can continue a vital relationship with them. Ask how their heart is doing. Be especially sensitive to their heart if you think they are “leaning” toward someone. Give them plenty of activities to keep their energies occupied in Godly service. Third, if you have promised to protect them, ask them to make a list of the things that they want in a spouse. You will be given great insight into your young person as you see the things they desire in a spouse. This will help both of you know the essentials they are looking for. The things on the list will also give you clues to the need to teach about what is needed in a spouse. Do this when they are not emotionally involved so the list will not be tainted by a focus on a particular person.

Please keep in mind that there is a critical ingredient to making courtship work – relationship. Not just one relationship, but two. First, you want to encourage within your child their own relationship with God. Children will often follow your lead spiritually in their early years. They must transition to their own belief in God and embrace Him fully as they mature – and as a parent you must release them to tie their loyalty to God. A successful courtship and marriage must be driven by their own internal belief in God and their relationship with Him. It is this personnel relationship that will guide them to the right spouse through the Holy Spirit or else they may follow their own desires, possibly to their detriment. Cultivate your child’s relationship with God and challenge them to stand on their own with God as the foundation for a successful life and marriage.

Secondly, fathers are to instruct their children in righteousness (1 Thes. 2:11, Ps. 78:5-7, Heb. 12:9-10, Deut. 6:7, 20-25, Eph. 6:14). Each father has an innate desire to do good for his children (Luke 11:13) and protect them (Mark 5:22-23). When it comes to courtship, a relationship with them is essential to do them good. In this case, good is not choosing a mate for them, but it does involve protection and mature counsel. Courtship is a matter of your children putting an enormous amount of trust in your counsel and Biblically centered wisdom. Even if you build a great relationship and high level of trust, there will be times when your children will wonder if they have made the right decision. Your humility, prayers, expression of desiring their best and continued pursuit of a relationship, are the things that will keep them moored to their commitment to seek God’s best. Never break their trust.

So the matter of relationship is two-pronged. As a father you must encourage a loyalty and dependence on God separate and apart from you. At the same time, you need to develop a trusting relationship with your child so they can gain the wisdom, protection and experience you have to offer.

After going through these steps you should be much more prepared for a courtship. Now you have a relationship built on trust that allows you to keep communicating with your young person. You have prepared for the future and can evaluate a potential spouse in light of God’s Word and your child’s Biblically based criteria.

If these ideas seem helpful, they are only a taste of what is in the full color, 40+ page workbook I have prepared. The workbook, Seasons of Courtship…Hints for Fathers, contains ideas on how to train your child about courtship from a young age. It goes through the commitments and covenants that will help guard your young person. It has examples showing how to develop a list of desired qualities in a spouse and questions to ask a suitor to determine if he has those qualities. The workbook is not a cookbook. You will be developing your personalized plan for courtship as you work through the included questions. If you are interested in the workbook, I ask $17 for it. You can order it here.

Courtship Duties and John the Baptist

I want to compare a fathers courtship duties to those of John the Baptist. That may leave you scratching your head, but stick with me. I am not trying to make an absolute comparison. I am trying to draw similarities between how John carried out his mission and then transitioned into obscurity with the way fathers need to train their children and then transition to a minor role.

When John the Baptist comes on the scene as an adult we see him arriving with a strong message (Matt. 3:1-12). He knew he was there to announce the coming Christ and bring people to repentance. Even though his message was not one that tickled the ears, people flocked out to hear him. They went further and confessed their sins and were baptized. Furthermore, he was unafraid to stand up to the religious leaders, warning them of their hypocrisy and the coming judgment. At the same time, he had a firm grip on the fact that he was not “the one” and would be eclipsed by someone else.

As men become fathers they have a job to do as well. They are tasked with communicating a strong message to their children of their need for repentance and the solution to their sinfulness. Many of the messages fathers must deliver are not warm and fuzzy. Yet the warnings and consequences must be proclaimed for the sake of the children. Fathers must be realists as well. They will be replaced by another, loved and cared for by another, and that is a good thing.

In Matt 3:5 we see that John had become wildly popular. Jerusalem, all Judea and all those around Jordan were coming to see him. He was at his zenith yet he still carried out his purpose. He proclaimed the truth (Luke 3:7-9) even to those who would be hostile. John also instructed those who were willing to listen (Luke 3:10-14), giving very practical advice on day-to-day matters.

Fathers also reach a point of great popularity with their own children. Many of you have experienced your child saying to another child, “Come watch my dad do (fill in the blank)”, or, “My dad can do this, can yours?” This is such an important time to proclaim the truth to your children and instruct them in the way they should go. You are their hero, use that status wisely.

Here John is at his peak and Christ shows up (Matt. 3:13-17). John was consistent, he didn’t change his tune from proclaiming he was not “the one”. He was not afraid of being eclipsed by the Christ. In humility, John wanted to be baptized by Christ, but was willing to baptize Him when asked. One unique aspect was that John’s popularity probably did not wane at all at this time. Jesus came, was baptized, God declares His pleasure, and then He disappears for 40 days. John kept doing his job.

When a father trains his children for courtship he must realize that he has a job to do, but that he will be replaced. He is to faithfully train them for marriage, for purity, for commitment, and then be willing to give away his work. John recognized Christ as “the one”. I wish I could be so positive when a young man seeks to court my daughter. I do my “job” by interviewing him on his spiritual beliefs, goals in life, perspectives on finances, moral convictions and practices, and maturity. I also look at how he fits with these same areas in my daughter’s life. I don’t expect perfection, but he should be moving in the right directions to lead a family. He should have qualities that compliment the goals and beliefs of my daughter. If he completes my examination, then I pass him on to my daughter, not as someone “approved”, but as someone worthy of consideration. The final choice rests with her. I am recommending my own replacement in her life.

Some time later we drop in on John again (John 3:22-36). Although he was still baptizing (v23), there was a clear shift of the crowds toward Jesus (v26) when his disciples proclaimed that “all” are coming to Him. John knew that he had done his job of paving the way (v28). He also rejoiced in his being replaced (v29), summing it up in his famous statement, “He must increase, but I must decrease”.

When I interview a young man, it is my goal to treat him as my equal. He wants the same job I have as a father, so I treat him with respect as a brother in Christ. I work hard to establish a relationship with him, because I want to be a “friend of the bridegroom” in the future if the relationship works out. I want “this joy of mine” to be made full by the confidence I have in his character. This carries over during the time my daughter is considering him. I continue to encourage a relationship and seek to help him. But this is also my time to decrease.

In Matt. 11:2-11, we see John near the end of his life. He is in prison. There are no crowds. Few think of him any longer. He sends out a message to Jesus along the lines of, “was I wrong? Are you really the one we are waiting for?” Christ gives evidence through action so the messenger can return with a resounding “Yes! He is the one.” Christ also provides testimony that John is truly a great man who will be remembered.

Just as with John, a father decreases to near invisibility as their children wrap up a courtship and enter marriage. He has done his job. The evidence of the quality of his job will be displayed in the relationship between the new couple and how they raise their children. Your legacy will be in how they remember your relationship with them as you guided them during courtship and beyond.

In summary, a father needs to train his children about the things that really matter. He needs to gain their trust and look out for their needs. Acting in the best interest of his children, he can provide a mature perspective on potential mates. Once he releases his child to consider the appropriateness of the candidate, he begins a process of decreasing influence. As that influence decreases to near zero, his legacy will be defined by how he cultivated honor and relationship.

How Did I Get Into This and What I Found To Be Important

As a father of four girls I naturally want the best for them. As we homeschooled our way through life I noticed that courtship seemed to be a good way to protect sons and daughters for a successful marriage. There was not a lot of information around about how to actually train children toward courtship or how to conduct one, so I began to ask those fathers who had been through it for hints. Alas, the fathers I asked offered me essentially no help.

Meanwhile, I had little girls growing up. So I took the steps of action that I thought would help from my reading. I also began to do the thing that was probably most beneficial as a dad – I worked on a relationship with each one. Young children will often follow your lead spiritually. Unfortunately, I have seen many cases where the kids are compliant until they reach an age where they can do what they want and suddenly turn away from the teaching of their parents. So I worked on building a relationship of trust with each child, then moved them toward my second relational goal – their own relationship with God. As they mature they must transition to their own belief in God and embrace Him fully – and as a parent you must release them to tie their loyalty to God. A successful courtship and marriage must be driven by their own internal belief in God and their relationship with Him. It cannot be based on your relationship with God. It is this personal relationship that will guide them to the right spouse through the Holy Spirit or else they will follow their own desires, possibly to their detriment.

During this growing up time (yes, around the time they were eight) I sought to train them on what a Biblical marriage looks like. This will involve teaching what God says about marriage: its permanence, its sanctity, its sacrifice. You can have discussions on these topics and live it out before them. Current events will give you plenty of opportunities to contrast God’s plan with how the world handles marriage. You will also be a living testament to the concepts of leadership, submission, honor, listening, teamwork, love, placing the others needs above your own, manners, and all the other things worth modeling. Talk with your wife and agree on how you want to demonstrate these things in your family. You will be building an image of what marriage should look like in the minds of your children. You also have the opportunity to talk about courtship as a way to protect your child for their future mate.

Other things occurred during this time as well. As the relationship was built I could talk about commitments. Together my children and I could determine what responsibilities we would each embrace regarding courtship. I could encourage them to think through what they wanted in a spouse and write it down.

Time passed. Then one day a young man gave me a call and asked to court my daughter. All kinds of thoughts passed through my mind, the most disturbing being, “am I ready to do my part in this courtship?” You see I had promised to protect my daughter from those young men unqualified for her affections (by her own standards) and to teach her God’s ways regarding marriage. Now came the acid test. Was I ready to protect her? How would I go about it? What would I ask the young man? Had I taught her enough from God’s principles to help her make a wise choice?

With tremendous frustration I realized that now was the time I really wished I knew what those other fathers had done. Well, none of them had told me, so I had better get started. The painful realization dawned on me that I had promised to protect my daughter but had not planned on how to do it. I had a few days before talking with the young man and they were filled with study and prayer. This was one humbling experience.

I entered into a time of questioning with this young man. My purpose was to satisfy my daughter’s desire that she marry a young man with specific qualities of character, spiritual dimension, and moral belief. It was my job to see that he had those qualities. Of course, I had some questions of my own as well. I believe that the perspective of one man evaluating another is very valuable as a protection for a daughter. A man will perceive things differently and inquire into areas different than a woman, and thus protect her from things she may not even think about.

So the questioning of the young man began, and went on for several months. At the end of that time I had become satisfied that he met my daughter’s criteria in character, belief, and manners. There were a few adjustments to be made along the way, which he attended to with a teachable spirit. I was pleased to release him to begin the process of winning my daughter’s heart.

Why were all these things possible? By starting early I had the time to develop relationships of trust with my children. That trust led to commitments, conversations and sharing what they wanted in a spouse. This can be done quickly, but it was less intense doing it over time. It has been a challenge and a delight to build these relationships with my children. It has been an additional blessing to build relationships with the young men who have come to court my daughters as well.