A third purpose of dating is that it provides an opportunity to serve others.  Service is life's highest calling.  History is replete with examples of men and women who discovered that humanity's greatest contribution is in giving to others.  Who does not know of Mother Teresa?  Her name is synonymous with service.  In Africa there are Albert Schweitzer and in India, Mohandas Gandhi.  Most people who have studied closely the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the first-century founder of the Christian faith, agree that His life can be summarized by His simple act of washing the feet of His disciples.  He Himself said, "[I] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give [My] life as a ransom for many."4  He instructed His followers, "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant."5  True greatness is express in serving.

I do not mean to convey the idea that dating should be done in a spirit of martyrdom – "Poor ol' me.  I have to do this service as my duty," or "If I serve this guy, maybe he will like me."  Ministry is different from martyrdom.  Ministry is something we do for others, whereas martyrdom is something others bring upon us.

Dating is always a two-way street.  Certainly we receive something from the relationship, but we are also to be contributing to the life of the one whom we are dating.  Unmeasured good could be accomplished if we could see service as one of the purposes of dating.  Many a reserved fellow could be "drawn out" by the wise questions of a dating partner.  Many a braggart could be calmed by the truth spoken in love.

Taking ministry seriously may change your attitudes toward dating.  You have been trained to "put your best foot forward" so that the other person will be impressed by you.  Consequently, you may be have been reluctant to speak to your partner's weaknesses, fearing he or she would walk away from you.  Genuine service demands that we speak the truth in love.  We do not serve each other by avoiding one another's weaknesses.

Serving by Listening

Fortunately, not all of our service involves pointing out the weaknesses of our dating partners.  Often we help them simply by listening as they share their struggles.  Empathetic listening is an awesome medication for the hurting heart.  Jim was dating Tricia when her father died of a heart attack.  They had only been dating a few weeks, but Jim sensed that she wanted him to be with her.  So he sat with the family for the memorial service and accompanied Tricia to the burial.  The next few weeks he often asked her questions about her father and let her talk freely of her memories.

In so doing, he was helping her work through the grief that so deeply pained her.  Had they not been dating, he would have not had this opportunity of service, which was extremely helpful to Tricia.

Discovering the Person We Will Marry

Another obvious purpose of dating is to help us discover the kind of person we will marry.  As noted earlier, in some cultures marriages are arranged.  Contracts are drawn up between respective families.  The choice is made on the basis of social, financial, or religious considerations.  The couple is supposed to develop love once they are married.  In Western culture the process is left to the individuals involved.  Frankly, I prefer this process.  Dating is designed to help us gain a realistic idea of the kind of person we need as a marriage partner.

Dating people with differing personalities gives us criteria for making wise judgments.  One who has limited dating experience may after marriage be plagued by the thought, What are other women/men like?  Would I have had a better marriage with another type of mate?  Those questions may come to all couples, especially when there is trouble in the marriage.  "But the individual who looks back on a well-rounded social life before marriage is better equipped to answer the question.  He is not as likely to build a dream world, because experience has taught him that all of us are imperfect."6