Modeling our Relationship with Christ
“When we left Syracuse, all 48 were still together except for one couple,” Sharon says. “We still focus on marriage and family.”
Since moving to the Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Philadelphia four years ago, the Youngs have married another 13 couples, but they also see a cultural shift that the Church must address.
“I don’t think society puts the same type of importance on marriage today as it did in the ‘50s and ‘60s and prior to that,” Dennis says. “I think economics plays a part in it. I think marriage is just not the ‘thing to do’ in this culture right now.
“People want to be in a relationship where, if they decide they want to get out, they can get out. We live in a society today where everything is instant.”
Fighting for marriage
Dennis says cohabitation and having children before marriage is now socially acceptable, along with the growing acceptance of same–sex marriages and the LGBT community.
“I think marriage is under assault in our culture,” he says.
Sharon agreed, but also sees another problem.
“People today, they don’t want to put in the hard work that it takes to keep a marriage strong,” she says. “They let go and they give up on their marriages before they can get through the issues and work through the problems and pull together and be what God has called the marriage to be.”
Dennis said marriage is about “commitment” and “permanency,” two things rejected by modern society.
“The Bible teaches that marriage is forever,” he says. “Like anything else, marriage has its ups and downs. It has its struggles. It has its arguments. Every marriage has its struggles, some more than others, but marriage is the closest thing that models our relationship to Christ. “Jesus said, ‘Love one another as I loved you.’ He’s modeling to us what marriage should look like.”
On the front lines
Dennis said Salvation Army officers and pastors are uniquely positioned to make a difference.
“We have to learn as officers and as pastors that we have to put the emphasis on marriage because marriage holds the key to everything in our society,” he says. “When marriages fail, communities fail, schools fail, society fails, and in some regard, the Church fails.
“Strong families mean stronger churches, stronger communities, stronger societies. We need to get together and collectively, as the body of Christ, put an emphasis on marriage.”
Dennis says that when an unmarried couple comes into his church and they are “shacking up,” they can expect Dennis and Sharon to preach the truth in love. Their corps in Syracuse was also known as the “Tell the Truth Church.”
“I tell them from the very start, ‘At some point, you’re going to be getting married so you need to be thinking about that.’ I push it and I stay on them until they’re ready to come to counseling. If they take too long setting the date, I’ll set the date for them,” Dennis says with a laugh.
Holy Spirit at work
“We have a spiritual responsibility to put godly pressure on them to look at their situation and, hopefully, guide them into a godly relationship that will ultimately lead to marriage. When people hear us talking about the importance of marriage and what a godly relationship should look like, people feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit.”
Dennis says officers should make counseling “one of the cornerstones of our ministry.
“I think as Salvation Army officers, we are very good at it and there is a need for it,” he says. “We do it without charge.
“Counseling is imperative and there’s nothing wrong with getting the help you need. Sometimes couples can get things tangled and mangled and you need a third party to help you figure it out.”
The Youngs offer premarital counseling, of course, but they also ask couples to come back six months later for a “checkup.”
Voices of experience
“Just like we as individuals get a yearly [health] checkup, marriages need a checkup, too,” Dennis says.
During these sessions, the Youngs often share practical advice and the keys to a happy marriage, such as watching movies together or the importance of date nights.
“We have fun together,” Sharon says. “We laugh a lot. Sometimes everything can become so serious. We’ve learned how to just sit back, relax, laugh, and just enjoy each other’s company.”
Dennis said that after some missteps earlier in his marriage, he has learned to value Sharon and listed that as another marriage key.
“I value her and I value her opinions and I value her input,” he says.
The Youngs use many areas of God’s Word during counseling, but the most common are Philippians 4:13, Proverbs 31, and, of course, 1 Corinthians 13.
“God says that He keeps no record of wrongs; He throws it into a sea of forgetfulness. We ought to do the same,” Sharon says.
Dennis says divorce is never discussed, and he constantly emphasizes unconditional love and forgiveness from a biblical perspective.
“There can be no unconditional love without unconditional forgiveness,” he says.
Sharon says the Youngs also “keep it real” and talk about “real life stuff” rather than in abstractions.
“Keeping it real with people helps them to grow in their own marriages and accept each other for who and what they are,” she says.
Christ, the cornerstone
While many people hear the lingo about “putting Christ at the center of your marriage,” the Youngs try to show what that looks like in the real world.
“Putting Christ first means that I do things in a Christlike manner,” Dennis says, including loving your spouse as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25), praying together, and attending church and Bible study as a family.
“Learning about God together will keep Christ in the lives of a married couple,” he said.
Sharon said she and Dennis can be in an argument, but she has her eyes on Jesus.
“Then I remind myself I’m cooking for the Lord because this is what God calls me to do,” she says. “I can fix him a nice dinner even though I’m mad at him because I have Christ in my mind. That’s how I can keep Christ at the center in our marriage because I put Him first.”
When women come to Sharon seeking marital advice, she tailors it toward the situation, but she does have one overriding nugget to share.
“One of the things I do let them know is that they’re a lot stronger than they think they are,” she said. “They can do a lot more than they really think they can.
“It’s up to us to set in a home the tone and the ‘foundation for Christ.’ I let the women know that there’s nothing they are going through that they can’t get through with prayer, listening to their husbands, and seeing issues from their point of view. Let the man be the head of the household, while you still do what you have been called to do.”
Dennis says a word he uses again and again with men is sacrifice, which, if done right, will eliminate a lot of problems.
“Are you sacrificing what you want or what you need for the betterment of the marriage? Most problems in marriage can be traced to one or both spouses being selfish,” he says.
“We are responsible for modeling godly behavior at our house. Peace starts with us. If you make sacrifices and maintain an attitude of sacrifice, you’ll have a great marriage.”
The Youngs, who are transparent enough to admit that they have struggled in their own 15–year marriage, are also around when new couples need advice.
“We don’t give them all the details, but we let them know we struggle in our marriage and we work it out and grow together and build a stronger foundation in our marriage,” Sharon said. “It’s work every single day.”
Last June, Antonio Zachary, 33, and his wife, Felicia, 30, felt the conviction to get married after joining a Bible study led by the Youngs.
Says Zachary, “The Word pushed us and we realized that [getting married] was the right thing to do by God.” Zachary works as a corps assistant at the Kroc center. “We eventually decided to go ahead and get married.
“At the end of the day, I believe marriage is the core of the family and the core of the community. It helps the community.”
Felicia, a nurse, said she and her husband look up to the Youngs as they raise their 6–month–old baby, Mason.
Hopeful about marriage
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Felicia says. “They are role models. We look up to them. We come and talk to them whenever we have problems or issues.”
Despite all the negative headlines about marriage, the Youngs remain optimistic.
“I see hope,” Sharon says. “I have hope that marriage will be the way God initially planned for it to be and the way it used to be.
“I know that God’s way can overcome. I know the harder we work, and the harder we push, and the more we teach people God’s way, it can happen. I trust and believe that it can happen.”
Dennis agreed and says he hears about more marriage retreats and churches emphasizing the importance of strong marriages as a first step in forming a godly family. He has scheduled a marriage retreat in August.
“I think God’s people know that traditional marriage and the place traditional marriage has in our society are under assault, but I think we’re aware of it,” he says. “I think we’re pushing back … and we’re getting people to believe that marriage is the best route to go; marriage is the best place to be in terms of having a relationship and wanting to raise a family.”
by Robert Mitchell