by James C. Sprouse, Senior Pastor
There is today a cultural war for the hearts and souls of Protestant denominations. People are drifting away from the two most centrist denominations, the Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.] and the United Methodist. The mainline Protestant denominations are no longer evangelizing the young in this country or protecting them from the erosion of contemporary culture. The more evangelical expressions of Christianity have succeeded in creating a paraculture complete with specialized ministries aimed at high school and college students. They stress “wholesome” fun, sports, warm mentoring relationships tied to Bible study and a personal relationship with Jesus. They provide a remedy from the isolation experienced by our young from the adult world. They also, and I genuinely applaud this, provide alternative models to the entertainment industry’s portrayal of adolescence and adulthood. The mainline Protestant denominations failed to recognize these needs of our young, and we did not step into the breach.
The mainline Protestant denominations need to focus on the needs of our young. Our graying mainline churches have, in the past, interpreted Christianity through the demands of peace and social justice agendas. And there is nothing wrong with these agendas so long as we don’t neglect the weighty needs of a personal salvation and relationship with Christ. Social justice and loving Jesus do not have to be in tension. Perhaps mainline Protestant churches need to initiate fresh discussions about the relation of traditional Christian beliefs to social justice issues.
Trinity Church addresses these concerns by beginning to focus on the individual child, partly out of the traditional evangelical impulse to save souls, but also out of concern for children in today’s culture. Our leaders here at Trinity are waking up to the real moral and spiritual forces of evil abroad that our young need our support to withstand. Every ministry at Trinity is trying to discover new ways for praise music to join hands with prayer book – that is to say, joining the love and merciful lifestyle expressed in the Gospel with the character formation our young need to live in the “real” world.
Trinity Church’s leaders believe that societal needs are changing in ways that call for our rethinking (and re-imaging) our understanding of Christian mission. The Christian Church has undergone a reformation of 500 years. We are on the beginning edge of the next 500-year reformation. So what we do at Trinity now will make all the difference to our future. We seek a renewed pursuit of personal salvation without undermining our corporate responsibilities of the church to society. We seek to reach more young in the McLean area and open their hearts to both the inclusivity of the Gospel and historic Christianity.
Perhaps we are living through a seismic shift in Christian history. That’s okay, provided we learn to keep a period of silence too, in order to discern God’s leading.