In an age when teenagers are confronting “adult” problems such as broken families, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, and sexuality, Christian youth workers say traditional ministry tools and training are losing their effectiveness.

“Kids are not the same today as they were 20 years ago,” says Dave Lambert, editor of youth books for Zondervan Publishing House. “The world is changing very rapidly, so much so that—as Alvin Toffler says—change has changed. Although the biblical principles for youth work haven’t changed, the techniques of youth work from even 10 or 15 years ago are not very useful today.”

The recent National Youth Workers Convention in Los Angeles offered its 1,150 participants seminars on standard topics such as retreats, group discussion, drama, and music. But it also offered sessions on homosexuality, broken homes, and suicide—subjects that, even a few years ago, were considered unusual.

Guy Doud, the 1986 National Teacher of the Year and a keynote speaker, says many young people are engaging in activities previously reserved for adults. “Kids are having ‘adult’ experiences in the areas of sex, drugs, and alcohol much earlier than in the past,” he says. “This gives the impression that they are more self-assured and independent. But in my experience, young people today are more immature than young people of 30 to 40 years ago.”

The trend toward “early adulthood” has not been lost on Young Life, a youth ministry that recently expanded to include junior high school students. “The ‘age of accountability’ is going down,” says its president Doug Burleigh. “The kinds of decisions that ...

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