The popular adolescent-centered methodology driving youth ministry today needs to be replaced by adult mentoring, said the author of a book released earlier this year describing adolescence as a modern social theory responsible for prolonging the irresponsible years of childhood.
"You can tell if somebody has an adolescent approach to youth ministry," said David Alan Black, professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C. "If everything is segregated – youth choir, youth Sunday school classes, youth missions, retreats, youth prayer meetings, youth everything," it is adolescent-centered, he said.
"I want you to consider the importance of mentoring your youth," Black said. "That is, moving away from peer-centered focus to an adult-centered focus. We need to get our teenagers with responsible adults. It's always been the best [way]."
Speaking during "Culture Shock '99," an annual youth ministry conference Sept. 20-22, at Southeastern Seminary, Black said, "We need to stop segregating young adults from mature adults," while asserting that "the definition of adulthood is when you are ready and willing to assume personal responsibility."
"How do I teach a fifteen-year-old how to be a responsible, mature adult?" asked Black. "By putting him with thirty-five other immature fifteen-year-olds? No, I put him with mature adults who can model maturity."
Black said Luke 6:40 is his key verse as a teacher, "because Jesus said when a disciple is fully taught he'll be just like his teacher." Therefore, Black said, Christian education is essentially "likeness education."
Black, author of The Myth of Adolescence – Raising Responsible Children in an Irresponsible Society, published earlier this year by Davidson Press, Yorba Linda, Calif., issued a challenge to parents and youth leaders to raise their expectations of young people and "look at the life of Christ as the model and pattern for the developmental cycle that we all pass through.
"If we have low expectations of young people, if we tell them that they are about to enter into a topsy-turvy time-out between childhood and adulthood, a psychological moratorium, a postponement of adult commitments, … a time of rebellion, a time of anti-authoritarianism, a time when [a child's] emotions will be out of control – guess how they behave?" asked Black. "Exactly like that, because that's self-fulfilling prophecy.
"Our expectations are the key," said Black, the father of two teenage sons. "I am not a 'super-father' [and] Becky is not a 'super-mother,' but our expectations are high as parents. We will not tolerate sinful behavior. … We will not tolerate disrespectful behavior because the Bible calls it sin."
Black said that since World War II and the advent of the Baby Boomer generation, parents have turned away from the Bible and replaced "common sense" with "nonsense" in raising children.
"We've taken a shock from Spock," Black said referring to the popular child psychologist, the late Benjamin Spock.
"We've been told that to be a parent you should be democratic, an egalitarian, you should have a child-centered family, and as a result, our youth have become spoiled, self-centered, sassy, out-of-control brats," he said.
Black said the theory of adolescence has taken root in American culture as the result of three developments: 1) the creation of compulsory education laws thereby transferring the responsibility of education from parents to the public school system; 2) the establishment of child labor laws; and 3) the invention of a juvenile justice system that "literally … allows teenagers to get away with murder."
"The problem with the myth of adolescence is … all it does is feed the modern life disinclination to hold people accountable for their actions," Black said. "There is nothing in the Bible about adolescence, and if you're going to believe in the adolescent approach, you have to deal with the biblical data and come to grips with it."
Black said childhood should be a time of "freedom from responsibility" but said "there comes a time, and I believe according to the Bible, it's the age of 12, where we have the onset of moral reasoning … [and] the age of accountability."
In his book, Black presents Jesus as the model for human development by tracing Jesus' maturity in three phases: Childhood/Pre-adulthood (age one to 12); Emerging Adulthood (age 12 to 30); and Senior Adulthood (age 30 to death).
Black centers his biblical timeline on human development and maturity, based on the Jewish milestone in a young man's life at age 12 when a child officially assumes personal, moral, and religious responsibility and accountability.
The Jewish bar mitzvah for males and bat mitzvah for females is still recognized today as a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, whereby children are expected to behave like responsible adults as they continue to mature both physically and psychologically.
"When do you become an adult in American culture?" Black asked. "Nobody knows. We have no self-defining right of passage."
Black called for churches to base their youth ministries on 1 Timothy 4:12: Don't let anyone look down on you because you are a young person. Instead be an example for other believers in your speech, behavior, love, faith, and purity.
"Is the Bible driving our youth ministry," Black asked, "or is our culture driving it?
"I am not saying anything new," Black said. "What I have said or what I have written has passed the test of time. It's time-honored."