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Teens in crisis need Gospel balm, speakers assert
September 27, 2004
By Ericia Boggs

Teenagers in the United States are facing a serious crisis that must be met with the uncompromised proclamation of the Gospel, speakers concluded at a recent youth conference held at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

"911 Code Blue: Teens in Crisis!" was the theme of the sixth annual Vision Conference held on the third anniversary of the outbreak of terrorism in America now simply known as "9/11." The event was hosted by The International Center for Youth Ministry at Boyce College, the undergraduate school for Southern Seminary.

Youth pastors, interns, workers and parents made up the record attendance of 285, representing 78 churches, 52 cities and nine states. The conference consisted of four general sessions and three breakout sessions that covered 21 topics such as helping girls with self-worth, helping teenagers understand the role of authority, helping teen victims of emotional, physical or sexual abuse and responding to adolescent loneliness, depression and suicide, among others.

General session speakers included Boyce College dean Jimmy Scroggins, Southern Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Ron Hawkins, licensed counselor, co-founder of Light Counseling and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Liberty University.

"This is to alarm us," said David Adams, executive director of The International Center for Youth Ministry. "In a 24 hour period 2,989 teens parents become divorced, 2,556 children are born out of wedlock, 1,629 children are in adult jails, 2,795 teens get pregnant and 1,106 teens have abortions. Six teens will commit suicide - alarming, challenging, code blue."

He reminded attendees that those who work with youth are "intersecting with [teens] at the crossroads of destiny," and are "God's sweet fragrance." Adams said the conference was "dedicated to moms and dads and all those who love teens."

Scroggins spoke on the topic of "Biblical Counseling: Contemporary Theories in a Biblical Context." He said that the problems teens face are cultural, global and spiritual. He pointed out that 50 percent of Christian teens engage in sexual intercourse and an increasing number of teens are cutting themselves to relieve pain. He added that 60 percent of teens go to church once a month.

The solution is ultimately found in Scripture, he said.

The crisis with the teen population is "an emergency. ... It's a cry for help and a call for action," Scroggins said. "The Bible cannot [merely] be a resource; it is our authority for understanding people as we counsel them."

He challenged the attendees to look through the lens of Scripture and see teens as God sees them. He pointed out the importance of confronting sin and not regarding sin as an illness.

"The greatest problem we all have is sin, not unmet needs," he said.

Aiming for confession of sin by identifying it, repentance of sin through heart change, and forgiving others to overcome the bitterness at the root of sin are key ingredients in counseling teens, he said. In counseling teens it must also be acknowledged that some problems are physical and need to be treated with medicine.

Mohler addressed teen sexuality. Mohler said that the sexual crisis in teens begins with an inversion of authority because teens and parents often forget who is in authority.

"We don't know where to start talking about sex in the first place," Mohler said. "We are sending the signal that says what is wrong with sex is what can't be done. We must point to the glory of God. His glory is number one."

Teens must also be made aware of the reality of sin and also must see the majesty of marriage, Mohler said.

"We must rethink the whole equation," Mohler said. "There must be honesty and directness. We also need to separate the guys and the girls in order to talk about these things candidly. Yet, we must also talk with them together. There must be no pair dating until there is preparation for marriage. We must not create environments where premature intimacy is encouraged."

Mohler said parents and youth leaders should not talk about sex without talking about marriage. Parental involvement is needed especially in helping boys to mature into men who will lead, he said.

Ron Hawkins saluted the attendees and recognized that after a day of hearing about the difficulties of teen culture in this "profoundly fallen world" it is easy to be discouraged and overwhelmed. He said, however, that they should be encouraged and enthusiastic as "we define issues and problems and present Biblical solutions to them."

One of those solutions is effective communication, he said. Hawkins emphasized two phrases to remember as parents and leaders talk with young people: "the ministry of talk" and "grace talk."

"Failure to communicate well is the breakdown of relationships," Hawkins said. "We must minister grace to others and build others up with our words."

He said that for God, "language is a sacred trust."

Citing Paul in Ephesians 4:29-30, he pointed out the importance of youth leaders and parents in keeping their words wholesome and pure in daily conversations and also modeling Christ's example as they interact with others.

"As you talk to your teens, parents need God's wisdom that brings skill and sharpness," he said. "We must realize our profound fallenness and say, 'I am limited.' Get serious about this issue of 'talk.' People have been really wounded and this cutting, corrupting, withering [speech] cannot be named in the body of Christ."

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