Hi! Welcome...

Unpackthis This blog is a meeting place for folks interested in helping adolescents develop a vibrant faith. My name is Andy Sahl, I am the Director of Youth Ministries at Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Dallas. We are using this blog mainly for our parents and volunteers, but all are welcome to converse.

02 April 2012 ~ 2 Comments

The shortest post of the club so far….

After reading this book, where do you see some easy steps forward (low hanging fruit if you will) in the following mission:

Helping parents indentify themselves as the primary faith formers of their children and giving them some practical tools to do so.



26 March 2012 ~ 3 Comments

A practice scenario

This was another chapter chock full of very practical ideas.  I really liked the concreteness of what they learned about the first two weeks of college and the intentionality that they encourage parents to have in the last school year and summer.

Our community is unique in it’s college preparation, as there is a great deal of preparation for testing as well as sorority preparations.  One of the reasons we do this so well is that there are very clear plans to work for both higher test scores and getting into the right sorority (I don’t know if the same type of things happen around fraternities).

This chapter offers some nice plans to work for sticky faith in the transition to college.  I think before one forms a plan we can as “what is my hope for my college student’s faith during college.”  We first need a goal, then a plan for that goal, and then we work the plan.  How do we do this without being helicopter or Velcro parents?

One thing that I haven’t seen this book talk more about is the fact that young people are taking longer in college, taking longer to find their career job, and taking longer to marry (essentially taking longer to become “adults”).  This has implications for one’s faith, since the “hook” back to church (marriage and kids) is going to be longer than any other generation.  If a college student takes a break from church beginning in college thinking they’ll go back when they are adults/settled/married (as in four years), that break can easily become ten to fifteen years.

I’m reading a book right now about creating habits (The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg).  One of the things Duhigg talks about is how Starbucks trains it’s baristas (50 hours a year of training, BTW).   Starbucks baristas are given scenarios (an angry employee for example) and asked to write a script about how they would respond to the scenario.  I wonder what this would look like for parents thinking through the first two weeks of college, or the whole college career, or even the first time one is offered drugs or alcohol.  Scripting a scenario we didn’t even know might exists can give us a huge advantage in navigating new or unfamiliar territory.

I look forward to hearing what you think of this chapter.

20 March 2012 ~ 3 Comments

Do I get service hours for that?

In our community and parish there is a strong ethic of service.  Mission trips are very well attended in our adult, youth, and children’s ministries.  Our kids are highly motivated to earn their service hours for honors clubs or graduation recognition through school.  This is a community and church that loves to serve.

Sticky faith points our that families that serve together create a “sticky faith” or “sticky justice” (justice, by the way, is a good way of saying “a service project with a good outcome for the whole system” [my definition]).   When a whole family serves together, there is a whole new shared experience and shared license to participate.

IMO, the best part of this chapter is when they talked about thinking about the three phases of service; before, during, and after.  This is the way we think about youth mission trips at Saint Michaels.  There was a time when leaders would literally have to introduce themselves to the kids on the trip at the airport (okay, that occasionally still happens).  Now we ask kids to come to preparation meetings when we work on “framing” the trip and experience they are about to have.

After the trip (the part we need to do better at executing), we need to provide opportunities for reflection and continued relationship with those that shared the experience of the trip. On the trip itself, I always consider it a good sign when the kids are tired of meeting.  We always have a lot of logistical things to go over on a trip, but we also spend a lot of time in theological reflection; processing what we experienced and saw that day and looking at it through the lens of the Gospel.  If they are complaining that we’re talking too much, we are on the right path.

We can and do all kinds of service projects and trips, but no matter how well we plan before and after events, there’s no way a church program can deliver the same processing and discussion opportunities that a family who experienced service together can.  Families have so many more opportunities for small teaching moments and chances to contextualize.

Final thought; what if we saw each day as a mission trip?  Each day had a preparation period, a ministry period, and a follow up processing period.  That would be sticky.

12 March 2012 ~ 3 Comments

It’s hard to escape a web

This chapter did a really good job of including things that a family can do together as well as things that we can do as a church.

Creating a network of families intentionally for faith formation seems a little contrived, but it would be nice to let this develop more organically with a goal in mind.  I also liked the metaphor of the kids table (for families) and it caused me to think about some things we might do intentionally in my family when we gather four generations this summer.

The 5:1 ratio switch was also a really good image and something we can put on our pin-board here at church.  We recently have been having conversations about the challenges that come with our confirmation mentoring program (safe church, finding mentors, etc) but my recent reading of Sticky Faith (and this chapter in particular) has caused me to fight for the mentoring program and make it work despite the challenges.

There were a number of other church program ideas that hit home for me, some that I think we’re doing well at Saint Michael and some that need some work.  One of the reasons I chose to come to Saint Michael is that I knew it was a place my family could worship together, and the way that we design worship services for families in different places is such a great model and so good for families.  These worship services are not the kid’s table, but parents are in there with their kids, doing the motions and sitting on the floor.

There were a lot of highlights in this chapter, particularly as we think hard about moving towards what one might call a “faith formation network” that has a node in every corner of the church from each worship space to the kitchen to the youth center and gym.  It’s on our radar as a church and it’s on my radar as a parent.

05 March 2012 ~ 1 Comment

Just do it

It’s so interesting to me to read this chapter, because the activities they talk about throughout the chapter are exactly the type of things Melissa and I do in our relational work; looking for conversations during long drives, highs and lows (where have you seen God working?), transparency (doubts, telling our stories, talking about mistakes), setting time for intentional conversations, etc.  There are actually many more opportunities for these types of things for families.

I think this is really good news for families, because I can tell you that these types of conversations and somewhat forced activities can be very awkward at first, but it doesn’t take long for talking about God or sharing a high and low to be so natural that kids thinking about what they will say beforehand and become eager to share.

Another point that I don’t think they made a big enough deal about is that WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT FAITH.  Not church, not activities, but faith.  What is God up to in me and the world around me?  Unless we connect our good actions (living our faith) with the “theological reflection” (words) to frame those actions, our kids won’t connect them.  This takes practice, and dare I say our own Bible study and reading and sermon listening to be able to frame our actions with words.  We need information and other adults who know us well to help us frame our lives with words of faith.


What would happen if we tried one of these conversational rituals described in this chapter with our family this week.  Just one, but do it this week.  Pick one you know will work and report back here next week (or, if you’re on a trip next week you might try it when you have a captive audience).

Here’s a list of activities I distilled from this chapter

  • Highs and lows shared over a meal (+ when you saw God working)
  • Carve out time with just 1-2 kids (activity plus conversation)
  • Have an intentional faith conversation on a long(er) drive
  • Take a walk with just one of your kids
  • Cook/bake something together (then pig out)
  • Creative worship experience


27 February 2012 ~ 4 Comments

What Really Matters

I really liked the way this chapter got practical.  While some of this stuff they talked about seems really simple things many families already do (creating rituals at Christmas, for example), seeing those items as important parts of faith development is very good information.

I am struck that many of our families, including my own, would be hard pressed to find the kind of whole family friendships/community that is described in the chapter.  As part of confirmation at Saint Michael families are asked to find a mentor for their sixth grader, and many families have a hard time coming up with the right person.  I think the kind of community described in the chapter is extremely rare in our culture (though I am aware of a few instances of this type of community).

I also liked the way that the authors approached many of the challenges of parenting, including focusing to much on the results of academics/sports.  Both of the authors are the typical “type A” high achievers, and seem to have a healthy approach to their own identity and therefore can write about their child’s identity and activities with a high level of differentiation (knowing where they end and the other begins, while remaining closely connected).

What practical findings/suggestions stuck out to you?

I’ve copied the headings from this chapter, since it basically a good outline of what they said.


Sticky Findings

Identity Formation Is Affected By Brain Development

Identity Formation Is A Long And Winding Process

Students Often Shelve Their Faith For A Time

Sticky Faith Made Practical

Remember Youth Child Is God’s Beloved Creation

Treat Each Child As An Individual

Use Your Community To Develop Personal Identity

Use Rituals To Reinforce Identity

Help Your Child Grow Through Hardship

Use Extracurricular Activities To Explore Identity

Affirm Character Growth More Than Academic Achievement

Model A Relationship With God


Finally, I want to thank you for sharing highs and lows.  It helped me feel a little more connected to you.

20 February 2012 ~ 6 Comments

Buying Gas

When I was a kid I thought my dad (an accountant) was such a cheapskate.  Whenever we wanted something new, we were encouraged to check the outlet store first.  Generic soda and other generic groceries were a part of our kitchen.  And my dad always knew where the cheapest gas in town was, and usually timed his stops there perfectly to not go out of the way for gas.

We talked about money growing up, but watching and participating in saving, budgeting, and splurging once in a while learned is where the magic happened. I learned about money.  The teaching was both intentional and unintentional.  I saw the results of my parent’s practices in the results of their lives, and the lessons were internalized.

As I read chapter two I was struck by how un-natural some of the conversations the authors set up seemed.  I don’t know that I would start where they started, or use the same language.  However, I do think that when we can speak God/faith into everyday matters such as fights with friends or team tryouts, we are creating sticky faith.  I think we need to be intentional about this, and it needs to happen so often and we need to live it in a way that the intentional moments are a reflection of the unintentional moments.

I’m not sure what this looks like or sounds like (though I think it sounds different than the authors portray).  I think each family has it’s own language, but naming God and words like Trust are powerful, even if they do feel uncomfortable.

More than a transaction

I used to help lead a retreat with a group of youthleaders, twice a year- one for jr. high and one for high school.  I was the new kid on the block, so I was never on the inner circle that helped plan the theme or the big “spiritual” stuff.  After a few years I notices something about our themes.  Every year, every theme had something to do with a newness, and the big spiritual moments where focused on Jesus dying for our sins, and we are now to live differently.  The theme was always about the “transaction” of Jesus paying for our sins, but gave little tools on how to respond.

We could communicate the forgiveness of sins really well, but living the life of a disciple was never articulated at this retreat.

I think this is an area that the Episcopal church (generally) has some advantage.  I would say that we have articulated what a faith looks like at moments besides “mountain top” experiences.  The sacraments are a regular part of our lives and worship.  Serving others, not for the sake of righteousness for the sake of serving others, is a big part of who we are.  Funerals and grief are topics that we’re comfortable with and something that is a regular part of the church’s ministry.

We have a rich faith to share, and our kids are learning from it.  What do you think?  Are we (as a church, church culture, youth ministry) doing enough naming as we live?  Are we talking about saving money while we save money on gas or are we just dragging our kids across town to the cheap gas and not explaining why?

NEW exercise:

We’re a group.  We go to church together, we care about our kids, we love Jesus, we’ve got a lot in common.  Let’s try to do a little personal sharing in addition to talking ideas.  This week please include the best part of your week and the most challenging part of your week so the group can remember you in prayer and celebrate with you.  (obviously, this is in the internet, so keep it web appropriate- as if your boss were reading this).

Feel free to respond to the questions in the back of the book, my thoughts above, or in some other unguided way.


13 February 2012 ~ 8 Comments

Is sticky even enough?

The world of youth ministry has spent the last ten (maybe 15?) years struggling with the components laid out in this first chapter. We’ve known for many years that that kids often don’t continue to practice faith to the same degree through their college years, and in fact we celebrate when a youth ministry is full of juniors and seniors, note even really setting our sights on college (FWIW I think this college “rebellion” is less dramatic in mainline denominations and I’ve known of many kids growinig in faith through college ministries or congregations.)


We’ve known for a while what Christian Smith says in chapter one.  “when it comes to faith, parents get what they are.” Others have said that “parents are the best youth ministers.” We’ve known this for a while. We also know that retreats and mission trips transform lives of faith. We know that lock ins and messy games cement positive friendships that are so different than what happens in the middle school cafeteria.  The data tells us one thing. Our experience (and job descriptions) tell us the old school is also transformational (but we wonder if our gut if those kids who experience transformation will be practicing faith as adults, or even next month).


So what does a youth ministry look like that lives in this tension?  That’s the questions I continue to struggle with as I work through chapter one.  A couple of big pieces come to mind; we need to address this as culture change and not a new program, parents need opportunities for faith growth on their own, parents need permission to not be perfect, and the youth ministry needs to treat parents as they are- experts on their own kids.


One other though I had as I processed is that I don’t know that sticky is the descriptor I want. Sticky just stays with you. I like the term used by one of my professors Rollie Martinson; vital faith.  A vital faith is active, central to one’s life, and denotes that without it one would cease to be. Sticky is a marketing concept to me and makes me think of remembering rather than transformation.  That being said, the research was focused on college kids and I feel the authors are using sticky with some different connotations.


Here is a link to what Martinson and others have defined as “Mature Christian Faith,” or what I would like to call Vital Faith.

This is perhaps the most comprehensive list I have seen on this topic.
Please take a moment to comment and respond to either what I said or one of the discussion questions in the back of the chapter.  Even if you feel it’s not a wonderful comment, stick something up there so we know you’re reading and participating. If I don’t hear from you by Thursday I’m going to bug you about responding.

Here are the questions from the end of the chapter:

  1. When people decide to read a book, usually they are trying to solve a problem.  What problems are you hoping to address by reading this book?
  2. How would you define Sticky Faith?
  3. How does it make you feel to think that you are the most important influence on your child’s faith?
  4. As you think about how you’ve pre anted thus fa, what have you done that has contributed to your kids’ faith? What do you with you had done differently?
  5. What do you think of the suggestion that parents trust the Lord with their kids and beg to the Lord to build Sticky Faith in them?  Perhaps you’d like to put this book down and pray for a few moments before you even turn the page.

07 February 2012 ~ 1 Comment

Bolivia Day Two

I am currently on a mission trip in Bolivia with a team from St. Michael´s and a few other members of the board of Amistad.

Read more about Amistad here

This is my Monday Blog, I´m working on one for Saturday and Sunday as well.  Please excuse any spelling and formatting errors, I´m working from an internet cafe.

Monday February 6,

Today was our second day in the Villa (the Amistad orphanage), but in many ways it felt like the first.  We spent the entire day there Sunday, but we were still suffering from jetlag so today seemed like a much more typical day.


We awoke at 7:00 for devotions.  Our word of the day was Servant, and we heard about the four different translations of servant in our passage.  We then gathered for breakfast; cheese empanadas, fruit and yogurt, ham, and instant coffee (I know right).

After breakfast we headed to the Villa (the orphanage) and joined the children for their devtions.  The kids have school either in the morning or in the afternoon.  We had devotions with the kids and “mamas” that have afternoon school.  The youth pastoral, Douglas, is a great singer and guitar player. As part of devotions we went up front and introduce ourselves.

After devotions we were given a tour of the entire villa by Chris (the Director of Amistad who is staying and traveling with us) and Leila, the Bolivian Director.  There were a number of pretty amazing things that we saw including the offices, bakery, the Montessori classroom, the gardens, and the warehouse.


A few of the places are very cool.  They use the Montessori method because it works well to interate kids who are coming from chaotic environments.  They have a fully stocked classroom.  Today was the first day of school for all of Cochabamba, including the kids who attend a Montessori class at Amistad (only pre-elementary).

The other very cool things we saw was the gardens.  The director hopes to raise all the vegetables they eat in the villa.  They recently hired a new gardener who is re-starting the garden.  The gardens also include a new large water tank so that they can keep the gardens going through the dry season, which lasts for eight months a year.

After our tour we helped Don Porfioro, the new gardener, begin to build a fence around a small garden plot.  We installed a few fence posts and then broke for lunch.

We had a typical lunch, including a siesta afterwards.  Since I knew a siesta was in store, I had a second helping of lunch and desert, a dangerous precedent.

After our siesta we went back to the villa.  The guys continued working on the fence around the garden plot and the ladies went into Casa Esparanza house (the house St. Michaels sponsors) and did crafts.  We made a little headway on the fence but stopped because we needed to let the concrete dry.


After visiting the villa we went to drive through the barrio to see the neighborhoods that many of the kids come from.  Our group was surprised to see much new construction in the barrio.  Our group is wondering if the people who live in the barrio have been displaced or if they still live on their land in rebuilt houses.

We came back to the guest house and had snacks, stuffed chicken and mashed potatoes for dinner, and we will wrap up the night with some Bible study.

01 February 2012 ~ 0 Comments

Sticky Faith Book Club


I’m stealing a great idea from my friend Adam Mclane, the Sticky Faith book club (if you click on the Amazon link below Adam makes a little $$).

I think the blog is a great format for a book club, since so many of us are better connected to the web and our books than ever before.  We can keep the conversational to the North Dallas area, and we don’t have to manage our schedules to get together.

Sticky Faith is a wonderful, practical book based on some new research (but it’s not a research report).  I would love for you to join us.

To join us, buy the book and read chapter one by February 13th, and signup below so we know who you are.

I have a few paper copies, or click here to get a copy from Amazon, Sticky Faith: Everyday ideas to build lasting faith in your kids by Kara Powell & Chap Clark.

A little bit about the book….


Nearly every Christian parent in America would give anything to find a viable resource for developing within their kids a deep, dynamic faith that ‘sticks’ long term. Sticky Faith delivers. Research shows that almost half of graduating high school seniors struggle deeply with their faith. Recognizing the ramifications of that statistic, the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) conducted the ‘College Transition Project’ in an effort to identify the relationships and best practices that can set young people on a trajectory of lifelong faith and service. Based on FYI findings, this easy-to-read guide presents both a compelling rationale and a powerful strategy to show parents how to actively encourage their children’s spiritual growth so that it will stick to them into adulthood and empower them to develop a living, lasting faith. Written by authors known for the integrity of their research and the intensity of their passion for young people, Sticky Faith is geared to spark a movement that empowers adults to develop robust and long-term faith in kids of all ages.

Each Monday we will write a brief reflection, and then, just like a book club, we’ll open it up for discussion.


The book is 8 chapters long, each week we will discuss a single chapter. Don’t worry– the chapters are pretty short.

How do I join the book club?

Fill out the form below so we can follow-up with you along the way.

Buy the book; read the first chapter by February 13th.