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.

23 November 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Technology dangerous?

I loved this video. I thought it captured the tension that those of us who care about young people live in every day. We see unhealthy excesses such as texting in a rude or inappropriate manner or falling grades due to too many video games. We also see this school embracing the technology that drives the lives of young people, and the principal who got tired of always being the bad guy who takes away cell phones.

Here’s the link in case a video doesn’t appear below

I loves the way they talked about their brains moving too fast.  I wonder if we (collectively) should be practicing a fast or sabbath from all electronics to help our brains slow down, or if we are permanently becoming wired that way.

Melissa shared with me a story she heard recently at a conference.  A man was watching Dora on TV with his daughter.  His daughter kept going behind the TV and looking around the TV.  The man thought his daughter was looking for Dora behind the TV, but his daughter was in fact looking for the mouse so that she could control Dora the way she does on the computer.  She thought the TV was broken.  This generation want to interact with their world, not hear lectures or watch scripted characters.  Not a bad thing of you ask me.

There are many challenges to me as a person interested in faith formation for young people. How do we engage them in a church whose strength is it’s history? What’s healthy vs. what is just a distraction? How does technology get in the way of the relationships we’re working to form with young people?

17 November 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Parenting as facilitating competencies

This week in the Parents of Teens Sunday School I talked about parenting as facilitating competencies.  I’m not sure I explained it well.  Here’ a link from Marko, the guy that first introduced me to this idea.  Marko is a youth ministry guru and a parent of two teenagers.

He unpacks the idea of facilitating competencies a little more here

17 November 2010 ~ 1 Comment

Characteristics of Mature Christian Youth

How would we describe what we hope a young person grows into during their time in our Parish?  That list can be very long, probably all good things, or it can be too short and exclude faith and focus only on moral behavior.

We’ve been using the “Characteristics of Mature Christian Youth” from the study of Exemplary Youth Ministry.  These characteristics include:

Seeks Spiritual Growth

  1. Seeks Spiritual Growth Both Alone and With Others
  2. Possesses a Vital Faith
  3. Practices Faith
  4. Makes the Christian Faith a Way of Life
  5. Lives a Life of Service
  6. Reaches Out to Others
  7. Exercises Moral Responsibility
  8. Speaks Publicly about Faith
  9. Possesses a Positive Spirit

This is a big list, and it would be difficult to find an adult doing all of these well, but this is picture we paint of where one should be on a journey towards.

This list is fleshed out a little more here and here.

This list is a good picture of where we are going, how we get there all depends on our context and culture.  How do we help the kids in our circle of influence live into this picture?

10 November 2010 ~ 2 Comments

Awkward Silence

Awkward Silence

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of the awkward silence in your small group or Sunday school class.  You throw out a question, and all the kids sit there and stare back at you.    You, the leader, are panicking inside.  All sorts of things are running through your head about your lesson or your question or your ability to hold attention.

One of the keys to leading a discussion is the embrace this awkwardness.  You need to hold out and let the anxiety of the situation force one of the kids to talk. It’s not that the kids are being mean or holding back, they’re just not ready to talk yet.  Sit with the silence, let the anxiety work for you.

How often have you been in a class or group and been processing a question when the teacher/leader answers their own question for you when you where just about to say something you thought was incredibly insightful.  We want to avoid this.

Sometimes kids will ask you to repeat the question (good sign).  Another option would be to rephrase the question, but resist the temptation to answer it and try to rephrase in a way that’s not just filling the silence.  Once you hold strong on the silence a couple of times the kids in your group or class will know you’re not going to answer for them and they’ll begin processing an answer more quickly.   It’s also very helpful if they see that you’re not anxious about the silence, that sends the message to them that you’ve thought about this question and you think it’s important.

(The picture is of a girl doing the awkward turtle sign, something one does in an awkward situation)

10 November 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Some facebook links for you

Some facebook links for you

The following quote would characterize my own facebook experience as well

Still, 56 percent of girls told researchers that social networks help them feel closer and more connected to friends, and 30 percent think they’ve improved their friendships
The same article also said…
A study of 1,000 girls ages 14-17, conducted by the Girl Scouts, found that 68 percent of girls have been bullied or gossiped about on a social network, and 46 percent thought the medium makes friends jealous of each other. 40 percent say they lost respect for someone based on what they put on their social media profile.
Here’s a recently released parent’s guide to facebook.  It’s long, but nice and thorough and actually very helpful with some step by step directions on setting up privacy settings, etc.
I love facebook, it’s not evil and I’m not sounding any alarms.  We certainly need appropriate supervision online just as we do at the mall in the car or wherever our young people are.
Look for a post soon about Formspring, something that should set off alarms for you!!

03 November 2010 ~ 1 Comment

selections from exodus 3 & 4, rewritten for youth workers

selections from exodus 3 & 4, rewritten for youth workers

Mark Oestreicher, all around youth ministry guru and thinker, has re-written Exodus 3 & 4 for youthworkers.  I think you’ll find his post incredibly inspiring.  Please take a moment to click through and read

selections from exodus 3 & 4, rewritten for youth workers

27 October 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Videos from Sunday


Before a great round of the appointment game, our Parents of Teens class watched a sample of the videos that are part of our 7th and 8th grade Sunday School Curriculum.  Here’s the video, and a second video that talks a little bit about the curriculum.

Our 7th and 8th grade class has been full every week.  The videos are only part of the genius, the workbook, activities, and discussion are also great. Check out the company that produces this at http://www.wearesparkhouse.org

Helping us lead this class, either as a sub this year or next year, would be a great way for you to get a taste of this great teaching.

27 October 2010 ~ 0 Comments

99 Red Balloons


This post is mostly for those adults that work directly with our young people in ministry settings, but there are some obvious parenting applications.

The test balloon is something kids float out there to see your reaction.  Example: I once had a kid who always (almost weekly) cussed in our group, out loud, in front of adults.  Not the end of the world, but also something an adult in youth group can’t ignore.  The way she would always start is to say a swear word in a conversation with another kid and make sure an adult heard it.  Later, if we didn’t address it  the first time, she would inevitably swear again in a more blatant way, exhibiting what a mature miniature adult she was.

Another place we see the test balloon is to see if the group is safe.  A kid might float something about themselves or their struggle that isn’t real significant, like “I failed a quiz,” only to judge whether or not to share something more substantial such as their grandparent nearing death.

This behavior isn’t unique to teenagers, but it’s something we need to be aware of in our ministries.

I like to address the test balloon right away (easier when you know the kids well).  When I can that a kid is testing a behavior boundary with a test balloon I try to jump on it in the most graceful and loving way I can muster.  If I somehow miss this opportunity, I am extra aware of the need to set the boundary when the behavior escalates.

When we can sense that a young person is testing the safety of a group, it is important to set a tone that this is a safe place to share big and small issues.  It may take weeks for them to open up, but you can help that happen with your (and the group’s) reaction to the test balloon.

This feels minor, like NBD (that’s a shorthand way of saying no big deal), but paying attention to the little things can make a world of difference.  Watch for the test balloon in all your interactions.  Kids aren’t as good as adults at faking it.  Sometimes it can feel like it’s taking forever to get to know a group of kids, but when you start to recognize the test balloons their floating you can see that they’re trying to figure you out.

I don’t think any kid or adult would articulate or even recognize their use of the test balloon, but once you start watching for it you see it all the time. This has been a useful ministry tool for me over the years, and a good way to both assert myself and nurture a caring community.

20 October 2010 ~ 0 Comments

We Are the Curriculum

Honduras 222

This is a slightly edited version of an article that will be in this month’s Archangel

This year our high school kids no longer have a “youth group night.”  You may have read about our shift to a small group ministry.  All youth ministry lends itself to the talk of curriculum, and curriculum has a place.  In fact, we have an official small group curriculum that we paid a lot of money for.  The Bible studies our kids work through is great, it challenges them to act on their faith each week and connects some excellent faith and theology concepts.  All of our prepared materials are wonderful, but the true curriculum we want our young people to experience is the lives and faith of each other and the two adults that help lead their small group.  Together they wrestle with the challenges of adolescent life, and they watch and learn from each other’s decisions, good and bad.  We are the curriculum for living and growing in faith.  We can’t make up the time spent together by reading a book or seeing an update on Facebook.  We are not shaped by workbooks or videos.  We’re shaped by sharing life with others, wrestling with the cost of discipleship, and by coming together weekly for forgiveness and worship.

Parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, unofficial mentors, priests, the nice lady who shakes our hand in church, they are all the curriculum that our kids are really paying attention to.  This is good news.  The good news is that we are shaping the faith of our young people at all times, not just for the 1-3 hours our young people are within the church walls.  It’s good news, because our young people are getting an authentic taste of the journey and struggle that is faith.

Our high school kids are off to a great start learning from each other and the adults working with them, but know that the other curriculum they’re paying attention to everyone in the congregation. They’re constantly learning from you what it looks like to be a man or woman of faith.

If you are a high school student and want to connect to a small group (or if you know of one), please contact me (Andy Sahl).  I can help you find the best group for you to connect with.

20 October 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Have you texted your teen today?

texting chart

A few years ago I used to play a game to entertain myself during the workday where I would send out a group text to kids while they were in school and see who would be the first to respond.  Usually it took as long as a half hour to get a response, some kids would tell me I got them in trouble, some wouldn’t reply at all.

If I send a text during the school day now I will get an almost immediate response from everyone.  When I go to the high school cafeteria nearly every kid has their phone out texting their friends and updating facebook.

You no doubt saw the news this week that the average teenager sends or receives over 3,000 texts per month, approximately 100 each day (females send an average of 4,050 and males 2,539) .

I’m no alarmist, and I certainly use texting as a ministry tool in several ways.  I think there are a few items regarding texting that are noteworthy.

  • I always ask “what is going on developmentally that might explain this”?  Young people have always communicated in ways that flabbergast adults.  They’re working on building their own community and defining themselves independent of their parents.  Texting is a tool for them to do this.
  • Texting is one of the few unstructured times/means of interaction they have left.  Their schedules are packed, so this is how they “hang out” while fitting in homework, jobs, and sports, etc.
  • In addition to unstructured, this is also one of the few unsupervised spaces left in kid’s lives.  Kids need some space without their parents hovering, it’s good for them.  But that’s not to say you should totally ignore this part of their world.

Some thought on boundaries

  • Many kids text late into the night.  Teenagers need sleep, as much sleep as toddlers.  If late night texting is a problem consider turning off texting at a certain hour through the provider or having a place where the entire family puts their phones at a certain time (i.e. kitchen charging station).
  • Model good phone manners and take every opportunity to teach them to your young person.  Good manners might include no phone use during meals, be responsive to those around you when on your phone, watch where you are going, etc.
  • If your young person does not yet have a phone, be sure to set the boundaries before the phone is given including who pays for what, what might happen if a large bill comes in, etc (the billing seems to be less of an issue these days, everyone must have gone with unlimited plans).
  • Pay attention for yourself and for your teen how having phones and being constantly connected affects the way we are or are not present with those around us.  I recently had to make a rule for myself that when I’m on the floor with Aubrey, the phone stays in my pocket, even if she’s playing on the other side of the room and I’m kind of bored, because it affects how present I am to her next need.

Speak up in the comments.   How do you handle the various texting issues?  What are your challenges?

ht to the great Greg Smith (Ranger Fan) at sowhatfaith.com for the title