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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.

19 October 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Ignore Everything Below This Post!!!

The mission of Unpackthis.com is changing, well not so much the mission but the audience.  When we started, this was the blog of a couple of youth directors that wanted to play around with this blog thing.  We eventually got bored with talking to no-one but ourselves.  The technology was fun, but this is the way blogs go, right?

Our new audience will be the parents and volunteers of youth ministries at Saint Michael and All Angels in Dallas, TX.  We’re still going to write a lot about youth ministry, but it’s going to be most relevant to those adults involved in our ministry directly. Our goal here is to begin discussions about faith formation.  For too long we’ve been communicating only special events to our parents, and in fact we need to be in conversation constantly about the faith formation of our youth.

If you’re reading this blog because you got our Wednesday email, know that the new content starts now, everything below this is old and not necessarily written for you (though there is some gold buried here, dig if you’d like).

28 August 2009 ~ 0 Comments


Picture 002

I’ve recently been working on increasing the visibility of our ministry at Bethlehem.  One suggestion was to post more pictures of our young people around the church.  This seemed like an obvious step for us, but I wanted the pictures to really stand out.

The great news is that we literally have tens of thousands of pictures of our kids, hundreds of which are worthy of framing and hanging.

Years ago I found a deal online to get 8X10 photos printed online for $1.00  I searched for some similar deals and stumbled on to shortrunposters.com  This service is great.  They do one thing really well, print 18X24 photos.  The minimum charge is $2.00 per poster, but you can do upgrades that make it more expensive (not really necessary if you ask me).   Shipping is a flat rate of $10, so keep that in mind when you think about ordering photos.  I’ve ordered prints twice and they turn out great.  Here’s a picture of our new “gallery” at church:

Picture 002

As you can see, we added some 8X10’s off of our color printer to spice up the layout (big face pics work for that one).  The large 18X24 frames were not cheap, but they look great. Another option is to mount the photos on cheap insulation foam from the hardware store.

Give shortrunposters.com a try, great pictures at a great price.

11 May 2009 ~ 0 Comments

The Car Dealer and the Church

My wife and I are in the process of buying a car.  We’re taking our time, which is a nice situation to be in.  Today, after a few phone exchanges, I stopped by the car dealer to see what they could do for a trade in.  I knew I was asking for it, but I felt like I had to get a number from them to move forward.

The results were predictable and frustrating.  They offered us $100 for the trade in, and tried to sell me a two year old car for the same price as the same model new.  The point of my story is not so much how ridiculous the car dealer was, but that everyone I know has a similar story and I expected this kind of treatment going in.

As I reflect on my afternoon of playing games with the car dealer, I wonder what kind of expectations/stories people have about interacting with churches?  Do they come in with high or low expectations?  What kind of stories are shared about churches when a churchworker isn’t in the room at a dinner party.

My hope is that a couple of things are true about churches that aren’t true about the car dealership:

  • When you become a part of our church community, you’re going to be expected to use your gifts.  You’re not a consumer
  • The community is not trying to “get something from you, but rather help each other grow in faith and service

08 May 2009 ~ 0 Comments



Here’s t99d4b6bdb3a1c61e64d7a5b552355616he Worldle (wordle.net) of my twitter feed over the last month

Wordle: Untitled

29 April 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Church B Posters


I’m at a Learning Lab/”Un-conference” led by Mark Riddle.  These are the flip charts from our time together. Some of them turned 90 degrees, deal with it.  If you did no’t attend the week they won’t make sense, I’m mostly sharing them with the folks from the lab.


13 March 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors- Your Youth Ministry Reflects Your Church


51hpsjh6izl_sl500_aa240_I recently read through Mark Riddle’s Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors. This book is written as a guide for Senior Pastors and others involved in leading or hiring a youth pastor, but my guess is that it’s being read by more youth pastors than Senior Pastors.  I was curious as to what Mark thought was in my head.

Was he right?  Well, he didn’t talk as much about what’s in my head as much as he gave advice to churches as they worked to hire a youth pastor and shaped their expectations.

Rather than giving an overall review, I would like to take a couple of posts and talk about some great sections.  Generally though, I think youth pastors, senior pastors, and other church staff folks should buy and read this book.

In chapter 22, called the vacume Riddle writes:

The weaknesses of your church as a whole will almost invariabley be present in your youth ministry as well.  If your church struggles with finding volunteers, lack of follow through, laziness, or consumerism, you’ll find those same traits in the youth ministry.  LIkewise, the stregths that characterize your church will be found in the youth ministry, too.  If your church gives sacraficially, then it’s likely your youth ministry will give sacraficially too. -154

So often youth ministries are looked to as a place where the energy or change is going to come from.  I think Mark is really on to something here, that the youth ministry does not exist in a vacume.  The other point that he is making here (though he doesn’t do so explicitly) is that the young people in our youth ministry have and are learning more about faith from their parents than from the youth minister.  Therefore, the students in the youth ministry are going to reflect the faith of their parents very strongly.

I hope I don’t come across as complaining or whining.  This is actually quite the advantage.  Isn’t it good news that our kids are going to reflect our faith?  I think this is also an important insight for us to keep in mind as we seek to build a program, to not be discouraged when there seem to be unexplainable forces holding developments back.

Finally I would say that I have seen examples of this being untrue.  One of the great joys of youth ministry is that it can serve as a miniature labratory for ministries or developments of the larger church body.  There is often an enthusiasm and close community that is present in the youth ministry simply because of their developmental place or the time spent together.  So, sometimes the youth ministry can be a catalyst to change the congregation.  I have seen this happen when young people begin finding the joy of community or the joy of service and tell their story to the congregation.  The rest of the congregation then gets excited and follows the lead of the students.

While I have seen this to be both true and untrue, I think it is important to keep this at the center of your consciousness as a youth minister.  Youth ministry does not and should not exist in a vacume or silo.

04 March 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Cool Ministry Tool: Freemind


I’ve just stumbled on a new piece of software that I plan to use a lot.  Freemind is a mind mapping tool.  It’s free and very powerful.  I heard about this program from various GTD (Getting Things Done) sources.  One of the practices of GTD is to map out your project as much as possible and then your next step will be clear all the way through the project.  I find this to be a very important practice in ministry projects (sometimes i execute this better than others) as it’s easy to loose sight.

Here’s a screen shot of my brainstorming for a Bible studies series.  Click on the pic to make it bigger.


These “nodes” are created very easily, simply by hitting “insert” or “return.”  I prefer to do things like brainstorming on the computer because I type faster than I write and it’s legible.  I obviously will develop the above mind map more as I work on this project.  I’m not a “neat” writer, but I like to visualize things in a neat way.  This is why Freemind is a great tool for me. Besides my own brainstorming I can see this being very useful in a meeting.  Hook up your computer to a projector and this becomes a great tool, and the team notes are preserved.

Another great function of this software is that the map can be exported on some neat ways, from simple text, to JPG, to a clickable web document.  Check this one out here.

There are many many uses for this program.  I plan on mapping out all my projects with it and setting up a check in with it on a regular interval.

Here’s a great YouTube tutorial that tells you about some of the features

25 February 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Man I love college

I first heard some of the lyrics to this song one one of my student’s facebook statuses. Little did I know these words came from a popular song. Watch here:

Walt Mueller of the Center for Parent Youth Understanding turned me on to this video.  I think this is a fantasy of what college life is for young people and for those that remember back to our college days.  Do kids really live like this in college?  No, this is maybe one night of a college year, but this is not a typical weekend night.

However, I think the issue is that we continue to give young people seemingly limitless license to do whatever they like in college.  Most of the stuff that kids manage to avoid in high school (drinking, sex, drugs?) seems to happen on a regular basis in college (however, I would argue it’s not as glamorous as the video portrays).

30 January 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Extravaganza Workshop: Ministry with the Millennial Generation

I am at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza in New Orleans. The theme is shift. This morning I did a workshop on ministry with the millennial generation. If you came, thanks for the conversation. Below you will find my slides how and some links and resources we talked about in the workshop.

I’ll be blogging a little bit about the Millennial Generation over the next couple of weeks. Come back to continue the conversation.

Slide Deck
PPT: ministry-with-the-millennial-generation

Here’s three links to the video
WMV: http://www.mediafire.com/?53tmxlzznw2
MOV: http://www.mediafire.com/?3xbhmdmsfmd

Here’s one of our polleverywhere.com questions

Here’s the second poll everywhere question. Feel free to continue voting

29 January 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Extravaganza 2009

I’m on my way to the ELCA Youth Ministry Network extravaganza. This is an annual gathering of youthworkers, pastors, and various other folks involved in ministry with young people. The event has been called the town square, where people come to meet and talk shop with others living in the same worlds.

I’m presenting a workshop called “ministry with the millennial generation,” I’ve enjoyed researching and thinking about the unique characteristics of this generation of young people and the hope they bring to our future.

I’ll be blogging about the event and posting notes and graphics from my presentation.

UPDATE: My apologies for the numerous spelling (typing) errors in an earlier version of this post. I originally wrote it on my iphone and didn’t edit carefully enough.