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.

27 January 2009 ~ 0 Comments

The Text Effect

One of my favorite things to do is text kids while they’re in school and see how long it takes them to respond. Usually within 15 minutes, always before the end of the day. High school kids will text wherever they are, even in schools where it’s strictly forbidden.

Over the last year my line for text/cell phone rules at church events and trips has moved significantly. Beginning with my summer trip I allowed the high school kids that were with me to text as much as they needed, and if we saw something inappropriate such as texting during a Bible study they were told to put it away. With our middle school kids we have much tighter rules and many of the kids didn’t bring their phones with them on the trip. I’ve seen negative reactions to kids texting by numerous adults at church, which seems to be a combination of perceived disrespect and a sense of needing to take a hard stance to keep things from snowballing.

Here’s why my line has moved to the point that at this last retreat I pretty much allowed kids to text anytime except when they are in an activity with us or sitting at a meal with our group.

1. They will text each other and build community. This happened on all the trips that I’ve allowed texting. I would like to think they were talking about a message or activity and reflecting on how wonderful it was. But more likely they were making plans for free time or talking about their latest crush. At any rate, they built community in their own space and culture. Our time together multiplied.

2. It allowed them to communicate with their parents without taking the time for a phone call. Most of the kids texted their parents when we arrived at the camp, when we were 1/2 hour from arriving home, and various other times during the retreat. It allowed them to let their parents know they were okay and not have a 10 minute conversation with them.

3. It allowed me to communicate with them. When kids were on free-time at a mall or large hotel (various levels of supervision), texting was a great way to communicate with all of them at once (after the contact list was built). I also did a lot of texting to the back of the bus, to the kid who had to tell me something in private, or from the kid who was late to the bus departure (a time when I really don’t have the time to take a phone call but need the news).

I’m not saying texting at retreats and trips is all positive. We’ve been able to build a culture where kids hold each other accountable to our rules (they yell panda at each other if they are texting when they shouldn’t be). We do miss the “retreating from your world” component when kids are well connected to their friends and family back home. It’s also positive to have drama escalate under the radar due to texting, which can be difficult for a group to deal with.

Generally I think caring adults who have built the trust of their students can find a happy medium. I think it’s generally a mistake to make a hard and fast rule when kids are used to this constant companion.

PS. I also have a rule that if your phone/ipod/psp disappears we are not going to declare a national emergency to fine it. These items are your responsibility and we will look for it, but the loss of such items will not be a distraction from what we’re about.

09 December 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Six by Six focus

Six by Six focus

Our Unpackthis team is reading Axiom by Bill Hybels. Axiom is a book of leadership parables by the senior pastor of Willow Creek church which is right is my (andy’s) back yard, Barrington IL.

One thing that really stuck out to us was Hybels’ six by six way of managing his time and energy. Six by six management (of self) can be described as asking “what is the greatest contribution I can make to the Willow Creek community in the next six weeks?” He narrowed that down to six projects that he could poor his life and energy into over the next six weeks and then re-evaluate after the six weeks ends.

I have used different strategies over the years to help myself focus on big projects. I didn’t find this notion to be earth shaking until Hybels took it to the next level. Bill shared this strategy with his core staff. They began doing this and sharing it with him. After a period of time Hybels had them stop sharing their list of six things with him and start sharing them with each other. Peers were able to see when others were stressed or give them feedback on their focus and time.

One of the great struggles in church work is to break out of the silos that all ministries fall into. I see this six by six focus as a great way for a church staff or a leadership team to put real, concrete structure to their communication with other leaders in the community. I don’t know that the six by six is a magic formula, but a short list with a short period of time is important and so six by six is a nice place to start.

24 November 2008 ~ 1 Comment

Youth Ministry 3.0


I’m a regular reader of Mark Oestreicher’s blog (ymarko.com) and I have been reading about Youth Ministry 3.0 for at least a year. Marko posted a rough draft of every chapter on the blog and asked for feedback and for youthworkers to add comments and stories that he included in the sidebars of the book. I must admit that my blog reading habits don’t allow for much more than a few paragraphs of content, so I didn’t read any of the chapters in advance. I’ve also seen more than a few reviews of the book come across his blog but I’ve intentionally avoided reading them so as not to color my reading of the book.

I like Marko a lot and the way he thinks, so I knew I would like this book. He lays out, in a very readable fashion, evolution of youth ministry; both 1.0 and 2.0. You can tell you are reading the book of a communicator, as he uses numerous stories and great metaphors to lay out his arguments.

The basic thesis of the book is that while youth ministry is more prevalent than ever there are many signs that youth ministry is not working. In my conversations with other youth directors I find many peers who would agree that we don’t feel like we’re being as effective as we would like. Sure, we can all point to successes, but in the big picture we wonder about the effectiveness of our ministries.

Marko describes Youth Ministry 3.0 as being focused on being Communional, (yes, he made that word up) that is community with Christ infused, being focused or driven by being present rather than being driven by programs, being highly contextualized, and focusing on smaller affinity groups.

We’ve heard many of these themes (and many of his more minor points) presented in various contexts. I can see how this is threatening to many of us, while others see much hope in Marko’s words. Oestricher challenges youth ministers to do less, create smaller communities, and help young people pay attention to the work of God in the world.

Perhaps what I appreciate most is not so much the words or the message of this book (though I think both are well done) but who this message is coming from. Mark Oestreicher is the president of Youth Specialties, one of the most influential youth ministry organizations in the country. He is leading the way, which is remarkable for the leader of a large organization of the Youth Ministry 2.0.

This is the most well educated, well equipped, professional generation of youth workers and I think the challenge of Youth Ministry 3.0 will be taken up with gusto.

Personally we are working hard to develop a high school small group ministry at our church. It’s remarkable how the unique cultures of each group have developed and numerous kids are very well connected in a way that never would have happened in a large group context.

I appreciate that Marko didn’t give a seven step approach with a ready produced curriculum to make Youth ministry 3.0 happen. It would be antithetical to what he is saying about contextualization. I think many youth workers might want more clear steps, but I personally don’t want this. I want to build a team and invent what we’re going to do.

03 October 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Andy for president

19 August 2008 ~ 0 Comments



This picture of my dog Charles was taken with my cell phone, and this post was written and uploaded directly from my phone. Sweet

19 March 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Love Wins

I’m a huge fan of Rob Bell.  I’ve heard him speak at Youth Speacialties, on his tour, and I think I have most of the Nooma videos.  I also find young people respond very well to him.

I podcast the sermons from his church and several years ago he preached a phenomenal sermon  entitled The Cross- Love Wins.  The sermon was a great contrast of the Theology of the Cross vs. Theology of Glory.  I found the sermon posted online at Mudpuppy.  Give it a listen.

14 March 2008 ~ 0 Comments

The greatest commercial in the history of ever

ht to dvorak.org/blog

27 February 2008 ~ 0 Comments

I’m not sure if this counts, but…

Below is the latest from my frontpage articles in our church newsletter. We’re starting to do a lot of Peer Ministry work at church and Lyle Griner is my “friend” in this article.

A friend of mine was training a group of student leaders. It was his third or fourth training, and he asked if any of them had used any of the new relationship building and caring skills that they had been working on. Silence filled the room. None of the students could articulate how they had been using what they had spent several hours at church working on.

Finally, one brave young woman spoke up. She started by saying “I don’t know if this counts, but…” She went on to describe an encounter she had with an at her school lunch table. She had noticed the girl had gone from bubbly and talkative to noticeably quieter. She intentionally reached out to the girl and, using her new skills, got her friend to open up about her parent’s impending separation and the turmoil that this was causing in her life.

The guy running the training almost jumped out of his skin he was so excited. This is exactly what the training was focused on, ministering to peers. He quickly processed with this with the students, and suddenly they all were able to come up with one or two ways that their training had helped them be Christ to another.

How many times does God show up in our lives or use us in great ways, and we wonder “if it counts.” One of our roles as adults in a Christian community is to help our young people recognize the action of God. The young people don’t need to be leaders, but we do need to know them. We do need to know what’s going on in their lives, and we need their trust, so that when they wonder if “something counts” we can point to the cross and help them develop a new lens to view their world.

13 February 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Episode 2

Episode 2

Here’s 14 more minutes of delicious youth ministry nuggets for you to chew on.

Episode two includes:

  • A short Bible study on Paul and Ananias- both of whom followed a call in Acts 9
  • A discussion about how we can observe the ways corporations market to young people
  • Some points on leading constructive discussions with small groups

Would you like fries with that?

**We recorded this episode in stereo, which means I’m on the left channel and Allan and Neil are on the right channel. If you’re listening on headphones be sure to have both headphones in your ears.

13 February 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Do you feel fresh?

I just returned from the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza. The Extravaganza is the annual gathering of youth and family ministry folks, publishers, camp folks, and various other contingencies.

I have attended this retreat in the past, though it’s been a couple of years. The Extravaganza (the name they use for what I would describe as a kind of “convention.” I think Extravaganza is the perfect word as it’s as difficult to nail down as what happens at this gathering) was an excellent combination of training, Bible study, worship, and community.

Some highlights of the week included the large group gatherings, the networking time, and the face to face time with some folks in high positions.

The large group time was wonderful. The room was set up with three stages and two screens. One stage had the worship band, another served as the altar for worships, and the third was the area where the speakers where. The room felt intimate and worshipful, not an easy thing to accomplish in a hotel ballroom. The speakers were mostly folks from our own Lutheran circles, and they were great. I appreciated that their was a single worship band that stayed with us through the entire event, with just a few guest musicians sprinkled in. This was a nice contrast to other events where the large group times seem to be a constant commercial for the latest and greatest bands or dramatic talent. The large group time was woven together theme wise by a single chaplain (I’m not sure that was her title, but that’s how I would describe her) Kathy Hunstad. Kathy worked the FRESH theme throughout the weekend, and opened and closed each gathering with new thoughts. The large group gatherings were very well done and wonderful.

I also appreciated the networking opportunities. I had a chance to spend time with friends, mentors, new youth and family workers, and grizzled veterans. We laughed and complained and talked shop. The Extravaganza hosted several social gatherings, and scheduled plenty of time for us to connect on our own in the hotel starbucks or various local restaurants.

I personally had the chance to interact with the head of the ELCA National Gathering, the head of Youth Ministries for the ELCA, and a leading professor of Youth Ministry at Luther seminary. What a wonderful week of interacting with leaders in my field, hearing what their working on and thinking about. Where else could one do this?

The view from my sister's porch- where I stayed in CA

I think the Extravaganza has it’s challenges. I think someone new to ministry or without an established network would not enjoy the large chunks of downtime. The workshops seemed to be lightly attended (though I thought the ones I went to were great), and the cost of the weekend ends up being pretty high (though the actual registration fee is on par with other events).

I have not made this gathering a priority in the past, but I think I’m going to in the future. I’m coming to value the networking opportunities more than the “what’s the next new thing” training sessions.