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.

30 January 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Our first podcast

We’re very excited to share with you our first podcast as a team. We’ve focused this podcast on youth ministry volunteers. We would love for you to take this and share it with your volunteers and friends, record your own pieces and add to it, or edit out our knuckheaddedness and keep the one or two things that might be halfway insightful.

This month we talk about engaging in theological conversations with young people, we have an update on the online activities of young people, and some tips on having constructive conversations with young people.

We would love to hear your feedback, suggestions, and questions.

If you’re new to podcasting you might find this article helpful. You don’t need an ipod, I listen to several podcasts right on my computer.

Click below to listen or download.  Subscribe with the links on the right.

17 December 2007 ~ 0 Comments

Continuing Education, youth ministry, and Skype!

Take three recent (2007) graduates of the MA in Youth and Family Ministry. Add the technological marvels of Skype. Mix in a book by a professor in the program, and you get a guy at his house playing with his dog, another at a local coffee and pastry establishment, and one on his bed at his house discussing youth ministry.

The three less than creative minds behind unpackthis.com had a nice 30-40 minute discussion (after dialing each other several times, and having someone in Chicago drop out continually) on the history of youth ministry, as researched by a certain Andy Root.

Have we been doing it all wrong? Can modern ministry simply be explained as a commodity that has been sold to the white Protestant world? Will Andy in Chicago ever be able to stay online with us again?

Tune in to this space regularly as we will try to decipher the full extent of what our esteemed professor’s book means in the pragmatic programming and philosophy of a youth ministry wanting to be theological.

In the meantime, don’t panic just yet. After all, most of us came from the youth ministries described in the opening chapters of Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation.

We just don’t want to stay there.


17 December 2007 ~ 0 Comments

Quote of the week


We had a big “all choir” festival at church this week and I saw this comment on Facebook between two of our students:

“dude church choir is so not emo, u betray me”

07 November 2007 ~ 0 Comments

Crowder is Genius

I find The Dave Crowder band to be very authentic worship leaders, and Dave Crowder is a brilliant storyteller.

03 November 2007 ~ 3 Comments

The Funnel

The Funnel

There’s a lot of old school youth ministry seminars at Youth Specialties. I think some of the reasons they maintain these seminars is because the presenters are great presenters and they offer pretty clear blueprint type of programing ideas for those who need an idea for the next weekend. There’s certainly value to this, and I do go to some of these sessions and I do pick up some good ideas and thoughts, and I’m often reminded of things I know about but I’m not doing.

However, I am surprise that some of the veteran thinkers in youth ministry have not integrated the findings of the Exemplary Youth Ministry study into their presentations, not to mention the more mainstream postmodern thought or “family as the most effective youth ministers” research (to be clear, this information is presented at YS, but not in any of the old school, big name presentations that draw large crowds).

This morning I attended a session by Duffy Robins that presented the old funnel as a model for programming (working with kids and designing programs to get them to the “next level” of commitment). Duffy is an engaging and funny speaker, but his presentation was grounded in a modern mindset in a suburban context. Our young people have changed, our families have changed, and we know new things about passing on the faith. Will a new “blueprint” or ideas show up in any of the conversations here?

03 November 2007 ~ 1 Comment

Politics in Youth Ministry???

I heard Tony Campolo speak this morning at the national youthworkers convention.  Tony was speaking on being a red letter Christian, a term he and a group of his similarly believing peers have claimed. 

 Tony encouraged us to get young people involved in politics and discussing political issues as a part of our “meetings.”  He encouraged us to help our young people think critically and creatively about issues that politicians and the press tend to polarize such as abortion, immigration, and gay marriage. I think in theory, Tony is right on.  These issues are what our young people talk about in school, and they are the issues that affect their world (though I don’t know that they talk about it as much as their facebook or their shoes or tv shows

However, can one really talk politics as the leader of a church?  I go to an ELCA Lutheran church.  In most ELCA congregations the entire spectrum of political views is represented, which makes it very difficult to speak to a political issue and not raise the anxiety of those who are passionate about the issue would be raised. 

Can a group engage in political conversation on an occasional basis and still be respectful to one another?  

The best experience I’ve ever had with political issues is when groups have engage the conversation in the context of a mission trip.  When the issues are real, when we just spend the day feeding the hungry and giving shoulder rides to homeless children, the conversation somehow became more respectful.  

 I always try to go to Tony’s sessions, and I always leave thinking about something.  Tony is radical, and I think we can thank him for some of the radical DNA of the youthworker culture.  I was struck today, however, with the notion that his radical nature would not work very well in a church, where a certain degree of handholding is absolutely necessary.  In a church, abrasiveness is not received well.  Do effective leadership and radical leadership have to be opposites?  I think what is radical in one congregational culture is not so radical in the church down the street.  

03 November 2007 ~ 3 Comments

St. Louis!!!


Hello from St. Louis. I’m attending the National Youthworkers convention. Some of you probably found me from Marko’s blog. It’s been a bit of a trick to find time to blog at the same time that I have internet access.  I’ll try to do better, I have a lot to say already.

I begin with by showing you a picture of my encounter with Andy Root, the Professor in Seminary who always asked us to unpack that. I had a few questions for him about his new book, but he was not real responsive.


I’m very excited to be at Youth Specialties. After finishing my masters in youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary last May I’ve had a short hiatus from reading ministry and theology material. I’m eager to get back with my people and talk shop.

24 October 2007 ~ 1 Comment

This American Life- How to talk to kids. Act One

So I stumbled onto some youth ministry gold this week. I have a couple of podcasts set to download into my itunes. I listen to The Ticket’s podcast out of Dallas, my church’s podcast of sermons (I miss more sermons than you think due to youth ministry stuff), the sermons from Mars Hill, and the NPR radio show This American Life.

I often fall behind on the This American Life episodes, but since I’ve had a lot of computer work this week I’ve managed to catch up. Tonight I listened to an episode called “How to Talk to Kids.” There are three acts; act one profiles to comedians who are hired by a camp to entertain the kids, act two is all abut talking to kids about sex, and act three is about disciplining/yelling at kids. Since there’s so much great stuff in this episode, I’m going to do a post on each act.

Act One

The comedians in act one were expected to “tell children’s jokes to children who already knew adult jokes, and found them funny.” The favorite comedian of the kids at the camp was Dane Cook. These comedians, who were told to keep it clean (a deviation from their norm) struggled mightily. They were obviously out of their element.

In addition, there’s a great introduction piece where kids complain about adults who talk down to them, ask them the same questions, or tease them. I must confess that I’m guilty of all of the above. I’ve failed miserably in front of audiences of kids, I’ve asked the same questions to kids over and over again (yes, the dreaded school question), and I’ve talked down and teased kids.

Now I really try not to tease kids. Sometimes I ask kids questions without realizing I’m teasing them. I’m surprised at how sensitive kids are to teasing. This recording reminded me of this about the teasing, and I’m going to add it to my agenda for the next leaders meeting.

When talking to kids, particularly a group of 4-5 kids sitting in a group I try to focus on one at a time, asking them a specific question about their family, sports, favorite tv shows (the ultimate safe question), or video games. I’m too culturally idiotic to talk about music. In addition, I try not to top their stories on a regular basis- even if the story qualifies as a great moment in Andy history.

What do you find to be true when speaking to kids, either as an audience or in a more relational setting?

05 September 2007 ~ 0 Comments

The Parent Meeting



So tomorrow night we have the big parent meeting for our confirmation students. I’ve done a lot of parent meetings over the years, and I think I’ve learned some tricks that really help. Some of them are

  • Start on time, but have your first 10 minutes of information be relatively meaningless. People are impressed if you start and end on time (I think folks give too much credit for this).
  • Give people a lot of paper (information), but don’t overwhelm them.
  • Be very organized in your presentation, room set up, etc.
  • Put significant effort into your content and media- it will show
  • Give parents the chance to sign up for a very specific task or job
  • Avoid any bog down activities such as introducing 30 people, etc. Treat them like 7th graders with a seven minute attention span, that’s all they’ve got left (assuming it’s an evening meeting).
  • Do more than give information
    • Always share your vision at some point
    • give them a chance to mingle (mixer game?)
    • Share a devotion, strategy for passing on the faith to their children, or a short book suggestion

As well as some of these tricks work, I still find the parent meeting pretty challenging. They’re exhausted at the end of the day. They’ve already been to 3-4 other parent meetings that happen at the beginning of the year, and they’re afraid of the big ask- for money or time.

What do you find challenging about parent meetings? What are some of your tricks?

01 August 2007 ~ 0 Comments

The boy myth

The boy myth

Real Boys

The Myth about Boys

I’ve been looking forward to reading William Pollack’s Real Boys this summer. I think I’m about one chapter in, and I must admid I find it to be a bit alarmist already. It was quite refreshing to read this article from Time that seems much more objective and makes some good points.

Some high points of the article:

“Only in recent decades have societies seriously begun to unlock the full potential of girls, but the cultivation of boys has been an obsession for thousands of years. “How shall we find a gentle nature which also has a great spirit?” Socrates asked some 2,500 years ago–essentially the same question parents ask today.”

How much of the “boy crisis” is a result of the contrast of women finally getting the opportunities they have always deserved?

Boys overall are holding their own or even improving on standardized tests, she said; they’re just not improving as quickly as girls. And their total numbers in college are rising, albeit not as sharply as the numbers of girls. To Mead, a good-news story about the achievements of girls and young women has been turned into a bad-news story about laggard boys and young men.

When refering to a recent government report…

There’s more to the story, however. That downward slide has leveled off–and in many cases, turned around. Boys today look pretty good compared with their dads and older cousins. By some measures, our boys are doing better than ever.

For all those Paris Hilton culture equating alarmists…

Today’s girls are also doing well by these measures, but their successes in no way diminish the progress of the boys. In fact, together our kids are reversing one of the direst problems of the previous generation: the teen-pregnancy epidemic. According to the new report, fewer than half of all high school boys and girls in 2005 were sexually active. For the boys, that’s a decrease of 10 percentage points from the early 1990s. Boys who are having sex report that they are more responsible about it: 7 in 10 are using condoms, compared with about half in 1993. As a result, teen pregnancy and abortion rates are now at their lowest recorded levels.

And finally, my favorite lines from the article:

But before we go dizzy on cleverness, let’s pull out Occam’s razor and consider a simple possibility: maybe our boys are doing better because we’re paying them more attention. We’re providing for them better; the proportion of children living in poverty is down roughly 2% from a spike in 1993. And we’re giving them more time. Parents–both fathers and mothers–are reordering their priorities to focus on caring for their kids. Several studies confirm this. Sociologists at the University of Michigan have tracked a sharp increase in the amount of time men spend with their children since the 1970s.

What’s your sense on how boys are doing? My sense is that Pollock had a point ten years ago, that to a degree our culture had been emasculated. I also feel that we’ve moved past that, and boys are doing as well as boys have ever done.

Men, young men in particular, as parts of a faith community is a whole new conversation that I think may be an interesting mirror to some of our broader cultural trends.