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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.

02 July 2007 ~ 0 Comments

Following the call

Thank you to Brad for these insightful comments on call as he reflects on his call to serve in Niger, Africa this summer


My favorite line: “God … threatened to answer a thoughtlessly spoken prayer…”

02 July 2007 ~ 1 Comment

Disciple Project Pictures

Disciple Project Pictures
Disciple Project 07

Click on the picture above for the entire photo album

So this is currently the only website I have going and a group of kids from a leadership camp (Disciple Project) I was at last week wanted all the pictures from our track (sports). So I sent them to unpackthis.com and told them I would post the photos here.

For those of you from the Sports and Fitness Track at Disciple Project 2007- thanks for a tremendous week. It was a blast talking theology with you in between dogeball, bigball, soccer games, and ab workouts.

12 June 2007 ~ 0 Comments

How do you teach youth ministry?

Now that I have graduated with the other DL students from Luther Seminary with an MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry, I find myself ready to teach others youth ministry.

But what do you teach?

This is a legitimate question for me because I will be teaching Foundations of Youth Ministry at Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College over three weekends this fall. It will be a sophomore level class, and will go a long way toward equipping students for their careers as youth ministers.

But what do you teach?

I have had a collision of all of my lives recently. As I finished my course work, the personal ministry time had a chance to expand and to breathe. A youth lady in our area, brand new to youth ministry, agreed to allow me to mentor her in youth ministry. I read a book by James Emery White, called a Mind for God. (Excellent, by the way, and a quick read.) He recommended in his writing a book by Mortimer Adler called How to Read A Book. This book reminded me of two books, and the role that they played in my educational philosophy as an elementary educator, Cultural Literacy by E.D. Hirsch, and The Closing of the American Mind, by Allan Bloom.

But what do you teach?

The collision was that all of this, over 20 years of different disciplines (spiritual, theological, and educational) all came together at this moment, and provided me pause. What do I teach?

So I just jumped in. The idea is to see the student as a whole. See them as 7th graders (or sixth in your church) growing to be high school graduates. What do they need to know? What do they need to learn? How do I best transfer this to them?

So, what am I going to teach? Four things from this collision course:

What we know about God – The theology of ministry

What we know about ourselves – The minister in the ministry

What we know about youth – The objects of our ministry

What we know about youth ministry – The research, the movement, the programs, etc.

All of this is based on what White, Adler, Hirsch, and Bloom began articulating in their own disciplines. Combine this with the questioning nature of Rollie Martinson, and the recent research done by Christian Smith and the entire Exemplary Youth Ministry Study. This is what I am going to teach.

There are things that every student needs to know about God, themselves, and the Bible. It does not matter their geographical region, their denominational affiliation, or their gender. There is a baseline that every student needs to know, and a baseline that every student needs to become.

Let’s start at John 3:16, and go from there.


17 April 2007 ~ 2 Comments

Something Worth Dying For?

I admit it; I’m a Discovery channel nerd.  It drives my wife Gayla crazy.  I’m very excited these days because one of my favorite shows is back on; “Deadliest Catch.”  This is a show about the Alaskan crab fishing fleet.  Perhaps you’ve seen an episode.  Each season the Discovery channel puts a camera crew on several crab boats.  The cameras role as the crab fishermen fight weather, rough seas, and dangerous 800 pound crab pots to earn five to ten thousand dollars a day.  The work is very dangerous.  In the first episode of this season a boat capsized, killing the entire crew.  Sometimes fishermen get tangled in the line that is connected to this huge cage they throw overboard to catch the crab.  The men tangled in the line rarely live to tell about it.


It’s amazing to me how many people travel to Alaska to risk their lives doing this job.  That being said, I’m truly drawn to the adventure of this show.  My favorite boat, the Northwestern, is run by two Norwegian brothers (in one episode they even make Lutefisk).  I cheer on the Northwestern every Wednesday morning (we have Tivo) over my bowl of cereal.  These fishermen have fishing in their DNA.  The brothers who run the Northwestern are millionaires.  They could hire others to run their boat, but they would never consider doing so.


While the sacrifice and the hard work of these fishermen is aimed towards a materialistic accomplishment, I’m amazed at these adventurers, these huge risk takers.  They’ve decided their paycheck is worth dying for.


Dying for something worth dying for

In her book “Practicing Passion” Kenda Creasy Dean, in referring to the Columbine martyr Callie Bernal, says that young people are asking


“Is Christianity worth it? Is it worth staking a life on, and not just a Sunday night? Because if it’s not- if God isn’t worth dying for- then I’m outta here.”  But listen closely.  Behind these youthful ultimatums is a plea: Please, please tell me it’s true.  True love is always worth dying for.  Please tell me I’m worth dying for.  Please tell me someone loves me this much and won’t let me go, even if the Titanic sinks…  Please show me a God who loves me this much- and who is worth loving passionately in return.


It’s crab season.  Let’s find some old hands and go teach some greenhorns how to fish.


17 March 2007 ~ 3 Comments

Church Websites 2.0- from consumers to producers


A friend of mine recently turned me on the the Group curriculum called Grapple. This is a typical Group curriculum. They seem to have done some good research and I get the sense that the writers have worked with this age group (4th-6th graders) and I sense that the authors really care for kids of this age. I like the pricing scheme of the curriculum, which allows churches to pay a price based on their attendance.

One very interesting component to this curriculum is that Group sets up a closed social networking website much like myspace or facebook just for your class. The curriculum kit includes permission slips for this website and I would assume that group has set up appropriate website security to make this a safe option for the kids participating. I think this idea could work quite well for this age group, as they would be very interested in interacting online but other networking sites are not appropriate for this group.

I’ve recently been spending more time on Facebook, a social networking site dominated by college and high school students. I find the time on facebook to be much more constructive than time on myspace, where I seem to spend most of my time pressing stop on the music player or waiting for the seemingly ever slow myspace web-pages to load. There are a fair number of kids who I relate to almost exclusively on Facebook, which proves to be a great tool and and effective use of my time.

I’m wondering if a “social network” site might be a fun idea for families at a church. Assuming there was some sort of system one could install on their church website, wouldn’t it be neat to have families sign up for events, invite others, reflect on sermons or devotions, all on a website. Moms and dads spend a lot of time in front of computer screens away from their kids. What if the church website was a closed social network where families and congregation members connected with each other. At first glance this might seem like a very artificial way to connect, but the connections I make on Facebook feel far from artificial.

19 February 2007 ~ 1 Comment

Sexual Purity for Teens?

In about four weeks I will be on retreat with our teens on our every two year Dating Retreat. Things have changed just a little since the first one that I had at this church sixteen years ago:
The internet was just being formulated in Al Gore’s mind.
Little girls were not dressing like Britney Spears (Minus the shaved head!) and the retailers were not making little girl underwear with suggestive sayings.
There was a chance that young men and women just might save their innocence until after middle school.

But that is not the culture that we live in today. If the Anna Nichole Smith coverage is any indication, then our culture has given away all of the secrets, and purity is not the ideal, much less the goal.

And that is where we come in, the youth professionals. I know it seems a little prudish, but I want to fight for purity, not only for my own daughters, but for my teens! If you have been in youth ministry for awhile, you probably have a shelf full of books that deal with purity and dating. From Joshua Harris’ classic, I Kissed Dating Goodbye to Jeramy Clark’s I Gave Dating a Chance, there is a lot of information to share with our teens. But the message has to be more than just don’t do it until you are married. That message doesn’t seem to work.

A better message is to inspire our students to be what Eric and Leslie Ludy (Teaching True Love to a Sex-at-13 Generation) Christ-confident kids, students who understand that great things will come when they yield to His life at work within them. Our goal is to have our students quit fitting God to their romantic plans, and start having our teens fit their romantic ideas to God’s ideas on what love, purity, and romance really are. Being confident in Christ is the important foundational truth that leads to full sexual purity in our teens. Helping families become Christ-confident helps in all spiritual areas, including the area of sexual purity for our students.


07 February 2007 ~ 0 Comments

The Multi Church Event

As youth ministry has matured over the years we’ve seen more and more organizations develop that host youth ministry events that churches can bring their kids to. In my nine years of youth ministry it seems to me that the number of multi-church retreats that we’re invited to has increased.

Generally, I think these events can be very beneficial. Retreats are a lot of work and often one church doesn’t have the resources to bring in the speakers or bands that multi-church events can. Additionally, youth directors are busy people, so simply mailing in registrations sounds pretty great if that’s all we have to do for a retreat. The kids who attend these retreats also tend to be affirmed in their faith by seeing huge rooms of kids just like them who are on the same journey.

What opportunities are we missing by going to these youth ministry events? Certainly I would say that a church that doesn’t have a strong sense of community itself doesn’t seem to develop the same community on multi-church retreats that they might on their own retreat. My experience has been, however, that a group with a strong sense of community truly thrives at the multi-church retreat.

Another tough component for me personally is my leadership style. I like to be in charge, think of new ways of doing things, and dream about possibilities, so obviously the multi-church retreat can be frustrating unless I’m in charge- and then I wouldn’t be very interested after I come up with the ideas.

A second tough piece is that the theology or teaching portion may not be in line with your congregation or the teaching may not be a great fit for your group of kids. I have been in situations where theology different than what we believe is presented and it leads to great conversations- but conversations about different theology isn’t really we go on retreats.

Finally, I feel the multi-church event may be helping us perpetuate the “drop in” model of youth ministry. That is to say- you can take what goes on in one place and drop it in to your context. Each ministry context is unique and we must be very aware of this as we plan our calendars and retreats.

I could go on, but I think I made my point. What’s your experience with multi-church events?

31 January 2007 ~ 4 Comments

Our modern fascination with the professionalization of youth ministry may have kept us blissfully ignorant of our growing proficiency at rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Mark DeVries, Family Based Youth Ministry, 2004 edition.

Competent Leadership is a component of Youth Ministry Strength according to the Exemplary Youth Ministry Study. The description of that part says that the youth leader “reflects superior theological, theoretical, and practical knowledge and skill in leadership.”

For any of us who are wondering if what we do makes any difference at all, then a part of competent leadership is to say, “We need to make significant changes, and soon.” I know that for in the thinking, reading, praying about the changes that need to be made here in Russellville, Arkansas, the first step is to acknowledge that ministry as usual cannot continue, and expect life change. The students are different, the parents are different, and certainly, I am different. The old ways will not work, and we have to confess, probably did not work as well as we had hoped. It is time to bring the family back into our ministries.

24 January 2007 ~ 5 Comments

Hilarious Jesus videos

A friend pointed me to this website with some great videos for teaching or just for a laugh.


24 January 2007 ~ 1 Comment

Stop the spread of MTD’s!

If a sexually transmitted disease were spreading through our community, we would sound the alarm and attack it with education, dollars, and research.

According to the National Study of Youth and Religion, the problem is not STD’s, but MTD’s. This is, according to Christian Smith, researcher for the study conducted from 2001-2005, a belief among Christian Teens that is not historic Christianity, but Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. He says MTD’s believe in “a belief system that embraces the existence of a God who demands little more than to be “nice,” with the central goal of life to be happy and feel good about oneself.” He goes on to describe teen beliefs about God as being more of a “divine butler” or “cosmic therapist.” The conclusion is that all good people go to heaven when they die.

The guys of unpackthis.com want to combat this in our own youth groups. But how? In his book A Mind for God, James Emery White says that we have to change the way that students think. In combating MTD’s, he says we start with three basic teachings:

1. There is a God
2. God is alive
3. God is not silent

The cure for MTD’s is to start with a proper understanding of God, and dealing with God on His terms, not ours. We attack this with research such as Smith has done, and the Exemplary Youth Ministry Study, and with a refusal to let anyone but God define who He is, and how we are to approach Him.