Considering a GAP year?

gapMost high school seniors scramble to fill out college applications and cram for ACT’s and SAT’s, all while trying to apply for as many scholarships as humanly possible. Why? College is just what you do after high school, right?

Well, not everyone.

Some students opt to take a year off before starting college. A gap year isn’t just a year between high school and college to just hang out and do nothing. Some students use this time to work and save money, while others use it to really figure out what they want to study in college and where God might be leading them. Many teens just aren’t ready for the rigors and responsibilities of college yet.

But a gap year doesn’t have to just be about you. It can also be an opportunity to serve and make a difference in the world. This month, we’ll take a look at several organizations that offer ministry opportunities and the necessary training for students during this gap year.

YWAM (Youth With A Mission)

Founder: Loren Cunningham
Goal: To know God and to make Him known

Youth With A Mission (YWAM) is an international organization of volunteer Christians from all over the globe who are committed to serving Jesus and sharing the gospel. YWAM (pronounced WHY-wham) has been focused on sending young people throughout the world to share the gospel since 1960. If you have the travel bug or want to see more of the world God created, YWAM has more than 1000 operating locations in 180 countries. Even though you may be looking at taking a year off from school, you can (and should) continue learning. YWAM offers a variety of training opportunities, ranging from media and technology to ministry and discipleship. Their Discipleship Training School (DTS) is designed to help you understand God more deeply. It is also designed to help identify your gifts and kindle your passions to use on the mission field. The DTS is a full-time 12 week training course followed by an 8-12 week period of outreach.

YWAM also equips volunteers to use interesting and inviting ways to share their faith, such as performing arts, sports camps, and church planting. In addition to evangelism, YWAM seeks to meet practical and physical needs through mercy-focused ministries, including disaster relief, disease prevention, and women’s rights.

Impact 360

Founders: John and Trudy Cathy White
Goal: To equip young adults to become Christ-centered, servant leaders

Impact 360 has developed a unique gap year program that is not only academic, but also focuses on leadership and practical experience. This program is geared toward 18 to 20-year-olds who have a strong desire to grow in their faith and understand God’s calling on their lives.

Participants spend nine months at the Impact 360 campus in Pine Mountain, Ga. While there, students study about apologetics and Christian worldview, participate in weekly service projects, and take part in Chick-fil-A® SERVE leadership training. This program also earns 15 hours of transferable college credit from Union University. Students also participate in a one-month international mission trip to Brazil.
Up to 33 students are selected each school year to participate in this training course. Those interested in applying for IMPACT 360 must meet the following criteria:
• Be 18-20 years of age when entering the program
• Completed high school before entering the program
• Have a GPA of 3.0 or higher
• Have a minimum ACT of 22 or SAT (critical reading and math) of 1030
• Nuture a growing relationship with Christ
• Have leadership experience
• Be a person of solid character

This article was written for the March 2013 issue of ec by Jonathan Bass. Get your subscription here:

Expecting more from your spiritual life

Your teachers don’t care if you cheat on a test.
Your boss doesn’t care if you give away free food.
Your coach doesn’t care if you win or lose and just wants everyone to have high self-esteem.
Your parents don’t care if you break curfew as long as you had a good time.

expect moreDoes that sound about right?

Absolutely not. Those scenarios are ridiculous. That’s because in the real world, you have real expectations. Your teachers expect you to do your own work. Your boss expects you to have integrity. Your coach expects you to leave it all on the field or court. Your parents expect you to honor their rules.

No matter how high these expectations may seem, you most likely do a great job living up to them. In fact, the higher the expectation, the harder you probably work to make it happen. Setting high standards is a great way to motivate yourself to excel.

But, sadly, when it comes to our spiritual lives, we don’t often set very high standards for ourselves. We push ourselves academically, socially, and at work, but when it comes to walking with God, we slack off and accept mediocrity. We justify not reading our Bibles, not sharing our faith, skipping student ministry activities, and not praying— all in the name of “being busy.” The truth is, our standards are too low. We were created for more.

You were created for more.

The beauty of walking with God is that He is the source of energy for all the other activities in our lives. Not only that, but all other commitments in our lives have the potential to become false gods. A false god is anything that gets most of your heart, passion, time, thoughts, and joy. To keep this from happening, Jesus has to be the priority in your life.

Setting the Bar

So, what do you do when you have high standards for yourself in every area of your life except your spiritual growth? Here are five quick ideas:

  1. Lose the guilt. Walking with God isn’t about feeling guilty because you miss church every now and then. Following Christ is about finding a joy and forgiveness so captivating that you can’t help but give Him your everything. It’s about returning again and again to His presence because you find yourself there. It’s about hiding His Word in your heart because it’s a sword to fight off the enemy. Walking with God is an adventure and delight. It is not a burden or another to-do list. Change your perspective.
  2. Set some goals. Write down two or three realistic spiritual goals. Beginner goals might include: memorizing one verse a month, listening to worship music on the way to school, or praying with a friend every day.Radical goals could be memorizing a book of Scripture, organizing a student-led fast for the lost at your school, praying for an hour in the morning, sharing Christ with a teacher, making friends with the outcasts, or going on a mission trip.
  3. Find a coach and a team. You weren’t meant to live the Christian life alone. You need a spiritual leader who pushes you to reach spiritual victories. You also need a team of Christian friends. If you’ve become disconnected from student ministry, it’s almost a guarantee you’ve also fallen away from your relationship with God. Get reconnected and start seeking Christ consistently with other committed believers.
  4. Celebrate your victories. Did you reach one of your goals? Celebrate! Tell your coach and your encouragers. (See tip 2.) Praise God and be proud of the work He’s doing in you. When you win a big game, the team celebrates. It should be the same in your spiritual life.
  5. Sacrifice to excel. You can be too over-committed to being spiritually healthy. Boldly, cut some things out of your life. It might be a sports team, a job, or a demanding friendship. Anything that keeps you away from God is an enemy. Build a fortress around your walk with God. Push back anything that tries to take away from that relationship.

Without Christ at the center of your life, any positive aspiration has the power to become a slave-master, whether it’s sports, academics, or a desire to be good at something. It will exhaust you, weaken you, and never satisfy.

You don’t accidentally make straight A’s, and you can’t live a godly life accidentally. You were made to run after God. You were wired to do great things for the name of Christ.

So, what mark do you want to leave on your high school, your community, or your family? Expect great things from yourself spiritually. Then, get ready because God will do even more than you ask or imagine according to His power that is at work within you (Eph. 3:20).

This article was written for the March 2013 issue of ec by Jennifer McCaman. Get your subscription here: .

5 Tips to step out of your sibling’s shadow

March_12So, how do you blaze your own trail when your brother or sister has gone before you? Check out the following tips:

1. Pursue your own interests.

Jeremy’s older brother was the quarterback for his high school football team and led them through two winning seasons. So, when Jeremy came in as a freshman, the coach repeatedly approached him about playing for the team. But Jeremy wasn’t remotely interested in sports. He had played in middle school and really didn’t enjoy it. Rather than give into the coach’s requests to join the team, Jeremy explained that football just wasn’t his thing. Not having practice for sports freed him up to join the debate team, where he excelled. Soon, he was making his own mark.
Instead of trying to make yourself into version 2.0 of your sibling, figure out what interests you and invest your time and effort there.

2. Focus on your strengths.

Sarah always dreaded the first day of school in math class. The minute her teacher figured out she was related to her older sister, the teacher would make a comment like, “Your sister was one of my favorites! I’m looking forward to having another A student!” The problem? Sarah struggled in math and felt resentful that things had come so easily for her sister. But, during her sophomore year of high school, Sarah discovered a passion for writing and started to focus on that instead. Focusing on her strength helped her to feel better about herself, even in the classes where she wasn’t as successful as her sister.
Don’t beat yourself up for not being as good at something as your sibling. You’re each unique—and that’s a good thing!

3. Think outside the box.

Troy’s older sister was really involved in the drama program at his school, and she’d gotten the lead in the school play several times. She was also really outgoing and had a lot of friends. But Troy was fairly shy and always felt like his parents expected him to have a different personality, that they wanted him to be more like his more outgoing sister. They worried when he would hang out with the same friend every weekend or turn down an invitation to a party. Then, during his junior year, Troy found a job at a comic book shop, where he made friends with similar interests. When his parents recognized that he was content, they backed off.
We’re not all wired the same way. Your siblings may be extroverts who thrive on crowds of people and lots of friends, while you’re an introvert who cherishes a few, deep friendships with people who really get you. Instead of hating your differences, learn to celebrate them!

4. Let go of bitterness.

Jason’s brother never liked to play by the rules. In high school, he constantly got into trouble and barely graduated. That legacy left a long shadow. Jason always felt like teachers would blame things on him in class because they expected him to behave like his brother. This caused him to grow bitter and angry. One of Jason’s friends noticed Jason’s anger and encouraged Jason to forgive his brother and let it go. Once Jason did, his whole mood and attitude changed. He also politely told his teachers about how their assumptions made him feel. Once they were aware of his experience, they adjusted their expectations of him. It’s hard to live in a sibling’s shadow, especially when he or she didn’t have a very good reputation. The easiest thing to do would be to hold on to those bitter feelings and let them define who you are. But as a Christian, bitterness shouldn’t be one of your defining characteristics. Learn to forgive and focus your worth on who you are in Christ.

5. Identify what’s really important.

Stacy’s sister was a cheerleader who won homecoming queen and was voted most attractive in senior superlatives. Stacy envied her and would constantly compare herself to her. But the summer before her junior year, Stacy went on a mission trip to an orphanage in Honduras. The children there were so full of joy, even in the midst of poverty. Suddenly popularity and social status seemed less important to Stacy. That fall, Stacy started a service club at her school; she had replaced her priorities with something more meaningful. If you spend all your time trying to outshine your sibling, it may be time to realign your values. Jealousy and constant comparison are not the way God has called you to live. Focus your purpose and your worth in Christ, then let Him define what’s really important. And don’t be surprised if your priorities shift!
It can be hard to follow in the footsteps of an older sibling. Sometimes the expectations can be overwhelming, but try to enjoy your differences. Ultimately, God is the one writing your story, and it’s yours alone—no one else’s.

This article was written for the March 2013 issue of ec by Gretchen Williams. Get your subscription here: .

Boundary Lines

This month, ec‘s cover story, “Rules of the Road” by Jennifer Denning, had to do with the boundary lines God sets in the lives of those who follow Him. Her advice? “Don’t spend your life always pushing against God’s boundaries, convinced there’s something better outside of them than the godly life He’s called you to. There isn’t.”

febfeaturedSo, what are some boundaries we know God has set in our lives?

A Few Boundaries God Has Set
• Don’t love money. (See Heb. 13:5; Matt. 6:24.) God doesn’t tell us not to love money because He wants everyone to be poor or because money is innately evil. Instead, God knows that when money—and getting more of it—is our primary focus, we will not be wholly devoted to Him. Money—and all idols—can be detrimental to our relationship with God.

• We must forgive. (See Col. 3:13 and Luke 17:4.) God hasn’t told us to extend forgiveness because what happened to us is unimportant. He asks us to forgive because He knows the bitterness and ungodliness holding a grudge will bring. He also wants the world to see that His forgiveness is real and the best way to show that is through the lives of His followers.

• Don’t make idols. (See Deut. 5:7-8 and Matt. 6:19-21.) The Old Testament sometimes describes God as a jealous God. That doesn’t mean that He’s envious exactly, but that He wants all of our allegiance and focus. In the Gospels, Jesus told people again and again that He didn’t want half-hearted followers who made family, traditions, or anything other than Him their focus. God doesn’t want to share your allegiance or your affection. He knows how unfulfilling life can be when it’s centered on something other than Him and His purposes.

• Pursue purity. (See Prov. 16:2, Matt. 5:8, 2 Tim. 2:22-23, and 1 John 3:2-3.) God instructs us throughout Scripture to live lives that are characterized by purity. This isn’t just sexual purity, though that is included. God’s Word clearly states that sex is reserved for marriage, which is a lifetime commitment (Gen. 2:24). But God has called us to a lifestyle of purity and integrity. We are to “walk in the light,” letting the new life we have in Christ affect every decision (1 John 1:7). Our lives should line up with God’s standard and His plans and purposes should be our focus.

This article is excerpted from “Rules of the Road: Living within God’s Boundary Lines” by Jennifer Denning, which appears in the February 2013 issue of ec. If you’d like to read more, buy the February issue. Get your monthly subscription here: .

Warning Signs of a Toxic Friendship

istock // 07-16-10 © Nicole S. Young

istock // 07-16-10 © Nicole S. Young

You may have friends who tend to be unsympathetic when you’re having a bad day or think only of themselves. We all know that even in good friendships, we may sometimes hurt our friends. The key is to recognize when a friendship has moved from the healthy category into the toxic one. Do any of these characteristics sound like they describe a friend of yours?
• Selfish
• Unsupportive
• Competitive with friends (We’re not talking about being competitive in sports. Think about people who always have to be the best at something, who always have to win or get their way.)
• Self-centered
• Negative/pessimistic
• Demanding
• Inconsiderate
• Rude to parents, teachers, or authority figures
• Unbeliever/does not attend church
• Constantly puts you or your interests down

If a friend of yours possesses some of those characteristics, it’s probably time to evaluate whether or not you still need to be friends. While it will always be important that you treat him or her with respect—the way Christ would have, it is not necessary that you allow that person unrestricted access to your life. Establishing boundaries can be an important means of salvaging your sanity and perhaps waking up your friend to his or her destructive tendencies.

But if your friend attempts to control you or gets jealous of time you spend away from him or her or continues with negative characteristics after you talk, these are warning signs that the friendship has grown toxic, and you will probably need to end it all together.

How to End a Toxic Friendship

A few tips for ending a toxic friendship:
1. Pray. Ask God for wisdom in how to handle the situation and what to say to your friend.
2. Be direct. Have a conversation in person with your friend about why you two no longer need to be friends.
3. Be firm. Set boundaries and stick to them.
4. Be prepared for emotional fallout. Your friend may resort to some unpleasant tactics as he or she deals with losing you.

This article is excerpted from “Unfriend Me! When Friendships Turn Toxic” by Emily Cole in the February 2013 issue of ec. Get your copy . Subscribe here:

9 Things to Think About Before You Post

istock // 07-21-11 © sturti

istock // 07-21-11 © sturti

Sharing is good. But sharing takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to the wide world of social media. Sure, many of your thoughts, feelings, and moments in life are worth sharing. But before you open the feeling floodgates online, consider a little user discretion. Here are a few important factors to help you set some solid boundaries:

1. Anger Management

We all love the opportunity to vent—and venting can be a healthy thing. However, social media is not the best venue for releasing steam. Always consider whose eyes are watching your feed. Without even thinking, you could scar or damage relationships. When someone makes you angry, the best plan of action is to pray for the person and to seek God’s wisdom in the situation.

2. How to Lose a Guy (or Girl) in 10 Days

Know that special someone you have a crush on? It can be tempting to text, tweet, and post all about them, 24/7. But don’t make things awkward by posting your feelings for all to see. If you can’t hold back the giddiness, we suggest sending a direct message.

3. Adventures in Baby-sitting

For the girls especially, baby-sitting can be a great way to make some extra cash as a student. But always throw caution to the wind when posting photos, videos, or comments about your adventures in baby-sitting. Families tend to check out potential sitters by watching their posts. And nothing could be more humiliating than losing a job (of any kind) because of a Facebook post or tweet.

4. Crazy, Stupid Love

Relationships. Oh, how we love to be in the know about who’s dating whom, which super couple broke up, and who’s relationship is “complicated.” So, use a lot of discretion in this area. Before you boldly announce your relationship status to the world, make sure you’re ready.

5. Mirror, Mirror

Pictures are fun to look at on social media sites, but when it comes to posting photos of yourself, user discretion is definitely advised. Once you put a picture on the Internet, you have no control over what happens to it. It can be downloaded, copied, even sent to people you never intended to see it. Think twice before posting any photo of yourself online. People aren’t always who they say they are online and their intentions aren’t always pure and good.

6. The Notebook

Remember when Facebook statuses were short and (sometimes) sweet? Somewhere along the way, they’ve become incredibly long journal entries that often expose way too much information to the average reader. Always be careful about giving too much personal information to the masses. Don’t publicly share your phone number or any information that could provide predators with your location or daily habits. Instead, set your privacy settings high and be wise!

7. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

This one is for those guilty of posting controversial messages. Before you get overly bold with your political opinions, spiritual convictions, or feelings about sensitive topics, pause and think about who might be easily hurt by your harsh words. Typically, no one will be converted to your way of thinking via public rant.

8. Mean Girls (or Guys)

Let’s be honest: No one is a fan of catty, mean-spirited attitudes—especially online. When you get those urges to publicly poke fun at someone on the Web, remember the Golden Rule.

9. The Twilight Saga

Late night Web chats are common among teens. But just like in the movies, creepy behavior can emerge in darkness. Be very cautious in the conversations you engage in, especially with someone you don’t know well. If a chat conversation makes you uncomfortable, make a quick exit. You can always blame your parents. (They won’t mind!)

Whatever you do via social media, never throw caution to the wind. Use discretion, be wise, and make every opportunity to encourage others with your words and speech (Col. 4:6).

This article was written for the February 2013 ec by Adam York. Get your copy . Subscribe here:

Boundary Lines: The editor’s thoughts on the February issue

“Stay in the yard.”

Those were my mom’s words to me and my brother one summer afternoon when we were about 6 or 7. We lived on a country road off of Highway 25, the main thoroughfare through the rural part of southeast Missouri where I grew up. For the most part, we heeded her words. We played in the yard and enjoyed the swing set my dad had built for us. That was until our beloved dog, Twinkie, decided to go for a little jaunt toward Highway 25. Worried for his safety, we followed him—all the way to the busy highway.

I don’t think my brother and I realized the danger of this situation until we were at the highway, with cars whizzing past. My mom had given us that boundary for a reason and by ignoring it, we’d blundered right into a very dangerous situation.

Sometimes, that’s the way we treat the boundaries God has set in our lives. We know they’re there, but we push past them, thinking we know better or that God just doesn’t know what it’s like to be us. But He’s set those boundaries on purpose: to protect us, to keep us from sin, and to help us become the people He wants us to be—people who accomplish His purpose and plan on this earth.

This month in ec, we’ll examine all kinds of boundaries, from toxic friendships (p. 19) to oversharing on social media (p. 26). Jennifer Denning will investigate why God sets boundaries and what a world without them would look like in her cover story, “Rules of the Road.” And Will Snipes answers many of your specific boundary questions, from parents who smother you to how to make daily time with God a priority.

Let God challenge you this month!

6 Tips for Fitting In (by Standing Out)

istock // 07-20-11 @ sturti

Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong? Is there something different about you that others just don’t understand? If you don’t fit the typical mold, you’re not alone. Truth is, we can all relate to feeling like an outsider.

But Why?

God created us for relationship, so when connections don’t come easily, it can feel hopeless. But what if “fitting in” is the wrong goal altogether? When fitting in is your only goal, you become like a chameleon, changing colors with the landscape. You can lose yourself trying to blend in, and others pass right by you. Instead of doing all of that, rest in who God made you to be.

Fitting In by Standing Out: A How-To

Embracing your uniqueness isn’t easy, but here are some ideas that might get you headed in the right direction:

See the beauty in yourself. God made you with the same creative energy He used to paint the sunset and orchestrate the ocean waves. He took great care in making you, and he delights in you. Zephaniah 3:17 states, “He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will bring you quietness with His love. He will delight in you with shouts of joy.” Let that sink in. God is pretty jazzed about who you are, so why wouldn’t you be? To give it a shot, list five things you like about yourself, and read the list every day for a week.

Remember you’re not a mind reader. A lot of teens who have trouble fitting in assume that everyone has negative thoughts or opinions about them. That’s not always true. Realize that there is someone out there who thinks you are worth getting to know, and give that person a chance. It’s not fair for you to decide what they think about you before they do.

Stop comparing yourself to others. Easier said than done, right? It’s so easy to look at something others have—the “right” look, grades, or abilities—and think that you’re missing the mark. But consider that those who you think have it all together usually don’t. They just do a good job of hiding it. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.

Cut out the negative self-talk. If you recorded the things you say to yourself and played them for someone, what would they hear? Would you say those things to someone else? Fill your mind with God’s truth from Scripture so that you can play a better soundtrack in your head. Then, when you realize you’re telling yourself lies about your worth, declare the truths of Scripture.

Try not to dwell on past experiences. A lot of teens carry around old wounds from their younger days. Whether it’s a history of being bullied or hurtful words others have said in the past, let them go. Look at each day as a fresh start and ask God to help you forgive others.

Look beyond a first impression. As much as you don’t want people to make snap judgments about you, avoid doing that with others. Before you dismiss a friendship with someone, get to know the person. Find out the kinds of things they like to do or what their family is like. You just might find that you are more similar than you thought. Sometimes, the best friendships are the unexpected ones.

This article was written for the January issue of essential connection by Gretchen Williams. Get your subscription at

Winners: ec’s 3rd annual photo contest

Ready to meet the winners of ec’s third annual photo contest! With no further ado, here we go . . .

Hope in Christ: The editor’s thoughts on the January issue

It was the middle of the night, and I was tossing and turning, struggling to sleep.

Jan_2013_coverIt was a ­particularly hard time in my life. My grandmother had passed away a few months earlier, a friend had walked away from the faith, and I was struggling in my own relationship with God. I was anxious and stressed out, and it felt like my hope was flickering out.

On one particularly sleepless night, I remember trying to pray and feeling like it wasn’t doing any good. But I couldn’t not pray. It felt like my hope was dying, but there was this tiny flame that wouldn’t stop burning. I prayed that night for God to wake up a specific friend to pray for me.

The next day, that friend emailed to say that he’d woken up in the middle of the night with the overwhelming desire to pray for me.

And that tiny flame of hope inside of me flamed back to life.

This life isn’t easy. There is grief, disappointments, the tiring cycle of sin, shattered dreams, injustice, poverty, and fears. It’s easy to feel hopeless in the midst of all that.

But you don’t have to. If you’re a believer, there’s a tiny flicker of hope inside of you that the world can’t put out either.

That’s what this issue of is all about. It’s why you’ll study the tough “why” questions Habakkuk lobbed at God in your devotions and delve into the seemingly hopeless world the Minor Prophets were living in—and you are, too. It’s why Carol Sallee invites you to find hope in the hopeless situations you’re facing, and Leslie Hudson urges you to choose joy this year.

Sometimes when you feel the most hopeless, God gets to show you what it really means to find your hope in Him. That’s my prayer for you this month!

Mandy Crow-23mandysig