The Relevance Of Jim Elliot For Youth Ministry

Let me tell you about Jim.

Jim was an active young man who enjoyed sharing his faith with others. He was a social kind of guy. He liked people and people liked him.

He grew up in the United States and was an excellent student in high school and university. During these years he became a Christian, and from that point sought to share his faith with everyone he knew. In university he led a bible study and was the editor of the college newspaper. He studied hard, and received good grades.

At one point he became interested in a girl. This interest occurred as he was exploring options to serve God in a mission capacity overseas.

jim_elliot_by_gregchapin-d6jqcxv

He married Elisabeth and they moved to Ecuador as missionaries. They first learnt the language before moving out near the jungle. Jim had a passion to reach a group of people who had never heard the name Jesus before. He wanted to share Jesus with them and had a few friends wanting to do the same.

After a couple of years Jim and four other friends began to search for a tribe that had never heard about Jesus. They did a number of flyovers of the jungle looking for a particular tribe, their huts and living arrangements. After a number of months they found the tribe they’d been looking for. They began to gently make contact with them through giving them gifts; gifts of food and other packages useful to their tribe were lowered out of the plane they were in.

On one particular day they decided to make closer contact with the tribe by flying to an open area near the village, landing on some hard sand next to a river. The whole day the team chatted with a couple of people from the tribe the best way they knew how. They were encouraged, believing they had made a good impression.

Unbeknownst to the group the rest of the tribe had surrounded them as they had been talking throughout the day. In the thick of the trees and scrubs of the jungle were the men of the village. After dark these tribesmen came out of hiding and killed them, putting an end to their mission task.

Once the guys didn’t arrive home the wives and children soon realised what had happened. In the weeks and months following many, understandably, left Ecuador for home.

But this isn’t the end of the story.

Jim’s wife, Elisabeth, and their daughter, ended up making contact with the tribe. Elisabeth and her daughter became friends with this tribe and ended up living with them for a number of years.

They lived with the people who had killed their husband and father.

Over the course of time the tribe turned to Jesus and from its violent ways into a loving people who cherished the Good News.

The story of Jim Elliot and his wife Elisabeth is a famous story in mission circles. It is a story that has inspired many people to take the leap into cross-cultural mission, and I’d have to be included with them.

However, this isn’t simply a story worth limiting to global missions. It can also be a story relevant to us in youth ministry. Here’s how:

First, Jim’s story reminds us of the concern for sharing the Good News. 

This Good News is the story of what God has done through Jesus. It is the story of God creating and calling a people to himself. It is a story that understands each individual student, parent, family, church member, and member of society, as a loved, cared for, and important person to God himself.

In youth ministry we seek to connect God’s story with the stories of those who we come into contact with. We seek to connect the Good News with the story of each individual connected with our youth ministry. Jim’s story is a reminder that sharing God’s story is to be at the forefront of what we do. It is what we are to be passionate about and committed to. It is a reminder that our youth ministries are to be mission-shaped.

Second, Jim’s story reminds us to be strategic. 

There is strategy behind the plans Jim and his friends had to achieve their mission. This strategy was thought out as they tried to show their love and care for the tribe in a respectful and meaningful way.

In youth ministry it’s important to have a strategy in determining how you go about what you do. Sometimes this might be in your head, but eventually it is worth having something written out in order to explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. A youth ministry without a strategy is like going on a car ride without a map. It helps keep you focussed and helps you know when you’re heading off track.

Third, Jim’s story reminds us of the need for passion and commitment.

No one will deny Jim had passion and commitment. Jim realised the need to be involved in the long-term mission task. He had a passion to share the Good News and to make it known to people who wouldn’t have known otherwise. He also committed himself to this task, commitment even to death.

If you’re in youth ministry and don’t have the passion for it, nor the commitment to it, then why do you even #youthmin?

Passion doesn’t need to be loud and proud, it might be through an inner sense of satisfaction. Commitment will be shown through your presence, your people interactions, and your punctuality to name a few character traits. Encourage those traits and stoke that passion…or find someone to take over.

What inspires me about Jim’s story is his willingness to share the gospel with people and to also share his life with them. He not only gave his live for the cause of Christ but was seeking to share his life with people he didn’t know. He was one of five young men to be martyred that day in 1956, all striving to share their faith with this unreached tribe who had never heard the Good News before. Yet, it took their death for the sharing of the Good News to this tribe to occur.

I doubt you’re putting yourself on the line like Jim Elliot and this mates did when rocking up to youth group on a Friday night. That’s OK. But, whatever your youth ministry looks like remember that it is like double-sided sticky-tape, its about sharing the Good News and about sharing your life.

“…because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:8. 

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4 Replies to “The Relevance Of Jim Elliot For Youth Ministry”

  1. I see it as a cautionary tale of a cultural misstep … when getting to know a tribe or people, you can’t just assume that you’re on good terms just because they accepted a box of candy that you gave the children. What was the tribe’s feeling about the dangerous outsiders that do not respect their ways and traditions? You want to tell others about Christ – fine; but you can’t count on others reacting in ways that you would expect to your message. You can tell somebody about God, but it’s doesn’t follow that they will repent then and there – fully convinced.

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    1. Hi Jamie, thanks. Yeah totally understand where you’re coming from. I had similar thoughts going through my head as I wrote this. However, I was cautious in not wanting to lay current cultural engagement thinking on top of this situation directly. From my understanding the team did seek, as best they knew how and for their time, to engage in a positive way.

      More broadly what you say is true, that people need to be better at being culturally aware and appropriate in their engagement with people – whether they’re from another culture or their own.

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      1. One of my favorite stories was how the Amazon region of Brazil got it’s name. The first European explorers were stomping through the rain-forest when out of nowhere a group of female warriors appeared – the survivors were sent packing with stories of fierce female warriors reminiscent of the Amazonian myths (referring to Greece’s history.) Sadly, the encounter with the Europeans had the ultimate victory – it’s speculated that diseases the Native South Americans had no defense against wiped them out. The tribe was lost. Sometimes I think that in an effort to evangelize the world, we’re inadvertently destructive to other cultures. When Christians came to convert Native North Americans, they erased their names, erased their clothing, erased their faith, erased their traditions and stories. It makes me wonder what our culture might have been if it hadn’t been controlled by Christian interests and a Christian narrative.

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      2. Yep. There are certainly plenty of stories of Christians coming into cultures and destroying them. There are other stories of followers of Jesus coming into cultures and seeking to share Him in culturally appropriate ways. There is a tension between Christianity and culture yet I would like to think that Jesus can be shared in anyway culture and make sense in any culture. Otherwise the mission task becomes fairly redundant.

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