Jim Elliot and a Vision for Great Commission Families

On January 8, 1956, five American missionaries were martyred for their faith in the Ecuadorian jungles of South America. One of these men, the one whose name has become the most recognizable over the past 50 years, was a 29-year-old man named Jim Elliot. Just a few years after I gave my life to the Lord, I stumbled upon the published journals of Jim Elliot. I was challenged by his spiritual devotions and inspired by his heart for the unreached. When the Lord called me to be a missionary to an unreached tribe in the South American jungles, I turned my attention even more to Elliot’s journals and biographies. 

In his biography I read about his parents. They were Christians but struggled with the idea of sending their young son to an unknown, dangerous place. It’s easy to discuss Family Missions and advocate the idea of being blessed to be a blessing while calling one another to obey the Great Commission inside and outside the home. It’s much more difficult when a Great Commission Family is led to go to the unknown or even send their children there alone. 

Jim Elliot wrote a letter to his parents, encouraging them in their call to be a Great Commission Family. He wrote: 

            “I do not wonder that you were saddened at the word of my going to South America. This is nothing else than what the Lord Jesus warned us of when he told the disciples that they must become so infatuated with the kingdom and following him that all other allegiances must become as though they were not. And he never excluded the family tie. In fact, those loves which we regard as closest, He told us must become as hate in comparison with our desires to uphold His cause. Grieve not, then, if your sons seem to desert you, but rejoice, rather, seeing the will of God done gladly. Remember how the Psalmist described children? He said that they were as an heritage from the Lord, and that every man should be happy who had his quiver full of them. And what is a quiver full of but arrows? And what are arrows for but to shoot? So, with the strong arms of prayer, draw the bowstring back and let the arrows fly–all of them, straight at the Enemy’s hosts.”[i]

Elliot’s parents embraced the vision of a Great Commission Family and sent their son like an arrow. Elliot and his wife, along with four other families, gave everything to make disciples of an unreached nation and bless a native tribe with the Gospel of Jesus. That tribe drove spears through the young missionaries before they could ever talk about Jesus. But the Lord’s arrow did not return void, for Elliot’s wife and other relatives of the martyred men persevered, brought the Good News to the Huaorani, and saw a harvest of souls.  

Let our prayer for our family be more than safety. Let us dream beyond the American Dream. Let us join a story bigger than ourselves, and let us passionately resist the temptation to forsake the Great Commission simply because it is difficult or counter-culture or uncomfortable or unfamiliar or unknown. Let us guard our families against the Enemy’s schemes as we seek to cultivate Family Missions, for as one author writes, “The Enemy wishes nothing more than to coax our kids, if not into rebellion, into pursuing passionless, insignificant, and potentially empty lives. As long as he can hamstring them with apathy, he need not worry about them doing damage to his kingdom.”[ii]

If we encourage our families to bless the nations the way Jesus has blessed us, then we must allow room for passion and boldness for the things of the Lord. I especially think this is a needed charge for parents, because we are far too often the most likely to quench the passion of our children. 

I believe a Great Commission Family will recognize that our children’s passion can be a gift rather than a curse. This passion can be a blessing that blesses others.   

Kids are wild. They run, they scream, they explore. My daughter sprints everywhere she goes. If she needs water, she runs to the refrigerator as fast as she can. Shoes? She flies up the stairs. Time to go? She darts past her brothers to get to the door. She's excited. She's passionate, and I aim to remember that her passion is a blessing. 

It's tempting, as a parent, to try and tame my children. I'm not talking about discipline. Of course we discipline. I'm talking about not stifling their passion, excitement, and joy, just because they're passionate about little things, excited in a loud way, and joyful when I'm trying to get them to go to sleep. 

Children spend their childhood being told to sit down, slow down, and quiet down. Then, when they're grown, we complain that they don't take a stand, take initiative, or speak up. We ask, “Where's the motivation? Where's the passion? Where's the drive?” The answer is, perhaps, we told them to suppress it years ago. 

New Testament missionaries were driven by a passion for God's glory among the nations and filled with a boldness to live the mission. Passages like Acts 28:31 and Ephesians 6:19 remind us that there is a need for Gospel boldness. This is the boldness seen in the life of Jim Elliot. 

It isn’t reckless or prideful. It isn’t self-seeking or aimless. It is a passion for the things of the Lord and a boldness that finds its strength in the Spirit of Christ. 

Oh, that we would see the passion of our children and, instead of pushing it back, we would cultivate it, encourage it, and lead our children to become passionate and bold for the things of Christ! 

I pray that our children would become burdened for the things of the Lord. That a Gospel need in our broken world would capture their hearts and move their feet to respond. That we would not wonder what happened to their drive years from now, for we will, even now, give them room to run, room to love boldly, room to sprint to the hurting, room to fly to the nations, and room to dart to the least of these for the glory of Christ. That we would see the passion of the next generation and view it as a needed gift for which we are desperate. That we would follow the example of Jim Elliot’s parents, and embrace the vision of a Great Commission Family.   


Jonathan Williams is the founder of Gospel Family Ministries, the author of Gospel Family: Cultivating Family Discipleship, Family Worship, and Family Missions, and the senior pastor of Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston, TX. He lives in Houston with his wife and three children, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Family Ministry through the School of Education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.

[i]Elisabeth Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot(HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY: 1989), p. 132.  

[ii]Julie Ferwerda, One Million Arrows: Raising your Children to Change the World(Wine Press Publishing: 2009), p. 21-22.