More About Jim Rayburn ...

Here’s what the men who followed Jim Rayburn as the head of Young Life had to say about him:

I never had the privilege of meeting Jim in person nor the opportunity to be part of an audience who heard him speak. But I am extremely grateful to Jim for his passion for the Lord and for kids. And I am so thankful for his willingness to start Young Life despite the many challenges he faced. I want to ensure that we in this mission are doing today what Jim did: introducing lost kids to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith. That, to me, is his great legacy!
Denny Rydberg, president of Young Life, 1993-present


It was the summer of 1969, and I was a student at Young Life Institute in Fountain Valley, Colorado. An announcement at lunch included a message from Maxine Rayburn that visitors would be welcome for short times at the family home with Jim recuperating from cancer surgery. I was on the phone in a heartbeat, and an hour later walked into the basement office for an unforgettable thirty minutes with Jim. I asked him what counsel he would give to a third-year staff person like me. His two challenges have been etched on my heart ever since then:

1. Always go after the “hard kids” -- the ones who won’t readily respond to coming to club or camp without someone working to build a bridge of friendship with them.

2. Don’t forget that the only thing that really lasts that you can impart to kids isn’t your humor, your clever antics, or even your best talks; rather, what really stays with them over the years is what you imparted in word and deed about the Saviour.

These two encouraging exhortations from Jim have stayed with me over the past four decades of working with young people. They are timeless in their relevance.
Doug Burleigh, president of Young Life, 1987-1992


There is no leader who has had an impact upon my life as much as Jim Rayburn. During my early teens I met him. I was one of those kids with whom he began in the formation of Young Life. I first saw and heard him proclaim the gospel in a Dallas citywide tent campaign in the early 1940s. Following that campaign he led the first Young Life club in Dallas, which met each week in our home. Humorously he called it “Club 37,” not wanting us to think this was some tiny, insignificant organization. (He never claimed to have 36 other clubs!) Somewhere along the way Jim led me to Jesus, and I shall be eternally grateful.

God gave to Jim a set of timeless principles for an outreach minister to teenagers. They are as important today as they were when I was under his leadership while in high school. Young Life was formed to reach unreached, unchurched young people. The approach was built upon leaders making unconditional friendships with kids. The gospel would be proclaimed in a neutral setting. There would be a clear emphasis upon Jesus Christ, his grace, his person, his work. Messages would focus upon biblical texts, with a prayerful attempt at bringing kids each week into the presence of the Savior. Also the camping setting would be particularly effective in reaching kids. New followers of Jesus would be encouraged in their walk with Christ, study of Scripture, prayer, and in becoming a part of the larger body of believers in the world, the Church.

Jim was devoted to Jesus, a man of prayer, with a passion for reaching kids who were on the outside. He was a brilliant biblical communicator, tireless in pursuit of his calling, and never without his wonderful sense of humor. This is our legacy, and may God enable Young Life to continue the journey he began!
Bob Mitchell, president of Young Life, 1977-1986


Jim Rayburn was a remarkable man, and a great Christian leader. Jim suffered almost all of his adult life—physically and emotionally; physically, with severe migraine headaches and digestive problems that led to losing one-third of his stomach. Maxine, soon after she and Jim were married, struggled with back and nervous afflictions, which led to operations and lengthy hospital stays. Then there were three precious children added to the family.
In spite of all this, or because of all this, God used Jim to establish the most unique ministry in all the world, that of going to adolescents, into their world, building friendships and relationships with the kids who styled themselves as being disinterested in anything spiritual, or having to do with church, religion, etc. And after winning the friendship of many of the kids, finding a way to share the most important life of all history, that of Jesus the Christ, in language the kids could understand. Jim was hoping they might desire Him in their lives, and was being careful not to pressure them, but gave them enough information for them to make an intelligent choice.

I never met a person so charismatic, who had such a marvelous capacity to communicate the Good News. He had a profound impact on my life. I looked upon him as my spiritual father, as did thousands of others.
Bill Starr, president of Young Life, 1964-1977

(all presidential comments from July 2008)