My son Drew gave me a wonderful gift for Christmas—a trip with he and a friend to the Passion 2012 conference in Atlanta. (We may have been the smallest group there, but we got in at the last minute to the sold-out event.)
Passion, a ministry founded by Louie Giglio about 15 years ago, exists to mobilize a generation of young adults (age 18-25) around the glory of God, the gospel of Jesus and the global purposes of God. The ministry is rooted in Isaiah 26:8: “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of Your truth, we wait eagerly for You, for Your name and renown are the desire of our souls.” While the power of Passion emerges from the national conference and the worship music of Chris Tomlin and others, it is clearly more. This is a movement built on the Word and energized by the Spirit for a unique impact in this generation.
Passion 2012 was held Jan. 2-5 in the Georgia Dome, the stadium where the Atlanta Falcons play football. The schedule included times of worship and preaching, community groups for a more personal interaction, and a major emphasis on global social justice. It’s almost impossible to describe the experiences of these days in detail, so, let me just share the snapshots that come to mind:
+ 42,000+ young adults is a lot of young adults in one place! But that also meant a lot of diversity (from all 50 states and 42 foreign countries and who knows how many college campuses) and a lot of wonderful energy. They filled half the Georgia Dome, three tiers high. There were also over 2000 older people, who wanted to invest in this generation, and were there to simply serve the students. The next time I find myself without a group, I’m going as a volunteer.
+ genuine patience, consideration and even joy demonstrated while standing in line…in the cold…over and over again. Moving from one session to another, from the stadium sessions to meal times resulted in bottlenecks of thousands trying to get up single escalators or stairs. Not one word of complaint or even a snap of irritation was evidenced.
My favorite moment? Noticing one guy in an office overlooking the crowds, students by the dozens began to wave. No response. More waving. No response. More wavers. He walks away. Groans. Then returns to the window. Even more waving. Finally the man lifted a hand to the crowd. Cheers!
+ spiritual intensity of the worship. The Spirit’s presence was palpable in every gathering. Sometimes, it was in music, singing and shouts that roared louder than any game I have attended. The sound surrounded you like a blanket. All around were students going all out in declaring God’s glory, with voices and hands both raised. There were moments of “David before the ark” dancing for sheer joy and surrender. Other times, it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop—not an “I’m uncomfortable” cough was heard. There was a clear focus on and expectation of meeting with God in that place.
+ the songs of Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, Matt Redman, Kristian Stanfill and David Crowder are anointed of God for the worship of this generation. The global version of ‘How Great is Our God” with worship leaders from Ukraine, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, China and a children’s choir from Uganda was an astonishing glimpse of the Kingdom and of the promise of heaven that left most of us in tears. But the new songs introduced grabbed the hearts and minds of the students quickly, so that they sang with a personal investment in songs like “I raise my white flag; I surrender all to You, all for You…I’m not ashamed of the One who saved my soul”. Tomlin and the others are writing songs that are the hymns of this generation: rich in doctrine (God-glorifying and Christ-centered), meaningful lyrical content (not trite or sappy), captivating melody and emotional connection.
But don’t miss this: they sang with equal gusto the old hymns that have been around for decades or centuries like Amazing Grace, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms and Because He Lives, and leaned into reworked versions of songs like I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.
+ The Word of God was given a central place to everything. Every single student had a copy of the Bible and most had journals that they opened and took notes when God’s Word was taught with depth and excellence by Louis Giglio, Beth More, Francis Chan and John Piper. But even more…the opening session was scheduled to start at 7pm. Scripture readers began reading Scripture aloud at 6:40pm. The first note of music was sung at 7:30pm! That’s fifty minutes under the Word—plus a message. In a later session, one of the message times was given over to reading the entire book of Ephesians aloud, without commentary, allowing for quiet space between chapters to listen for what the Spirit was saying. Remarkable.
+ global social justice: human trafficking – One of the key components of the Passion movement has been to leverage the lives and resources of students into the deepest human needs on our planet. In previous years, through the Do Something Now campaign, under its banner “Together, we are a force for good”, students have among other things, given money to drill wells for villages without clean water, provide micro-finance loans for people in impoverished countries, fund translations of the Scriptures for peoples without the Bible in their language, and every year, provided hundreds of thousands of towels and socks for the homeless in the Atlanta area.
This year, in addition to more towels and socks, the focus was on one issue: human trafficking. There are 27 million people in slavery worldwide today, more than any time in human history. Much has to do with the sex trade, but there are still those forced to work in deplorable conditions of production for heartless taskmasters. People on every continent and in every country are enslaved – including the United States. Globally, two children are sold into slavery every single minute.
The students were made aware of this through a gripping film that told the stories of three specific slaves, interviews with Christian groups laboring on the front lines of human trafficking, the filming of an anti-slavery music video to be released in Europe and Asia, and an action center where they could learn more. They were challenged to give $1million to combat human trafficking. They stood in lines with thousands of people for hours for the privilege of giving their money away.
After each student gave they were given a pass to a reserved area in an outdoor plaza where, when we arrived, there was little more than a bare scaffolding raised amid some flimsy flags. Turns out there were 27,000 flags, each representing 1000 people enslaved worldwide. And the scaffolding was an art project that the students themselves made by wiring prayers and Bible verses on items that are largely made by slave labor: jeans, soccer balls, Christmas decorations, etc.
When the art project was complete, it was an uplifted hand of…worship…or pleading for help…or identification…or volunteering to do something. It was lit at midnight, surrounded by 42,000 candle-holding students, standing as a silent witness to the horror and their commitment to do something about it in the name of Christ.
Oh, the students gave $2.6 million.
+ impact on the arena workers – There were the volunteers, and then there were also the workers at the Georgia Dome: security people, gatekeepers, back-pack searchers, the workers at the Starbucks and Papa Johns kiosks (which were very popular in the morning and in the evening, respectively). The first day or so, they mostly looked overwhelmed at the sheer numbers with which they were dealing. But then, something changed. The guys with the bullhorns began being more playful. The bag searchers relaxed and joked.
On the last day, one of the arena workers, a single mom, stopped a volunteer and asked her, “What is going on here?”. The predictable answer came back, “It’s Passion, a Christian conference for 18-25 year-olds, and….” Interrupting, the worker said, ”No, I mean, what is this that grabs and pounds inside my chest every time I come to work this week? What is going on here?” And the volunteer smiled and said, “Oh, that. That’s the power of God. Do you know Him?” And within minutes, a single mother working just another event at the Georgia Dome heard the gospel, trusted Christ and passed from death to life.
When relating that story, Louie said, “When the power of God shows up, there are no limits to what can happen.”
+ Kingdom potential– That’s what kept coming to my mind as I would scan the crowd or look at the two students next to me. What could happen through these lives for the advance of God’s Kingdom borders, the pushing back of the power of darkness, the reaching of unreached peoples, the inrushing of heaven-scented justice, the spread of God’s glory and the renown of Jesus?
It is staggering and wonderful to consider. I hope the Lord lets me be a part of it—and that my generation will join them. We could then be “generations united for the renown of Jesus’ name.”