"Passion" has become the magnificent obsession of youth evangelist Louie Giglio and a cadre of fellow believers who work daily with student ministries.
Perhaps unknown to most Christians over the age of 30, Passion is a worship- and music-driven movement sweeping across college campuses.
"People call it a movement, but it's really just an idea of how we should live our lives as Christians," explained Christian musician Chris Tomlin, a regular worship leader at Passion events.
Giglio began Passion Conferences in 1995 under the non-profit umbrella of Choice Ministries. His passion is to reach the 80 percent of America's 16 million college students who do not have a personal relationship with Christ and to deepen the discipleship of Christian students.
Deep in the heart of Texas
Giglio's roots in college ministry date back to 1985, when he established Choice Bible study at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. After graduating from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Giglio returned to Baylor for further graduate studies.
"I never dreamed of college ministry," he said. "It wasn't one of the options I'd been looking at for my life. But when it happened, it was just perfect and felt so right.
"All of a sudden, it dawned on me ... there was an opportunity for us to start a ministry there. It was just one of the most amazing moments where God was working."
The Baylor Bible study set the stage for other large-scale campus Bible studies in Texas. Today, thousands of students attend weekly events such as Breakaway Ministries at Texas A&M University and Paradigm Ministry at Texas Tech University.
"The thing about it that was really cool was that we really felt called to Baylor," Giglio explained. "People kept asking, 'Why don't you come here on Tuesday night and come over here on Thursday night?' But we kept saying: 'We're called to this campus and these students. We want to see God make the biggest impact He can make on this campus.'"
After leading Choice Bible study for 10 years, Giglio and his wife, Shelley, believed God was calling them to Atlanta to care for his father, who was near death.
"My mom was taking care of him, and she was really about to go under," he said. "Shelley and I felt the peace of God to leave Baylor and help my mom. We transferred the leadership of our ministry, and we weren't thinking about anything except taking care of my dad."
When students returned from spring break in 1995, Giglio announced he planned to leave at the end of the semester.
But when Giglio's father died before they moved, the Giglios faced an unexpected crossroads.
"We had already told everybody we were leaving, and we had already told our staff they were taking over," Giglio said. "It's kind of hard to come back at that point, and say: 'Well, guess what, we're not leaving after all. We're back!' So, we felt like we needed to keep going to Atlanta."
During this time, Giglio saw a new vision.
"In the midst of that summer, a picture flashed in my head while on a plane one day, traveling from Dallas to Atlanta," he explained. "It was a picture of not just one campus -- but the campuses of the nation. All of a sudden, God was saying: 'Now, it's time to lift your eyes up from a single campus, Baylor, where you've spent 10 years of life, and think about the 16 million college students in America. I'm going to do something new called 'Passion,' and I need somebody who will help steer the ship for a while, and you're available.'
"I was like: 'That's true. I am available. I have no job. I have no ministry. Shelley and I are completely available.' We took the first step, and the rest is history."
A new Passion
Armed with a vision, Giglio searched for a starting place. Eventually, he sought the help of 25 like-minded campus ministry leaders from around the nation.
"We pulled those guys together and said: 'We want to birth something new. We're going to have a four-day gathering, and it's going to be about the glory of God.'"
That event was called Passion '97. About 2,000 students attended in January 1997 in Austin, Texas.
The next year, 5,000 attended a similar event. By 1999, the Fort Worth Convention Center filled with 11,500 students from six continents for four days of worship and renewal. Speakers included Giglio, Campus Crusade founder Bill Bright, pastor and author John Piper, youth evangelists Voddie Baucham and Gregg Matte, as well as Bible teacher and author Beth Moore.
"All of a sudden, we're sitting in Fort Worth and looking at 11,500 students," Giglio said. "We're thinking: 'This is great. But if we just keep growing incrementally, it's going to take us a long time to impact 16 million students.'"
From that, leaders of Passion Conferences reshaped their vision to create a solemn assembly called OneDay.
"We didn't want to call it Passion 'something' because we wanted to take our name off of it. We wanted it to be totally about the Lord," Giglio said.
In May 2000, OneDay became the largest collegiate gathering of its kind in the United States in more than 25 years. Forty thousand students from around the world met on a field in Shelby Farms, Tennessee, to join in worship and prayer for spiritual awakening.
After the first OneDay, Passion embarked on a nationwide tour of 25 cities to share the vision of what leaders called the 268 Generation. The name is based on Isaiah 26:8, which says, "Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts."
In the spring of 2002, Passion hosted the Thirsty Conference, its first gathering specifically for campus ministers.
"The time we had at OneDay 2000 was so supernatural and powerful," Giglio said. "When we came away from that, we sought the Lord and realized there were a whole lot of college students who weren't in college for Passion '99 or OneDay 2000. We wanted to keep spreading the message and impacting their lives."
OneDay 2003 drew nearly 30,000 students to a field outside Sherman, Texas.
From there, college students have continued joining them on the next part of their journey -- which has included tours across the country and large worship gatherings designed to help students develop a hunger for God and for missions.
At Passion '07 in Atlanta, the "Do Something Now Campaign" gave students practical and attainable ways to impact lives on a global scale. Representatives from 35 mission organizations were available to help students discover service opportunities.
"Making our lives count for what matters most is a worthy goal but a costly proposition, and one that must be thoroughly absorbed and embraced if our lives are going to be shaped for His renown," Giglio said.
This year, Passion will have gatherings in Boston (Oct. 12 -13), Chicago (Oct. 19 - 20), Los Angeles (Jan. 25 - 26), Dallas (Feb. 15 - 16), Washington D.C. (Feb. 22-23), and Atlanta (April 11-12). In addition to those events, Passion Conferences will be having a world tour that will go into 15 nations in 2008.
"Our prayer has always been that the gospel would explode across the campuses of this nation and that no one would remember where it started," Giglio said. "We didn't set out to for 40 years of conferences. We set out to see God's Holy Spirit blow a wind on a generation that would bring a spiritual awakening to college campuses by encouraging students to live for His name and His renown."
Music and worship
At Passion Conferences, the music combines traditional hymns and contemporary worship songs. They have their own recording label, Sixsteps, which partners with Sparrow Records for distribution and marketing, and is home to Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Charlie Hall and the David Crowder Band.
"It's been unbelievable how God has used the songs," Tomlin said. "We never started out to make records; that's the amazing thing. We were just doing this conference for students."
"I think God gave us the gift of music because where words stir our soul on one level, music stirs our soul in a different level," Giglio noted. "If you can combine truth of expression of who God is ... with this powerful, heart-moving, soul-stirring thing called music, then you've really got something amazing. I think it allows people to be touched on multiple levels.
"We could just sit around in a circle and say all of our worship, and it would be just as meaningful to God. But when we come together and experience a musical expression of our worship, I think it just brings more of our person to the table. It brings all of our experiential levels to life and makes the worship expression more powerful."
Sixsteps recording artists and lead worshippers are known for their humility while leading thousands of students in corporate worship.
"We don't show up as 'artists' at Passion events," Hall said. "We show up as people who are going to be relentless about looking toward God and making Him the biggest, brightest thing there. I feel like the goal is always pounding in our hearts that we truly want the light to shine on God."
Leaders of Passion Conferences encourage students to serve and support the local church and local Christian ministries on campuses across the nation. Setting a strong example, the "voices" of Passion are actively serving in their local church.
Tomlin leads worship at Austin Stone Community Church, which he helped start in downtown Austin. Crowder leads worship at University Baptist Church in Waco, while Hall leads worship at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City. "Being involved in a church keeps us grounded," Tomlin said.
One of the key messages at Passion events focuses on worship being more than a song, but a lifestyle that glorifies God.
"Worship is our response, both personal and corporate, to God -- for who He is and what He has done; expressed in and by the things we say and how we live," Giglio said.
"It says in Romans 12 to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, that is your spiritual act of worship," Tomlin noted. "Everyone was created to worship. Worship is our response to what we value in life, and God must be the center."
The main reasons students give for attending Passion Conferences are to draw closer to God and to unite with a body of believers in prayer. At each Passion event, a significant amount of time is spent in prayer.
The setting at Passion Conferences is designed to strengthen a believer's relationship with Christ, and participants come eager to serve God and seek God's will for their lives.
The most important thing Giglio wants to stress, he said, is that students' lives should center around God, not vice-versa.
"Our lives exist for God," he said. "God doesn't exist for us. I think if we can really grab onto the thought that life is not about us, ... it frees us to really live in the full potential of what we were created to do."
Exporting the passion
While these conferences are not designed as an evangelistic outreach, the invitation at Passion Conferences is a call to become more active as Christians. Passion encourages young adults to turn their passion away from worldly pleasures and toward Christ.
Stan Britton, student minister at First Baptist Church of Forney, Texas, has seen firsthand the impact Passion is making -- not only among students, but in his own life.
"It has taught me to have a greater respect for a passionate pursuit of Christ in my daily relationship with Him," Britton said. "If you think about Isaiah 26:8, you have to realize that Isaiah was describing the fame of God in Christ. Nothing gets famous unless people talk about it. God has really begun to set my focus on being deliberate about my conversations concerning Christ."
As a college student, Britton went to Passion '99 in Fort Worth.
"To see thousands of college students worshipping God was incredible," he said. "My prayer was that each of us would not just have that intensity inside the arena, but to see God be passionately worshipped outside, on the street corners and sidewalks. That's where we fail. We get passionate at conferences and camps, but we fail in the everyday life.
"Today's generation of students has to set aside their own personal fame for the cause of making Christ famous. They get pumped up at events but lose heart in the everyday. Christ will not get famous on the Earth unless His people begin to talk about Him in a passionate and intense manner.
"God is raising up a generation of students that are more aware of spiritual things," Britton said. "They realize that a relationship with Christ is more than what happens at camp. Passion has played the role of a reminder to all of them. As we wait patiently for the Lord and His coming, His name is constantly on our minds and in our mouths. That type of intensity is what truly makes Jesus Christ famous among the nations."
At Passion events, many students find themselves kneeling in prayer and reflection, while others are moved to tears as they cry out to God. Through personal and corporate worship, participants ask God to hear their cries for their non-Christian friends and loved ones, repent and humble themselves as they dedicate their lives to God.
"When it's all said and done, Passion would like to see not any monument to a ministry or to our name, but what we would like to leave behind in the generation is a bigger, louder anthem of the name of God," Giglio said.
"We want to leave behind a generation that is feasting on how amazing God is, because whatever we're feasting on is what we're going to be broadcasting to the world. What the world needs from us is to know that we've found our happiness in God, that we really do take delight in Him, and that He is the best thing going on in our lives.
"As we broadcast that to them, we want them to have a hunger and desire for themselves and see that the Lord is good. So, we want to give back what we're all about. We want His name to be echoed in the whole world -- not just in America, not just the college campuses of America, but to the whole world."
For more information about Passion Conferences, please visit www.268generation.com
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