When I was a student at Shorter College in the late ’90s, I heard about a conference for college students in Texas called “Passion.”
There were CDs of new and inspiring worship songs coming out of the conference as well as sermons from compelling speakers.
Every local college worship service seemed determined to capture some of the energy of this new movement, which, at that time, according to the vision and leadership of Louie Giglio, was to culminate in an event called “OneDay” – a solemn assembly and worship festival to be held in a field near Memphis, Tenn.
I remember attending OneDay and being riveted and moved by the worship and sermons I heard there.
I also remember a good friend of mine reading a bizarre passage out of Amos 5 that day: “I hate, I despise your solemn assemblies.”
And neither of us could figure out what that could possibly mean in the context of a movement that looked and felt like genuine revival.
The latest iteration of the Passion movement, Passion 2012, finished in Atlanta recently.
During Passion 2012, more than 70 college students from Arkansas slept on air mattresses and ate Pop-Tarts in a drafty old church – all to experience a conference that in many ways is identical to what I experienced during my college years.
As I stacked up mattresses while cleaning up what is normally our children’s area, I stumbled across a program some forgetful collegiate left behind.
As I looked through the worship guide, every page screamed a common theme – “freedom.”
More specifically, freedom for those enslaved around the world. Children, women, those in sweatshops, those in brothels. People who were bought and sold every day. In bold capital letters (shouting for the Internet generation) was the slogan “DO SOMETHING NOW.”
I remembered back to OneDay and the days after, when I first discovered that the Amos passage was God venting some holy anger: While there were solemn assemblies, the orphan, widow, alien and oppressed were dying in the streets.
CNN featured Passion 2012, primarily because the event raised more than $3 million (yes, from college students) to combat human trafficking and end slavery around the world.
That included a $100,000 donation to the host city of Atlanta, an international hub for human trafficking.
Upon hearing this news, I couldn’t help but feel that Passion as a movement is evolving in very much the same way as the life of faith.
The early years of Passion focused on Isaiah 26:8: “Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.”
The implication was that if worship in the name of God were to take root around the world, then conversion, discipleship and even peace would follow.
That inward, soli Deo gloria focus, when turned outward in public worship, became a powerful force that created a kind of ecstatic worship experience.
The worship component is still very much intact at Passion, but the outcome is quite different.
Raising funds to combat human trafficking and “end slavery in our time” is, to me, an external focus – a shift from inward devotion to concrete action.
For many Christians, this shift is familiar, as we often move from inward devotion and worship to action and service.
As my wife and I were talking about this evolution, within the Passion movement and within the life of faith, she asked, “I wonder what would have happened had it not had that inner focus?”
As a social worker, she knows all too well that a commitment to change and justice rarely provides endurance for the task. “Without the sense of purpose and filling up,” she said, “you’ll never make it to actually doing anything about it.”
And that gets to the church. In many ways, the Passion movement has irrevocably altered the course of the American evangelical church.
Yes, their praise and worship choruses and bands predate the Passion movement, but the movement made them mainstream.
My first Christian CD was by the wunderkind of contemporary Christian music, Steven Curtis Chapman. Today’s generation knows only his heir, Chris Tomlin – perhaps the nation’s most successful worship leader and a key figure in the Passion movement.
Most of the contemporary worship movement has been pushed forward by some aspect of the Passion movement, resulting in megachurches trying to recreate the feeling of a Passion conference every Sunday.
“I wonder if the churches will evolve,” my wife also said. For whatever one’s opinion may be of the Passion movement, the irrepressible enthusiasm of youth has nowhere else so clearly been capitalized to a singular end.
As the Passion movement evolves, it appears that end has moved from internal to external – from self to neighbor.
Perhaps the most persistent question for the church, particularly those who wish to capture the same zeitgeist, is: Will the church follow course?
Can you imagine congregations spending as much money providing community and support services to single parents and the unemployed as they do on sound systems, musicians and projectors?
What would happen if a church went to online giving and put their budget line for church envelopes into a micro-loan for someone starting a small business?
Or switched church fixtures to greener options and used the energy savings to provide weather stripping and compact fluorescent lights to seniors? Or launched a capital building campaign – for a free community health clinic?
The move from inward to outward is the way of Jesus – a way that can be moving and inspiring when it occurs en masse. The question is, will the church follow?
TreyLyon and his wife, Jen, are CBF field personnel serving as urban ministry coordinators in southeast Atlanta. You can read his blog at soulache.posterous.com or learn more about their work at thelyonfamily.org.