The Benston Review: Passion Regionals

Passion Regionals

This weekend, I had the immense pleasure of attending the first leg of the Passion Regionals tour for 2007-2008. Held right on the campus of Boston University (in Agganis Arena), this 2-day conference brought together 1,200 students – from Boston and well beyond.

I still need to post a review of the Catalyst Conference, and I will do that soon. But for some of you – including my newfound friends in Chicagoland – the next Passion Regional event takes place in less than a week. So that’s one goal of this post – to give you an idea of what to expect, either as a ministry leader or a student. If this is helpful, great! If not, just head to the next post! But if there’s any chance you might want to attend one of the events this year, I’d encourage you to read on…

For the record, there are 5 more Passion Regionals scheduled through this school year:

  • Chicago (Oct. 19-20)
  • Los Angeles (Jan. 25-26)
  • Dallas / Fort Worth (Feb. 15-16)
  • Washington, D.C. (Feb. 22-23)
  • Atlanta (Apr. 11-12)

For the full info on any location, click on that location at the official Passion Regionals site located here. (Obviously, this is also the place to go for all the specific info about the conference, registration, etc.)

As this “Review” begins, there’s one big caveat: Clearly, anything can change between Regionals sites. Those changes include:

  1. Worship leader differences between venues (the various worship leaders are listed online)
  2. While John Piper presents a message in Chicago (and did in Boston, as well), Francis Chan occupies the same spot in the remainder of the Regionals. So clearly, that could mean a completely different topic for at least one of the messages.
  3. Knowing Louie Giglio and the Passion team, “tweaking” of the event could take place all year long. So there will probably be changes – even semi-radical ones – if the Passion guys deem it necessary or helpful.

That being said, I’ll do my best.

Bang for your buck: One of the first things I’m thinking about today (on a very tired Sunday) is that Passion certainly crammed a lot into a day-and-a-half. I appreciate that, especially when the conference is so much shorter than the usual Passion blow-out (and still not exactly cheap for the average college student). Everybody here who attended is worn out today – and not just ’cause the Red Sox went 11 innings last night. 4 sessions, each at least 2 1/2 hours, with plenty of rock-out worship… Yes, this was definitely a “full” experience, which I know is probably a major question potential attendees have.

Passion HandsBasic itinerary & worship: Each session certainly did contain a lot of singin’ time – but there were plenty of the regular Passion prayer times, calls to action, rallying around future ministry, etc. At the same time, definitely missing from the common Passion itinerary is any sort of small-group debriefing or “breakout” sessions, presumably due to the time constraints. (So ministry leaders might want to plan on doing some of that – probably post-weekend – on their own.) There was nice space for meal breaks, especially needed in the middle of a city. And you don’t get out so late the first night that you can’t get a good night’s sleep. Still, the worship singing and yelling and jumping and the rest wears out us “old folks” pretty quickly…

In reality, the worship was a highlight. They definitely brought their loud guys (Tomlin, Hall, Fee) to Boston, and the lights, media, etc., were in full effect. But Passion has always combined “cool” with some pretty meaningful worship, including songs that could very well outlast this generation. There is much opportunity, as always, for some significant you-and-God time, even in an arena with multiple thousands.

You’ll encounter several new songs, too, as is usual for Passion events. And one in particular – Tomlin’s new song about “This City” – is very powerful, for the reasons explained in the next paragraph.

The city-focus: One of the particular uniquenesses of this year’s Passion experience is the city-focus. And in this place (Boston), there is something very special about locality. The New Englanders are excited to see Jesus stirring here (indeed, He is stirring here), and they love their cities – maybe more than many of us love ours. But Louie and the Passion team love Boston, too – and this was clear not only this weekend but also 4 years ago, when they let Bostoners experience a night of Passion for free. Back then, the “Passion thing” was all pretty new to New Englanders, and even now it is unique and exciting for these Christians to see 1,200 together in worship.

Boston on Passion Stage

Through a random set of circumstances in 2003, I got to be at the one-night event here in Boston then, too. Like then, Giglio spoke this week of God’s work in a brilliant and hurting and cold and huge city, and we cheered. I hope – and guess – that the future Regionals will have this same focus – not only in word but in video and prayer, too. And that’s really exciting to me – especially when I personally think about Dallasites and other Southerners in more “Christianized” cities getting fired up that even “better things are yet to come and greater things will still be done” in their cities. (Those lines are from the new Tomlin song.)

Boston’s crowd was most likely the smallest of the Regionals sites, but that didn’t seem to phase us. God moved among us, for sure.

Message topics & commentary: As for the topics, Passion is unapologetically single-minded, as they continue to call students to live fervently for God’s “name and renown” (Is. 26:8). (You can read all about it on their site.) Nothing new, in that sense: The focus of Passion now is what the focus of Passion has been, and Giglio proclaims that focus well.

Yet though for me this is something I’ve heard plenty, it’s ’cause I’ve been participating for 8 years now – but a good portion of the students who a college minister might take to Passion won’t have experienced it before. When Louie asked Friday night, for instance, at least half had never come to a Passion event; that, he said, is why they wanted to hold regional events. So though for me and many of you this “Passion line” may be “old news” at some points, our students need to hear it just as much in 2008 as other students needed to hear it in 1997.

Further, I’m a big believer in focusing on being “great in the basics” of the Christian life, so redundancy in this most fundamental pursuit is a-okay with me.

Louie GiglioSpecifically, the topics covered were:

  1. This focus on living for God’s glory (Giglio)
  2. Living for God’s glory in the nitty-gritty details of everyday life (Piper – more explanation in a sec)
  3. God’s glory spread through our response to suffering (Giglio)
  4. God’s glory spread via promoting justice in the world (Giglio)

Some quick thoughts on some of that:

First, I wanted to provide you with the topics so ministry leaders could “prep” for questions that could arise. Specifically, as may be clear already, it might help to think through…

  • the classic “we were created for God’s glory” discussion
  • biblical principles on Christian living (especially in Romans 12-13) – this connects to the Piper talk
  • suffering, the Problem of Evil, and how we glorify God in handling suffering
  • “social justice” – one main text here is Isaiah 58

Second, I really liked Piper’s talk. (This talk was actually taped, as I imagine it will be in Chicago, as well. This was not really a big deal, and the talk was recorded just for the Passion Regionals. Other attendees I talked to really weren’t concerned about it, either.) This was a message out of I Cor. 10:31, asking how indeed we can do all to the glory of God.

I once served alongside a popular collegiate ministry that had a whole lot of Piper-fans. The problem was, many of their student leaders, though quite theologically astute, didn’t seem to be nearly as holy in daily life… and were known for dumb things like breaking commitments or slackin’ at school or figuring out how to steal car washes in town. And I remember hoping that Piper would call out those kinds of people – his fans who were good on “high Christianity” but sometimes didn’t let their passion for God trickle down to the details of life.

This was that message. Although I’m sure Piper has discussed such things plenty before now, I really appreciated hearing this direct, Passion-sponsored message that focused on integrity. Piper’s caution – that a generation with great potential could potentially never realize it, that we could look back in 20 years and simply remember that it always seemed like something was about to happen – is an apt and powerful warning.

Third, Giglio’s suffering message was excellent – just about “worth the price of admission.” This, too, has been on my mind plenty – in no small part because of the time spent at Va. Tech this past week. Both in its emotional impact and its theological astuteness, I was really impressed by this one. I already bought a copy for a friend.

Speaking of buying a copy of the message, just a note for those looking to listen in online – there are no plans to make the Passion Regionals talks available anytime soon (which makes sense for a year-long event). Just so ya’ know.

In conclusion: As I said, I’ve been involved with Passion events since 1999, when I was impacted deeply in good ol’ Fort Worth, Texas during Christmas Break as a college freshman. I’ve experienced Passion from lots of angles – from attending the biggest events (like the One Days in 2000 and 2003) to random things like interviewing Charlie Hall about Passion’s groundbreaking “Hymns” CD a few years ago. I am excited about what God has done through this movement, and Passion is a sometimes rather lonely voice calling for purposeful collegiate impact.

While Passion doesn’t offer the whole package of discipleship, they don’t claim to. Instead, God seems to have used them to catalyze a generation in worship and missions and theology. Especially if we match that with collegiate ministry that offers a process following the events, I think God will continue to use Passion this year in powerful ways. Then, next year, they’re going to the world.

Exciting stuff.

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