Trusting in Intensity
The Passion 2010 Conference has come and gone. If you’re not familiar with it, Passion is a ministry and movement started by Louie Giglio of Choice Ministries, that gathers college and high school students annually for worship, prayer, and speakers. It collects something like 20,000 students from across the globe each year.
I have mixed feelings about this sort of thing. These conferences can have a great impact on some students. Many people come to gatherings such as these and come away with a different perspective and direction for their lives. Giglio said that his vision for this latest conference was to “awaken a generation”, and some people do seem to have an awakening.
On the other hand, these kinds of conferences are designed to be intense. (This particular conference is called Passion for pity’s sake!) They’re about getting people excited, to get emotions running. I’m sure that the conference organizers wouldn’t state it that way and would argue that that’s not the point, but it really is part of the process. You gather thousands of people together in a stadium, get them moving and singing, encourage them to let themselves go… That’s a recipe for heightened emotion, for intensity.
We’re already living in a culture where intense experience is something of an addiction. This is why television shows, movies, video games, and so forth all have become more graphic, sexualized, explicit, violent, etc. as time goes on. We want more. Worship services in many churches can be times where we look forward to the feeling of worship – a sort of high.
Yet these highs don’t guarantee anything other than the intense experience itself. Football fans have similar experiences at games. That experience doesn’t mean that God is present. The experience also doesn’t guarantee that there is any change in a person’s heart, character, or life direction. Some people do have those things, but it’s not certain. The only guarantee such an experience gives is that there is an experience.
So I’m somewhat leery of these kinds of conferences. Good comes out of them. They’re wonderful motivators for service projects that help people. They can have an affect on many of the attendees. But, what about the rest of the people who attend? What do they come away with? The least they can come away with is a high that comes and goes and then all returns to normal. But I fear that many may come away with a reinforced deep belief that intense experience is a sign of or means of change or even that that intense experience is a principle good in of itself, and these are false beliefs. There feels to me like there’s an implicit assumption that this kind of intense experience in a stadium singing together with thousands of other Christians will create change in people’s hearts, and that’s not necessarily true. The organizers are trusting in the intensity of the experience they create to be transformative, which is a dangerous place to put your trust. And essentially, isn’t it a means of trusting in oneself? In one’s ability to create an experience? There are unquestionably things that we can do that may enhance our capacity to be transformed both overall and in a moment. I’m not sure creating an intense experience is one of those things.
I know people who have come back from this conference, and something in them seems changed, but is it transformation or just a “mountaintop experience”?
I know there is good coming out of these conferences. Even if it weren’t intended, God can redeem anything we throw at Him (or ourselves) and there is definitely some good in this, both intended and not. Yet I question some of the other aspects of it, particularly this idea of powerful experience being a creator of transformation.