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.


3 responses

  1. I agree with your concerns. There is an element of emotional manipulation in some of these settings. They are designed to elicit an emotional reaction — no different from a horror movie, a stadium rock concert or even the opera. At their worst, they generate the emotion and then tell the uninformed that what they are experiencing is God. It is momentarily impactive, but the participant often is left struggling to recreate the emotional high, hoping to re-experience God. And when it doesn’t come, he or she is disappointed, feeling abandoned.

    As you say, God surely uses these gatherings, as He uses everything. Hopefully, those who are impacted positively at these venues will come home to families, friends and spiritual mentors who can help these believers find and experience God in their daily walk. . .in a way that is deep and authentic and relevant and does not require the spinning of oneself into a frenzy.

    January 15, 2010 at 6:20 am

  2. CapeJim

    I can see two aspects (& there are no doubt more) to intensity as a potential problem area. After all, even talk show hosts such as ‘Ms. O’ tout how we are to “get in touch with our feelings.” One thing that I for decades have been is a person who listens to the words of a song/worship hymn, every bit as much as (as my daughter said) if it “has a beat.”

    On the other hand, one area where many mainline churches drop the ball, is having music and/or words to hymns which are not speaking to either youth or persons without much/any connection to ‘church.’ I once visited a church near me (car was out of commission then), where in the tract rack at the back of church, one tract made it clear that any version/translation of the Bible *other* than the King James Version was a ‘perversion.’ (their word) – BTW, I grew up using that version and recall many verses in that form. But we don’t speak THAT “King’s English” today…

    The church must not only teach the Word, but must teach it in ways that can speak to today’s people, not my generation or my grandparents’.

    I am 63, FWIW, and listen very predominantly to more contemporary forms of Christian music – because the lyrics help me try to keep it real in my daily walk with my Lord Jesus. I also recognize the importance of feeding on His Word by a daily Bible reading plan. My $0.02.

    April 30, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    • There is some merit to ensuring that the message is presented in a way that speaks to particular generations, but that can be problematic as well. Willow Creek Church essentially started the seeker-sensitive movement in order to make the message appealing and palatable to a particular group of people, yet after several years, they studied the results of this practice and realized that it didn’t work and actually backfired.

      The message is already relevant to those who truly want it. I worry that sometimes the message ends up lost in the fanfare.

      Intensity is not in of itself bad. It definitely has its place, and the scriptures are chock-full of places where there’s intensity and it’s good. But sometimes it, too, can be an idol, I think.

      April 30, 2010 at 6:12 pm

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