A Passion for the Christ
Long before the word "Passion" became synonymous with that famous Jesus movie, it was already a buzzword for a young generation of believers wanting to live entirely for God's renown. Though the movement's manifesto has always been strictly vertical, Passion is also responsible for introducing us to the heart and the songs of Chris Tomlin, the David Crowder Band, and many others. Christian Music Today talked to Passion founder Louie Giglio about the growth of the ministry, how it operates as a family, and how popularity and commercial success are but vehicles to get the message out to a wider audience.
What prompted you to start Passion?
Louie Giglio The death of my father. That seems like a strange starting point, but from '85 to '95, my wife, Shelley, and I led a campus ministry at Baylor University in Texas, and we wanted that campus to really come alive. We had never done a campus ministry before; God just sort of planted us there and birthed this ministry. In a few years, in a campus of 11,000 kids, there were 1,400 of them coming to these weekly Bible studies. It was simple. It was teaching that was super-challenging. Like, "God wants your whole life for his glory." And it was music, giving kids the chance to really express their hearts to God in worship. That's all we did.
So where's your father come into the story?
Giglio In the ten years we were there, my dad was disabled with a brain virus. He couldn't feed himself. My mom was taking care of him. I'd pray, "Lord, let me go to Atlanta to help my mom take care of my dad." Finally, in 1995, I felt like the Lord said, "You can go." So Shelley and I transitioned our leadership to our staff. We started to get the dominoes in place for our big move. I was willing to work at Home Depot, if necessary. Anything to help my mom take care of my dad.
On the last Monday of our Bible study before leaving Baylor, that's the day we buried our dad. He had a heart attack on April 28, and died. It was totally unrelated to his disability. That left us in a pretty weird place. We were in no man's land. We'd left Baylor, our ministry. We couldn't really go back after transitioning our staff. We had no ministry in Atlanta. But on the plane back to Atlanta, I had this picture-a vision, as clear as day. It was a generation of college students. They were on their faces worshipping and praying for spiritual awakening in their generation and giving their lives to God. I think it lasted a second, but it blew my mind. God was shifting my focus from the 11,000 students at Baylor to the 16,000,000 college students in the nation.
How does that work? You didn't know anybody in Atlanta.
Giglio Well, Atlanta didn't have anything to do with it. Atlanta was just going to be the base. But the picture was God saying, "This is what I'm going to do with Louie. And I'm going to use you in it, because right now I need a guy who doesn't have a job, who doesn't have a ministry. And you're the guy right now."
I didn't really tell anybody about this for three months. You can't just walk up to people and say, "I had a vision from God. This is what's going to happen." I just carried it for a long time. And then I just slowly started talking to people about it. I talked to Shelley about it. I'd talk to a friend here. A friend there. Eventually, everybody was affirming, "Dude, where do we start? We see the vision."
So how did this evolve into a national event?
Giglio I used to speak at that time to a lot of campus ministries around the country, even though I was living in the Baylor student world. I knew a lot of college leaders from around the country. And I knew which ones had a similar heartbeat for what we were going to do. And those 15 or 16 college leaders brought their kids to Passion '97 in Austin. Two thousand people showed up, and it was just four days of seeking the face of God, and yielding our lives for his fame, his glory. And man, God just dumped on this thing. And the whole movement started. We didn't do any marketing or PR for the next year, but those two thousand turned into five thousand the next year.