Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend Passion 2015 in Atlanta and experience for the first time this worship and justice movement for college-age students. Led by Atlanta-based pastor Louie Giglio, Passion began in 1997 and has reached over 20 million college students across the globe with the goal to spread the fame of Jesus Christ.
One afternoon we sat down with Bryson Vogeltanz, chief steward of the passion freedom initiative. Here’s what he had to say about the impact Passion is having in young people’s lives, including his own.
1. What part of Passion is most under-appreciated?
I think the unnoticed piece is we have a really small staff, and almost all of what you see when you come to a conference is because people are volunteering their time. We don’t call them volunteers; we call them door holders. That all comes out of Psalm 84, but it’s this idea that a volunteer signs up and shows up, but a door holder actually opens a door because they’ve been on the inside. They’ve been a student here, they’ve experienced Jesus inside of the arena, so they’re willing to work in a parking lot or another building or come days early to set up.
Over 1000 door holders are here this weekend serving. None of them are 18 to 25 year olds. All the door holders are 26 and above, so they’re people who have experienced this and are now saying, “This is what I’m going to do this weekend of my life. I’m going to take vacation and pay for it with my own money because it was so impactful for me.” They are the ones who make Passion tick.
2. When did you get started with Passion Conferences?
My wife and I were college students in 2000 at an event called One Day. We weren’t married at the time; we were just dating. But we were on this field with over 40,000 students at one of the Passion gatherings, and it was in that moment that God really shifted our hearts for the things of Him and really changed the trajectory of our lives.
Fast forward 14 years later, my wife and I have been serving and working alongside Passion in different capacities since we graduated from college and got married.
3. Why do you believe something like Passion is needed?
I think what’s needed is the opportunity to unite a generation. We have here at Phillips Arena this weekend (this is one of three weekends) students from over 730 campuses, from 46 different states, from over 30 different countries. A lot of these people come from a small campus here or a small college ministry there or maybe they come from a country where there just aren’t many believers in Jesus in their 18 to 25 year range. But when you gather together, you are in this zone together, and you’re in an arena with people who are thinking the way think, and you’re learning and you’re encountering Jesus in this way. It’s a game changer for you because you’re like, “Oh, my goodness! We’re not the only ones. There might only be 20 of us on our campus, but there are thousands of us around the globe or around this country.”
4. Is “Jesus Generation” the same conference theme each year?
We don’t really do a theme. When I was a college student 15 years ago, the same verse — Isaiah 26:8 — was at the core. And Dr. John Piper and Louie Giglio were doing the same messages about the glory of God and about Isaiah 26:8 as we are now in 2015. So there is no theme; that’s the central message of Passion.
But what has happened along the years is that these different themes have emerged among us. One of them now is this language where we’re saying this isn’t the “me and mine” generation; this is the “You and Your” generation. And the “You and Your” is reflecting Jesus, so we’re the Jesus Generation.
One of the other things that emerged going into Passion 2007 and we were trying to help every single student engage with this idea of worship and justice was the idea that we’re not just going to sing songs and then go home. We’re not just going to listen to messages and go home, but we want to see a tangible difference made in our city.
It started with bringing towels and socks and giving them to homeless organizations in the city, and it emerged from there saying that everybody can do something. We started putting these causes before the students and saying, “This amount of money will raise this,” and Passion wasn’t keeping any of the money. All of the money was funding outside organizations; we were just using our mouth, our voice and our influence. And since 2007, over $7 million dollars has been given to fund almost 100 different projects around the world, so this is what we call worship and justice.
5. What’s one story you’ve heard of a student impacted by Passion?
Oh, my goodness. There are so many. Louie or myself or my wife will meet people and mention we work for Passion, and they’ll say, “Oh, it was at Passion 2010” or “It was at Passion 2012” or “It was at Passion ’05 that God radically changed my life.”
I’m one of the pastors at Passion City Church, and we were recently looking for someone to be our children’s pastor. I met this guy through a random friend and started interviewing him for this position, and he was a little bit younger than me. I asked him about his faith journey, and he said, “It was actually at a Passion ’05 event in Nashville, Tenn., when Dr. Piper was speaking that I decided to surrender my life to Jesus.” So that was 2005; fast forward to 2015, and I just hired him to be the Passion kids’ director at our church. That to me is the whole world coming full circle. Now he’s here as a staff member serving as Pastor Piper is preaching to people his age 10 years ago.