Passion Conferences had been growing and going strong for almost a decade before Kristian Stanfill met Passion’s visionary Louie Giglio and became connected with the movement. He was leading worship at a student conference when a friendship began “very organically.” It wasn’t long before Louie invited Kristian to lead worship for Passion 2005 in one of the smaller community groups.
Kristian shared about those first days with Louie Giglio and Passion, “We fell in love with the people. I had been tracking with Passion for quite a few years before I was involved as a worship leader. And so once we got involved we fell in love with the people, obviously the heart and the vision of Passion is beautiful. Here we are 15 years later and have been a part of Passion City Church since it started about 11 years ago. And we’ve loved the journey and we love the people. It’s amazing team to be a part of.”
Passion’s latest album, Roar: Live from Passion 2020, thrusts you in the midst of over 65,000 voices worshipping at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Recorded live earlier this year, the enthusiasm of the crowd will reinvigorate a sense of joy and reignite your own passion for praise (seriously – you won’t be able to stop yourself from singing loudly along with Roar).
I talked with Kristian earlier this summer, just as the global pandemic and COVID-19 quarantine was becoming a part of our daily lives, and the Winter Jam tour was forced to close. Even during this uncertain time, Kristian’s ministry and urgency for reaching people, especially college students, are of his highest priority.
So you joined up with Passion when you were college-age, and some time has passed. How do you – the word relevant is so overused – but how does your music change to appeal to the next generation?
Well, a couple of things. One, I think the gospel is always relevant and I think when we’re lifting up Jesus and when we’re lifting up the cross and the hope of the gospel, that spans across all generations. When you can do that in an authentic way, in a real way that cuts through a lot of trends it lasts for a long, long time. That’s what I’ve loved about Passion is there hasn’t been a lot of flux in the message at all. Things look different from year to year, and obviously we’re progressing in terms of style and the way things look, but the message of Passion has always stayed the same. And I think that’s what’s allowed Passion to last all these years. The cross is a timeless message.
The mercy of God is a timeless message. And I don’t really see Louie (Giglio) and his wife Shelley or the team concerned much about being relevant. It’s really more of staying true to the vision that God gave for Passion 20 plus years ago now, which was to call college students to live for what matters most, which you and I know is the glory of God in our lifetime. So that stays timeless. The other thing with music is it’s a lot of fun to kind of pull all the different trends and sounds of music. If you listen to Passion music from the very beginning, and then you listen to our latest record Roar, obviously it’s a very different sound and there are different trends, but the heart of it has remained the same.
When songs sweep across the globe, I feel so connected to other people because we’re all kind of on the same page. Speaking of influences, I didn’t know until recently that the song “Way Maker” was written by a Nigerian gospel singer.
Sinach is her name. I just, any chance I get I just want to say, ‘thank you.’ I don’t know that she’ll ever hear us, but we say thank you to her a lot – an amazing song. I was talking with my wife last night about how cool it is that God sometimes preloads worship songs into the hearts of people. With how crazy the world is today and how wild and uncertain things are – I love that the church around the world has already had this anthem “Way Maker” in their mouths, singing that God is working even when we can’t see it, when we don’t feel it. I just love how God does that. And it’s a beautiful song and it was a powerful moment that conference.
I was listening to the album last night. And like you said so much feels like it’s very equipping. Is there a song in particular that you would offer up to anyone who’s feeling any kind of anxiety in general or about the quarantine?
I think God is so wise and so good to give a song. Like I said, He kind of goes ahead of us and prepare us for things. And I really feel that this record and a lot of the songs on this record have been preparing us for what we’re in right now, which is again, it’s just a really uncertain time. But as a church, we know what is certain and what is for sure. We know that God is in control. We know that Jesus is on his throne, and no one can overthrow that and change that. So that truth is in a lot of these songs. “There’s Nothing That Our God Can’t Do” really is calling people to believe that God is all powerful that Jesus has the name that makes a way where there is no way. And you know, what we pray for the song is that it stirs up faith in people to believe maybe for the first time ever, or maybe to believe again, that there are greater things ahead.
I love reading the comments under videos. And I was looking at some of Passion’s social media – the video for “Waymaker.” One of the comments a guy wrote was “This is like when the Avengers assembled at the end of Endgame.”
Fantastic! Great! Well, I don’t know about that, I don’t know about that. I want to follow up with that guy and I want to figure out who is who in the Avengers’ story. I’d like to know more about how he would interpret what’s going on. If I could just possibly, I would like to be Ant-Man. I think that would be really cool.
Ant-Man is versatile! I liked his role.
Yeah, very versatile. Paul Rudd. Great. Dry humor. Hilarious. Hilarious. So, yeah, maybe if you’re listening out there on social media and we’ll, we’ll get a spreadsheet going!
It’s so funny how our generation, all of our pop culture references are going to go back to Avengers.
I know, I know. Hey, look, it’s cool! It’s a great franchise. I celebrate the whole franchise.
So, I’ve talked with other established artists, people who have been here and will be here singing the gospel for a long time, and what I’m finding that there’s a theme running through – they’re not interested in trends. They’re interested in the truth of the Word. When you write these songs, when you perform these songs, are you thinking about the longevity of how it could be around for 20, 30, 40, 50 years? Is that something that goes into your song writing?
Wow. I mean, that’s a great question. I think for us as songwriters, especially when we’re thinking about writing for Passion and for the church there probably was a day when I was a younger songwriter where I did think more about that. And I thought more about writing songs that would have longevity. I don’t think that’s a bad thing to pray for. I think that it can be a noble ambition to write songs that will go further than your lifetime.
That’s beautiful if it brings glory to Jesus. Where I’ve been operating from in the past two or three years especially, is just being honest and authentic with what God is doing in my life and being honest and authentic with what God’s doing in our church in the world. I mean, hello, what’s happening right now? It’s good to be aware as a songwriter that the whole globe is gripped by this pandemic. And as a songwriter, I need to be aware of that. So I think it’s for me right now, it’s just being real and honest with what’s happening right now and writing the song that God gives, making it the best it can be, and then giving it to the church and giving it to the people. If God wants to breathe on it and send it to the far reaches of the world, that’s amazing. Or maybe it’s just for our church and it’s just for this season. So I think it’s an open-handed thing. You have to constantly fight for the humility as a songwriter.
How does your group handle the reponsibility of having such a large and public platform? Do you kind of keep each other in check or is that even an issue?
We have no issues, no issues. We are an issue free organization! So I don’t know what you’re talking about. [laughing] No, it’s something we take very seriously and I love what you said, just being aware of the platform and ultimately the way we see ourselves as Passion. We’re truth tellers, and we’re telling the truth to a world that has been deceived by lies. We take that really seriously and everything we do. I love being in these meetings that lead up to a moment like Passion 2020, you’ve got 60 plus thousand college students in one place. It’s going to be this massive gathering. But the focus isn’t on the numbers, I love that about our teams. We’re not going into every meeting like ‘What are we going to do to wow, all these people?’ At the heart of our production team, the heart of our, our video and creative teams, all the songwriters, all the speakers everyone who has a hand in designing anything, we’re trying to reflect the beauty of God to people. Not to say that we’re a perfect organization. Ultimately, it comes down to, we’re here to tell the truth about a real and living God whose love is so beyond anything that these people could. And we want them to taste that and see that.
So let me ask you about the album because I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Here’s the tough question – what’s your favorite song?
Oh well…it’s tough. The record is full of all of the really special moments that happened at conference. And if you were there, then you’re going to relive all of those moments when you listen to this record. But for me, one of the most powerful moments that happened was when Sean Curran led “All Praise” during the daytime. And you know, I think a lot of people have this misconception that anything good or powerful at a conference or an event has to happen at night because the sun is down and everything looks cooler. Like, I don’t know, there’s some sort of expectation about when the sun goes down.
It was the middle of the day. The Mercedes Benz arena was lit up with the sun. There was this brightness about the stadium. And Sean said something at the beginning of his set about turning the stadium into a grand cathedral with praise to our God, and I just got chills just thinking about this. Then he led the song “All Praise,” and it was one of the moments for me at conference where the line between heaven and earth got real blurry for a minute. Like we are standing in a moment where worship leaders have disappeared. The name of the conference has disappeared. The cool lighting and production has disappeared, and we’re all just adoring Jesus and giving Him the praise that He’s worthy of. That moment for me will always be a memorable one.
If there is one message that goes along with Roar as a whole, what would you say? What do you want people to walk away with?
I think the title says a lot. I think the title Roar says that Jesus is alive. The grave couldn’t hold Him down and He is alive and He is roaring. It also says that his people are roaring not in an antagonistic way, but in a, ‘we have good news to share’ way. We’ve been radically changed by radical love and we’re going to roar as his sons and daughters and let the world know that Jesus is the way.
Check out the video of “All Praise” at Passion 2020 below, and get your copy of Roar today!