The Power and Place of the Go Declaration on a Campus

By Paul Van Der Werf

Paul is the National Lead Facilitator for SVM2 USA and currently lives in California.

Who bears the weight of the responsibility for the stagnation in growth of long term cross cultural workers being sent to the least reached? Is it the institutions around us that lead to high debt levels and provide students a clear path toward the American Dream? I don’t think this is the main problem.

Oh, OK. Then it’s got to be sin issues or materialism and the lack of willingness to sacrifice? Nope, that’s not it either.

I’d like to propose that the answer is… us. That’s right, you and me. As leaders and influencers, we are responsible.

You see, the primary reason that students in this generation are not choosing to go long term is because we aren’t asking them to go long term. Instead, we’ve lowered the bar and are calling students to be ‘radical’ and go on a week or summer long trip.

The good news is students are responding to the challenge and the invitation put before them. In fact, they are responding in astounding numbers.

In the last 10 years, the number of North Americans involved in short term missions (<2 years) has exploded, growing by over 1000%.

However, the bad news is, in that same time, the number of North Americans involved in long term missions (>2 years) has grown by exactly 0%. That’s right. Stagnation. In the last decade, there’s been no growth in the number of long term workers in North America.

The primary reason for this comes down to a very simple principle: we have not because we ask not. Or, put another way, we’re getting what we’re asking for: the central and highest invitation and challenge that students are receiving is a call to short term missions, most often a month or less.

This, on most campuses and in the minds of most students today, is the epitome of missions’ obedience.

So I propose to you a simple solution: Let’s start inviting students to a longer term commitment. What if we called students to something that was actually sacrificial?

What if we invited students to put their heart for justice and their mind for social action into practice by going long enough to make relationships and therefore have impact on the most needy and least reached?

In 2002, research conducted on campuses nationally indicated that a long term missions call was given only 5% of the time that a missions or great commission message was given on campuses.

That’s right. Even when missions (God’s heart for the world, the great commission, etc) was the focus of the message, only 5% of the time was a clear call to longer term missions given as an application step. Just ask yourself.

What was the last time YOU were invited by someone on your campus to personally consider going long term to bring the gospel to a lost and dying world?

One Answer: The GO Declaration card

Recognizing this significant gap, the GO Declaration was developed to help put a longer term call to the least reached back on the map. The GO Declaration states simply “It is my purpose, God Permitting, to bear the Message of Jesus Christ among the least reached for two years or longer.”

The stated intent of the GO Declaration is clear and simple: Those signing it are putting a stake into the ground declaring their intent and purpose to go and bring the Message of the gospel to the least reached for two years or longer.

It is a very simple concept: put something into the hands of students that enables them to clearly understand a challenge to rise up to the bar set before them and that also assists by giving a clear action step in their own journey.

The GO Declaration was partly inspired by the significance of how God’s used a variety of ‘response/commitment cards’ over the past generations. The ‘Haystack Generation’ (1806-1850s) had a leather book for each campus that was signed by those who were giving their lives to the great commission.

The ‘Student Volunteer Generation’ (1886-1920s) used a Volunteer Declaration card. Finally, in the last couple generations (1947-1970s), it has been Urbana’s commitment card that God has used so powerfully.

Commitment cards are effective for several reasons:

  1. 1. The invitation is specific – Upon being given a commitment card, students can see clearly what is being asked of them and count the costs of such a commitment.
  2. The action response is clear – There is no question of what the expected resulting action is both to the one being invited as well as to the person making the GO Declaration invitation.
  3. Follow-up, discipleship and accountability are enabled – When there is a clear declaration of mission intent, leaders are able to effectively come along side to disciple.
  4. Use of a card encourages an ongoing call – Using a clear declaration card ensured that a clear invitation to go to the nations occurred regularly within the each campus/ministry.

These facts and the incongruous state of short term missions and long term mission commitment in the US helped to lead to the development of this tool to call students to longer term involvement called the GO Declaration.

How to use the GO Declaration most effectively:

First, the GO Declaration invitation is best given by those who are planning to go themselves. If you are a student who is planning to go, then why not start inviting your friends and fellow students to go with you.

For those that are going long term, the GO Declaration as an amazing little tool to help them clearly articulate an invitation for others to make a similar commitment and be a part of the front lines of what God’s doing globally.

Secondly, the invitation to GO should be done regularly. I suggest that your students are invited to make their GO Declaration at least three times a year: once each semester in a planned setting and then on every short term mission trip.

If the invitation is given regularly, it will allow the call to marinate in the hearts and minds of your students, and give them an on ramp to go to the nations throughout the different seasons of their college life.

Making a longer term call a part of your ongoing discipleship rhythm speaks to the value and priority that you as a leader place on God’s heart for the unreached, and to your belief that your students are able to be the goers that God seeks in our generation.

Lastly and most importantly, the GO Declaration invitation must be authentic. It must be given clearly and with both spiritual and strategic underpinnings. It should not be done in an overly emotional setting or with guilt or pressure as motivating factors.

This generation of students will see through what they see as manipulation. A sincere, well thought out and prayed through decision is the desire of those that developed the GO Declaration.

When to Use the GO Declaration most effectively:

Not surprisingly, one of the most effective and relevant places to invite students to the GO Declaration is as an application step while on a short term mission trip and during the mission trip debrief.

Issuing the GO Declaration challenge during the mission trip is desirable because then it gives student time to seriously and prayerfully consider their response throughout the trip and during the final debrief.

The theological underpinnings and strategic importance is also important to communicate. With that in mind, a longer term go invitation is best given in the context of the intersection of the understanding to the Biblical basis of mission and of the current status of the unreached.

When students understand that God’s heart to be in relationship with all peoples begins at the very beginning of time and is seen throughout all of Scripture, a light bulb usually goes on.

They realize that if God’s global mission is central to who God is, then those of us trying to be like Jesus should probably make it central to our lives.

The GO Declaration helps students who are internalizing God’s heart for the world understand that a viable response to this is to make a commitment to join Christ in going to those that have the least access to a gospel witness.

It is also imperative that our campuses teach and understand the spiritual reality of the lost world we live in and the absolute spiritual poverty that exists among the least reached in our generation. Over two billion people today live in geographical and cultural areas where they will never come in contact with a Christian.

These are the ‘unreached’ and the unreached will not hear the gospel unless a new generation of cross cultural Message Bearers go for as long as it takes.

What if we, as leaders and influencers in this generation, raised the bar and asked students to go for two years when they graduate? I’d bet they’d respond and go! There’s a wave of new workers that are waiting to be unleashed.

If we’d invite them to give the first couple years after graduation as a first step toward a lifetime of devotion to Christ, I’d bet that we’d get what we ask for. I bet we’d get what we ask for because this generation is ready and they are willing. They believe that they can change the world. The question is: Do we?

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