I have always been uncomfortable with the way the evangelical church defines evangelism. They equate it to the Great Commission and indicate that real Christians are ready and willing to evangelize (do drive-by evangelism, hand out tracts at the drop of a hat, and preach at anyone who breathes and enters their radius). I've never been comfortable with that.
For a long time, I harbored guilt about my unease. Obviously I wasn't a real Christian if I didn't like participating in these activities. Along with making me uncomfortable, they seemed ineffective.
I didn't know how ineffective until I was reading The Unlikely Disciple, where the hardest chapter for me to read wasn't the one about masturbation or the one about homosexuality, but the one where the author signed up to do a spring break evangelism trip. I knew the chapter would be mortifyingly embarrassing to me as an evangelical (and it really was). I didn't want to read it, but I knew I couldn't skip it. I stalled out at that point for two weeks.
Part of my discomfort came from knowing that this kind of "evangelism" was pointless. Even someone who does not relate to others normally knows that the tactics we teach to evanglize are not the most effective way to tell others about our faith and beliefs. We are called to love God and our neighbors, and we do that best by having relationships with people and living out our love for God and them among them. However, I wasn't comfortable with the kind of "life-style evangelism" that didn't ever involve telling people why we do what we do and what we believe that motivates us to do what we do. (Another balance issue?!)
Recently, I figured out that the root of my unease with what evangelicals refer to as evangelism has to do with the meaning of words. Matthew 28:19-20 is called the Great Commission and is used by Evangelicals to describe their mandate to evangelize. Leaving aside concerns about whether Christ was speaking to that specific audience or a broader one (and assuming He was addressing a broader one including all believers), I am not satisfied that we are reading this verse right. My Bible doesn't say, "Go preach at people" or "Go tell them the gospel, get a prayer of confession, and mark them down as a statistic. My Bible says, "Go therefore and make disciples . . .."
What we describe as evangelism seems to me to have less in common with biblical discipleship and more in common with historical practices like forced conversions, the Crusades, and the Inquisition. In the past, the church had political authority and power, and we could bludgeon people into doing our will. That's not very biblical, but we did it a lot. For a really long time. Power corrupts and all that.
I wonder if some of our mindsets about missions and evangelism today still reflect the distortions of past (colonialism, HRE stuff) instead of reflecting a more biblical focus. It wouldn't surprise me if this is a case of not knowing our history and continuing to repeat it ad nauseum.
So now I'm really curious about what it means to make disciples. What does the Great Commission really tell us to do? what does it mean to make disciples? Any thoughts?