I get it. I couldn't connect to it all either despite having grown up with it. And then I read Christopher Wright's book, The Mission of God. It transformed both my cynicism and what I think our mission is.
Here is The Story, the grand universal narrative that stretches from creation to the new creation, and accounts for everything in between. This is The Story that tells us where we have come from, how we got to be here, who we are, why the world is in the mess it is, how it can be (and has been) changed, and where we are ultimately going... It is the story of the mission of God, of this God and no other.....Now such an understanding of the mission of God as the very heartbeat of all reality, all creation, all history.
This has settled me. I am comfortable now both with the idea of missions not being a grand evangelistic manipulation scheme (though certainly some people may do it that way), and with the idea that my life is mission no matter where I am.
I still can't get down with mass evangelism campaigns. I think that's my generation - it feels like manipulation and group think, and I'm afraid the truth that can be spoken at such events is simply emotionally acknowledged and never internalized, never grown with discipleship. Any "evangelism" strikes my generation that way, because we want to be ok with everyone believing whatever they want to.
I still believe that. I still believe that I have no right to push my beliefs on others. However, I do believe I also should absolutely bleed from my pores the story of love and redemption I have. I don't have to push, but I do need to be willing to both show and speak this thing that guides my life. This is a strange tension to hold to, but it's essential to tell this story to those around me and to also be completely at peace with the idea that it is God's business to work in a heart, not mine. I share the story. I rest in peace in any type of response to the story.
I also can no longer excuse myself with the oft-repeated phrase, "I just don't have the gift of evangelism." Eh. Cliche.I can push back against models of evangelism I don't like, but all who follow Jesus are called to share the hope they have. This is how He is calling the world to Himself - through those who already know Him. I have too long hidden behind being an introvert and actually avoided talking about my faith. When I began to tentatively speak into some conversations that opened up to me, I was surprised to find that some people want to talk about faith and God and aren't afraid of Church (as I was!). I was blown away when a guy I met on the bus here in Dallas listened in a conversation we had about faith and my church, visited, jumped into it for the first time in his adult life, and was effusive in his excitement. Ah... my cynicism had blinded me to the hunger around me.
That change of mindset and practice is informing how I think of being a part of the grand mission of God in the world. I have worked it out some here in Dallas, TX. There is an established church here, I am a part of it, participating in the body as it works internally and externally. I wanted to find some of the "least of these" around this wealthy north Dallas area and did when I found the thousands of newly-arrived, impoverished, and powerless refugees on Park Ln.... and that's why we work and build relationships down there. I'm also attempting to pull away from the bubble of Christians that we build and simply interact with my generation, make friends, and not take for granted the conversations that unfold.
Within this scheme, how do we think of international missions strategically? My generation is much less focused on international missions than the previous few, though we love a good justice issue or helping in humanitarian crisis. What does it mean for my generation to really grapple with participating in the mission of God and calling all men to Him?
I need to keep writing down thoughts on this. Each time I write I end up writing something different than what I intend to!
You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me, and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed - I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses," declares the Lord, "that I am God." - Isaiah 43: 10-12