I know, 2 Timothy 4:5 says, "do the work of an evangelist." Isn't that a slam dunk? Doesn't that prove we're to focus on witnessing?
Well... it's a little more complicated than that. Let's start with the context of that verse: v. 9 says "Use diligence to come to me quickly," and then goes on to detail that he should bring Mark, a cloak, and manuscripts (2 Timothy 4:9–13). I find it interesting that people are quick to say 2 Timothy 4:5 is a command to us, who don't then make a pilgrimage to Troas. It's clearly the same person being addressed in v. 5 and v. 9–13. What reason do we have to think the one verse applies to us, but the others do not?
I'm not trying to be pugilistic here, I'm just pointing out that reading 2 Timothy 4:5 as a command to us is an untenable hermeneutical position. There's not justification for it in the text. It's a command to Timothy, not to us. And the context makes that clear.
Just today I read an article that said, "Let’s start with the premise that the paramount mission of the church is the proclamation of the gospel and creation of disciples" (emphasis in the original). That's quite a statement, and one the author doesn't really demonstrate from the texts he quotes (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15). There are (at least) two problems with this reasoning:
First, the Lord wasn't addressing the church, which didn't exist at the time. He was addressing the Eleven.
Second, I don't see anything in the text that claims these verses are somehow more important than the rest of what the Lord commanded. I know it's common to label those passages "the Great Commission", but the Scripture does not. There's nothing in the text to suggest these verses take primacy over anything else the Lord commanded. It's just not there.
Of course none of this is to say we ought not to evangelize. It's just to say that dubious hermeneutics and careless handling of the text aren't a solid foundation for building much of anything. It's certainly not sufficient for the claim that evangelism is "the paramount mission of the church."
It seems to me there are several problems that spring from this sort of carelessness with the Word of God. There are probably many, but I'll just mention a few.
The first problem is that we end up messing with the gospel. I've mentioned at least a few times that the Scripture talks about the gospel a lot, but it only tells us what the gospel is twice: 1 Corinthians 15:1–8 and Revelation 14:6–7. 1 Corinthians 15 lays out the gospel Paul preached (1 Corinthians 15:1). When he says, "if even we or an angel out of heaven announce as glad tidings to you [anything] besides what we have announced as glad tidings to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8). That's a serious statement, and it should catch our attention.
If we examine the gospel Paul preached, we see it doesn't bear a lot of resemblance to most of the "gospel preaching" we hear most places today. How many "gospel messages" have you heard that mentioned the burial of Christ? I've heard "gospel messages" that don't even mention the Resurrection!
Further, the gospel Paul preached is remarkably devoid of appeals to repent, or even urging to believe. It wasn't much of a sales pitch. Acts 13:16–41 records Paul's message to the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia. We notice immediately the lack of the pressure to "close the deal". There just isn't that high-pressure sales tactic here.
We might see a bit more of an appeal in Acts 2:14–40, in Peter's sermon on Pentecost. But the context sheds some light on that: notice that Peter's urging the hearers to repent comes after they ask him what they should do (Acts 2:37). Peter tells the people that the Man they had crucified was the Messiah,
and He had been raised from the dead, and is now sitting at God's right
hand. They respond by asking what they should do, having crucified the Lord, and he tells them, "Repent, and be
baptised, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of
sins, and ye will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).
The second problem is that we reduce Christianity to a race to sign people up: a membership drive, if you will. It seems to me that evangelicalism frequently reduces to a Ponzi scheme. It's people working hard to sign others up, so they can sign others up, so they can sign others up... there doesn't seem to be a lot of point to it.
The point of Christianity – at least according to the Word of God – is to know God (John 17:3). It's to know Christ (Philippians 3:8–12). It's to have fellowship with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3). I can't recall ever reading in the Scripture that the point of Christianity is to get as many other people on board as possible.
The third problem is that high-pressure tactics create false profession. I personally have seen – I was there – people who put so much pressure on the gospel, that entirely unrepentant sinners repeat a prayer just to get the "evangelist" to shut up. How do I know that's what happened? Because the supposed "new convert" said that's what happened. I heard Robert say something like, "the devil has made enough false professors, let's not help him by making more."