ACR JournalChristian LivingEvangelism

Evangelism and garlic breath

Stef is a CMS missionary in Santiago, Chile with her husband Chris and three children. Raised in a Christian home, the gospel fell into place for her on a youth camp when she was 12. She gives her time to raising kids, discipling women and studying biblical counseling. She is a connoisseur of chocolate and an experienced op-shopper. Her favourite things about Chile are the dry heat of summer, snow on the Andes in winter and the way Chileans greet each other with a kiss on the cheek.

I don’t cook with garlic as often as I’d like. It’s not because I don’t like it; garlic is healthy and makes everything delicious! The reason I avoid it: garlic breath. I don’t want to be worried about my breath while I’m chatting to someone and I don’t want people to talk about me behind my back.

It’s ridiculous really, but even such a small detail of my life reveals that I fear man. That’s not to say that I’m scared of people, but I do care what they think. That I’ve been a missionary in Chile for 6 years doesn’t change the fact that I want to be liked and respected. And I’m willing to sacrifice a garlicky stir fry on that altar. The problem is that I’m sacrificing other, much more important things to my fear of man. This is an article about evangelism after all.

If you’re reading this, you have probably been on the receiving end of evangelism. You’ve heard the gospel of Jesus, been convicted of your sin, convinced of Christ’s death for your forgiveness and have had the joy of entering new life with God. It was the best thing that ever happened to you! And like me, you were probably very excited to share this good news with your family and friends, to varying levels of success. Eventually you realised that many people aren’t as excited about Jesus as you are and that things are less awkward if you keep quiet. You know you should evangelise, but the opportunity rarely seems to arise.

Ed Welch describes fear of man as caring more about what others think of us than what God thinks of us. You can blame it on peer pressure, call it people-pleasing or being controlled by other people’s expectations. It’s so endemic that we hardly even notice it. Yet Jesus tells us,

“Do not to be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28).

The only treatment for fear of man is fear of God, humbly acknowledging that God is God and living to please Him. For me this is a daily process of recognising my motives and repenting, pulling down idols and putting God back on the throne. Nowhere is this struggle more obvious than in my Christian witness (or lack thereof). If I truly love God then I will want Him to be known and glorified. If I truly love my neighbour then I will desperately want him to be saved. Yet year after year I content myselfwith ministry within my family and church and fail to say enough so that my unbelieving friends can be saved.

Rico Tice reminds us that successful witnessing isn’t someone becoming a Christian— it’s someone hearing about Christ. God demands faithfulness, not results. After all, only the Holy Spirit softens hearts and opens blind eyes. My job is to unashamedly speak about Jesus, trusting that the gospel is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16).

So this year I hope to put evangelism (or people) back on the agenda. I don’t think I’m going to become a gifted evangelist in a matter of months and I know there isn’t any secret method to make evangelism less painful. My desire to talk about Jesus with unbelievers will always battle against my desire to be liked and comfortable. However, upon reflection there are some things I can do to be more intentional about sharing Jesus:

Pray – I need to daily repent of fear of man and ask God to grow bigger and more glorious in my heart. I need to ask for opportunities and the boldness to take them.

People – Most of my life operates within Christian community and I have often felt that I don’t have any non-Christian contacts. However, in the process of writing this article I’ve been able to list at least 10 people with whom I interact quite regularly. I need to start praying that they will turn to Christ!

Taking time – while I’m quite invested in the lives of my Christian friends, to my shame I’ve hardly spared a thought for the 10 souls mentioned above. I may bump into them at church (there are unsaved people in churches) or at the school gate. But often I’m in such a rush that our conversations are fleeting. Am I able to slow down, in order to give them more of my time and attention? This won’t happen by accident; I need to create a little more margin.

Listening – our desire to speak doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t listen. I need to cultivate a genuine interest in people and draw them out. Perhaps in time I’ll see more clearly how to share the gospel in a more personal way or see more obvious gospel connections.

Ask questions – Rico Tice suggests ‘pain-line questions’ which push beyond the mundane into the spiritual.22 They will be painful for me because they force me to take the risk of offending someone. Questions that I could ask my friends include, ‘You’ve told me that you attend church each week with your Christian wife. What’s that like for you?’; ‘You’ve told me that your kids are in a Christian school because you like the morality. Do you think there is anything/one behind those morals that makes them right?’; ‘You mentioned that you used to go to church, do you mind my asking why you stopped?’ Or even, ‘Would you like to read the Bible with me?’

There’s definitely a place for once-off evangelism, door knocking and gospel tracts. But in my life, evangelism will tend to be less an event and more a process. This process takes place within relationship and involves being a godly example and a good friend. Many conversations will take place; some may reference God, though many may not. But at some point, it will be necessary to speak the gospel fully enough that a person can be saved. At this point I will be the stench of death or the aroma life to my friend. But my confidence lies in the fact that to God I am the pleasing aroma of Christ (2 Cor 2:15-16).