Jamie Oliver and Evangelism

Have you heard of Jamie Oliver? Jamie is a charismatic, passionate TV chef from Great Britain who knows how to cook and cares about social issues and the well-being of others. (Needless to say, I am a great fan!) Recently, ABC aired a series called Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, which documented an experiment to change the cooking and eating habits of local schools and people in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington had recently been named America’s unhealthiest city. And so Jamie arrives, trying to abolish processed food in school cafeterias, including chicken nuggets (his “favorite”), French fries (which were actually counted as vegetables by the USDA), flavored milk (which contains more sugar than soda), and pizza for breakfast.

Jamie’s website states: “This food revolution is about saving America’s health by changing the way you eat. It’s not just a TV show, it’s a movement for you, your family and your community.” I found this show extremely interesting, not only because it deals with food, but also because it teaches some valuable lessons on evangelism. In fact, Jamie is a perfect evangelist for his cause.

Jamie follows these principles which have great relevance for Christians who engage in outreach ministry.

Work with, not against, people in the community. The community in Jamie’s show is the city of Huntington. He made special effort to relate to this community and win people over to his cause. For instance, he made frequent visits to a local radio station to speak about his purposes and the aims of Food Revolution. He visited a local church and befriended the pastor who from the beginning became a valuable supporter and friend. He recruited a group of local high school kids to make them his “gang” (i.e., his disciples). He thus built a network within the community of people who became passive and active supporters of his cause. This turned out to be crucial because Jamie’s work in itself had potential to create serious offense. (Think about it: What is likely to happen when you start to tell people that they are overweight and need to change their eating habits?)

The Christian gospel contains messages that are inherently provocative and offensive. It is crucial that the church does not go out of its way to make matters worse by offending people needlessly. Every church (and especially every house church) is embedded in community which may include a neighborhood, a school or a university. Servants of the gospel should seek to work with the community, not against it. A church that seeks to impact the larger society must understand, love, and win over the local community first. Every evangelist should wrestle with these questions: What is the community we are embedded into? Are other local churches ministering to the same community? If so, will our church interfere with the activities of these ministries? How can the entire community benefit from our ministry and be blessed through what we do?

Develop a winsome character. Some residents of Huntigton were opposed Jamie’s activities. For example, at the local radio station, he had a rough start with a DJ named Rod. (Jamie: “Do you think we’re slowly starting to like each other?” Rod: “No.”) Lunch lady Alice kept giving him a very hard time and must have made frequent appearances in his nightmares. Instead of shunning, ignoring, or even hating these people, Jamie demonstrated a winsome character at all times. While pressing on toward his goals, he continually tried to win his enemies over and gain their support. When DJ Rod expressed his doubts that Jamie could accomplish anything, Jamie challenged him with a bet: Within one week, he would teach 1,000 people in Huntington how to cook a simple and nourishing stir-fry. Near the end of the week, it became evident that Jamie was about to accomplish this goal. But that was not enough for him. He tried his best to win over Rod so that Rod would help him out. Jamie’s winsome character prevailed. Not only did Rod advertise for Jamie on his radio show, but he himself joined Jamie’s cooking class to become the 1,000th person.

People do not easily change, especially when no TV cameras are around. There will be some who oppose a ministry and will never change. But Christians are called to grow a winsome character no matter what. As God used the fiercest persecutor of the early church to make the greatest impact on Christian history, he can always change the heart of the opposed to make them instruments for what they initially sought to resist.

Use innovative outreach methods. When faced with the challenge of teaching 1,000 people to cook within one week, Jamie experienced something on the first day that is probably very familiar to us: No one came. He was confronted with that vexing question: “How do we get people to come?” And again Jamie proved to be extremely creative and resourceful. He went to Marshall University and arranged a brilliant flash mob. No one suspected anything. All of a sudden, music began to play in the middle of the campus. Students set up dozens of tables to dance and to cook to the rhythm of the music. It was spectacular!

In the same way, isn’t it high time for us to think about novel and creative ways to reach out to students? Our traditional mode of “fishing” — talking to and inviting complete strangers to Bible study — has merits and limitations. What is our flash mob? What can we do to inspire scores of students to say, “This gospel might be a really cool thing. What is this gospel?”

Use diverse teaching strategies. Another thing that struck me was how Jamie employed diverse methods to accomplish his task. Going into schools and working with the lunch ladies was his major and most important work. But in addition, he visited a family whose members were obese and helped them to change. Jamie developed a soft spot for one overweight boy and taught him cooking one-on-one. And at the same time he taught groups, such as his high school “gang.” Jamie did not get stuck on any single method. He engaged in personal mentoring but also taught small and large groups.

In our postmodern culture, effective evangelism cannot rely on one method alone. One-to-one Bible study can be an effective way of helping one person at a time. It may work for people who are willing to enter a special teacher-student relationship. However, there will always be people who are not yet open to that kind of ministry and will only feel comfortable if they can be part of a group of peers. The most effective evangelists are never afraid to develop a diverse arsenal of teaching strategies to reach a broad audience.

In summary, if you like food and have an interest in people, watch Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Jamie is a truly inspiring person. I have learned much from him. And not just about how to make a good stir-fry.


  1. This is great. You could also include some Bible verses that agree with these points.

  2. That is a good show! I’ve only watched the first couple of episodes, but I admire Jamie’s dogged persistence. Another comparison with evangelism: Jamie’s “disciples'” testimonies were used to convince the people. Nothing moved Rod, but the kids’ stories did.

  3. Thanks Henoch for posting this interesting and insightful article.

  4. Thank you Henoch for posting this. This is a really important topic for our ministries. I think that doing the things we are used to, very often are is not faithfulness to our roots, but it is lazyness and fear to trying something new, looking for creative methods. I believe that this is real pioneering – do not to complain why people don’t want to come to us but to pray and don’t be afraid of trying something new and creative. Could those of us who have creative experience or ideas of evangelism share them here? So we could discuss.
    We here in Kharkiv, Ukraine, are strugling now for establishing something like Bible cafe on the base of one of existent cafes in the campus. We trying to invite students for Bible study not in church, but in cafe. The gould is to establish some in-cafe Bible study group. I heard that in US in some chapters such practice is pretty successful.

  5. Thanks to all of you for your comments!

    Wes, that would be a good idea. as for community, the only bible verse that spontaneously came into my mind is Jeremiah 29:7. In my opinion, much on community practices are taught implicitly in the bible and not explicitly. So i think it would absolutely be worth it to study the story of the Patriarchs for instance from that point of view: how did their lives impact their community? How were they part of it and in what way weren’t they? How did they bless their community?
    Having a winsome character is clearly taught through the life of Jesus who had the most winsome character ever displayed. and i think it’s also evident that Jesus himself applied various teaching methods. So again, it’s difficult to name a single bible verse that would sum it up nicely because i think that much is taught implicitly. Same goes for creativity in doing outreach ministry. Do you have any suggestions?

    David, i think it’s a very good point. i have to say that i was hardly successful when i went “fishing”. In fact, only one of maybe a thousand people ever came (and i am not exaggerating here). To be fair, i have to say that some people are much more gifted in that area as i have noticed. In my case, most of the bible students i was allowed to serve were friends of mine whom i had met at school. i know how difficult it is to reach out to students if you are not part of that community (i.e. being a student yourself). i think that’s one good reason why it is worth to think about new outreach methods.
    Your cafe sounds like an excellent idea. i would love to hear more about that.

    • Henoch, thanks for encouragement. I will share our experience with more details when we will find some pretty clear form for it, if God will let. Want to mention that in Kiev ministry some success gained English club ministry and sport ministry. For English club students are coming just to improve their English level, but some of them starting to study the Bible then. For sport – we had a soccer team in Kiev UBF, where unbelievers were involved. We organized soccer competition and pin-pong competition with the awarding in church, so the young people could connect with us. It was good practice in Kiev UBF and if they will continue this projects, I think it could be fruitful.

  6. Dr. Bill

    What a great article Henoch! Really inspires us to be creative in our outreach – just what the doctor ordered. I also want to point out that the early church had a method for outreach that was also incredibly creative and powerful – it is recorded in Acts chapter 4 in the following prayer:

    “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

    The disciples _prayed for Jesus to enable them to speak with great boldness and for Jesus to work miracles – signs and wonders – in their midst_. This is surely one of the most effective ways to demonstrate the power and truth of the Gospel.

    It reminds me of a very good message – a message so on target that all I could say was “Amen!” a dozen times while hearing it yesterday: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByScripture/8/1844_You_Shall_Receive_PowerFor_Mission/ by John Piper, You Will Receive Power. I think John Piper’s message is totally relevant to us, to UBF, to the American Church in general.

    At Lehigh UBF, we are praying this prayer – the same prayer the apostles prayed in Acts 4 above – and God is answering – He has answered through right-on-target messages like You Will Receive Power, He is answering by emboldening us to “Preach the Word _regardless of the consequences”, and He has answered by working truly miraculous healings in our midst.

    Praise Jesus, Father, Son and Holy Spirit!!! :)

  7. Ben Westerhoff


    Thanks for this creative piece. In that spirit, we do need to be as innovative and creative in our evangelism as Jamie Oliver is in his. I get the sense that he has his finger on the pulse of the culture by talking to different people and really listening to them. We should all know the cultural context in which we are ministering so well! I try (most of the time fall short) to listen so well that I can articulate someone’s point of view back to them better than they can articulate it themselves.

    By the way, I use Jamie’s books to cook all the time–simple and delicious recipes.

  8. Thank you Dr. Bill for your comment. when you said “doctor”, did you mean Martin Lloyd-Jones? i really love John Piper and i will listen to his sermon as soon as i get a chance to. I agree with you that biblical outreach ministry cannot be done without the work and the power of the Holy Spirit.

    Ben, i absolutely agree. He must have an excellent sense for where the culture is going. I was mostly inspired by how well he became a part of the community, which he tried to change. And i also love his recipes. :) His Chicken Ceasar Salad was a “revelation”!

  9. This is Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I would like to order that dish of stir-fried noodles for my lunch today, please.

  10. Ben Westerhoff

    OK Henoch and admin,

    Since you mentioned the Doctor, I have a friend who’s a board member of the MLJ Trust. I’m going to ask him to submit a piece about Lloyd-Jones.


  11. Speaking of Doctors and Chefs, I highly recommend the Korean TV Drama Series Dae Jang Geum, a historical Korean drama about a woman who becomes both a top chef and top doctor to the King. The series is rife with Christian metaphors about everything from virtue, to repentance, to winsome evangelism. It also has great cooking scenes. I’ve passed these DVD series around the medical school faculty at my university and they’ve all become addicted. It’s unfortunate I’ve become a “drug-dealer” rather than an evangelist.

  12. Dr. Bill

    “Just what the doctor ordered” is an (American?) English idiom… it just means “exactly what’s needed.” :)

    p.s. one dish of stir-fry coming right up! :)