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Jessica Hanewinckel, Outreach Magazine
Warren has never known a life outside of ministry. The girl Kay
was a quiet and shy pastor's kid, imperfect but eager to please,
doing her part to maintain the picture of pastor's-family
But the woman Kay, wife of Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren,
has discovered her God-given gifts and talents. She's a leader who
is passionate about ministry, an author, and a teacher and speaker
to women - and especially other pastors' wives - nationwide. She's
broken, but she's real.
Kay has learned a lot about the sacred privilege, as she calls it, of
being a pastor's wife. Together, she and Rick planted Saddleback in
1980, and she's been teaching other women in ministry for almost 30
of those years. Her new book, Sacred Privilege: Your Life and
Ministry as a Pastor's Wife, is a conversation for pastors'
wives. In this interview, she talks about what she wants every
church leader to know. The book entered this month's Christian
Bookseller's Top 50 list at #1.
began teaching this message of "sacred privilege" to pastors' wives
30 years ago.
How has your view of that privilege evolved in your years as a
We've been in
ministry nearly 42 years. When we got married, Rick was a youth
pastor, so I became a youth pastor's wife. Growing up in a pastor's
home, I saw a lot of what it could be and a lot of what didn't
happen. Our family was strong, and my parents had a good marriage. I
was OK with going into ministry because of what I saw in my own home
growing up. The place where I've had to grow the most is in letting
go of other people's expectations of me.
I think the most personal growth I've had as someone in ministry is
seeing myself the way God sees me: as beloved - not as someone who
is accepted only when she performs or does well. I'm much more
comfortable with the mysteries of life and of God. I don't feel as
compelled to fit everything into a neat, little box with a bow. When
we started Saddleback, I just wanted to be the perfect pastor's
wife. I've let go of that and am much more content being an
imperfect pastor's wife who loves Jesus with her whole heart and
loves the people God has placed in our congregation.
the one big idea you want pastors
to understand when it comes to
supporting their wives?
The vast majority
of churches in the United States are still small, which means the
pastor typically wears lots of hats. I grew up in small churches,
and we started Saddleback with seven people in our home, so I know
what it's like to pastor a small church.
These pastors are often expected to do it all. That's a recipe for
disaster, for burnout, for a bitter spirit growing inside. It's a
recipe for a fractured pastor's family. What can happen is that the
pastor starts buying in to the myth that he really is "Super
Pastor." Then that expectation carries down to his wife and
children. It's harmful to the pastor, and it's harmful when he
allows the church to have that expectation of his wife and children.
He not only allows it, but he cooperates with it and actually puts
that pressure on his wife and kids himself.
A lot of churches probably still have that old idea that it's a
two-for-the-price-of-one arrangement. When women are taken advantage
of, they can become the focus of the members' criticism. She's
expected to lead in areas where maybe she isn't strong. She's
expected to be the conduit to her husband, the one who receives
I think the best thing pastors can do is to get off the pedestal so their
family can get off it as well. It really starts with the pastor.
We're not meant to live on this tiny ledge of perfection. We're real
people with real struggles and needs. We need Jesus just as much as
our congregants do. A pastor needs to remind his congregation that
they hired him. His family is there and they're going to serve and
love, but give them a little space. His wife and kids are unique
people. When the pastor sets it up that way, his wife feels
protected and cared for.
Ephesians 4 says pastors are supposed to equip the people for the works
of ministry. And when the minister trains the ministers - and the
Bible says we're all ministers - to do the works of ministry, then
the church flourishes, the pastor and his family are not burdened,
and the kingdom of God expands.
then, can a pastor encourage his wife
to find her unique, God-ordained place
He can let her
grow and give her freedom to choose how she feels most comfortable
serving. Don't assign her tasks or roles without her permission, and
don't guilt her into doing what you think she should do. I've found
that most of us flourish when we're encouraged, when someone
believes in us, gives us space and opportunities to explore, and
honors our uniqueness. When that's the approach, a pastor's wife has
a much greater chance at finding a place that's true to who she is
and the way God gifted her.
he sees something in her that
she doesn't recognize in herself?
I think it's the
pastor's role to encourage her. For instance, I was very shy with
low self-esteem. I had this goal to be a perfect pastor's wife, yet
I felt completely out of my league. Rick recognized speaking and
teaching gifts in me long before I did. Because he believed that I,
too, had been gifted to contribute to the kingdom of God, he
elevated me and pushed me to take risks. He didn't force me. He was
really gentle and consistent in affirming me and opening doors for
me. He encouraged me to move outside of my comfort zone to try new
things. And because he had such confidence in me, I increased my
self-confidence. I realized I had abilities I didn't know were
Some couples come into marriage completely differently. The wife is
already aware of her gifts, and in fact, maybe her gifts in leading
are stronger than in her husband. That was not the case for me, but
in that case, as in ours, the bottom line is oneness and unity. My
goal is not to outshine Rick. His goal is not to outshine me. Our
goal is to serve together.
No matter the gift mix of a ministry couple, at the end of the day they
need to be a team. And each couple has to figure out for themselves
what that looks like. How are each of our gifts honored in this
relationship? How do we flex to make your gift apparent in this
season and my gift apparent in that season? When both of your gifts
are recognized and honored, then you're going to serve together as a
team, and that makes marriage and ministry stronger.
ever a time when it's appropriate for a pastor's wife to take a step
back from ministry?
I'm not a believer
in the pastor being there but you never see the wife. I don't get
that, and I think those are the couples who probably aren't going to
last in ministry. Ministry is hard, and if you don't share it in
some way together, it creates distance. How can you be intimate if
the pastor's wife doesn't even show up at church or is resentful?
How can their marriage survive, let alone the ministry?
With that said, I also acknowledge there are seasons of life when there's
some extraordinary circumstance that is depleting and stressful, and
maybe you have to take a really big step back. That's OK. That's
completely different than being disinterested or disengaged because
you don't believe in it or you don't care.
After our son Matthew died, I completely stepped back. I didn't go to
church for four months. But it wasn't because I didn't care or
wasn't interested. I was grieving and couldn't handle the people
with good hearts wanting to engage me. I had to stay away. But as
soon as I could, I went back and gradually increased what I could
Rick have dealt with difficult life circumstances. During those
times, how have you walked together, rather than allowing the stress
to pull you apart?
faced those times together and given each other a lot of grace and
support. The thing that nearly pulled us apart was Matthew's mental
illness. I don't know if it was because our personalities and
approach to life are so different to begin with, or because loving
someone with a severe mental illness takes an enormous toll on
families. Probably both.
As Matthew became
more suicidal, it elevated our stress level. It felt like we lived
on high alert for years. That wears you down, and it caused us to
feel distant from each other. I remember being afraid that if
Matthew ever did take his life, it would rip our marriage up. I
wasn't worried we would divorce, but that it would destroy the
intimacy and all the good in our relationship. That isn't what
When Matthew died
- I don't know how to explain it - but it's as though all the
decades of conflict and relational distance died when he did. We
found ourselves standing in Matthew's front yard holding on to each
other while we waited for law enforcement to confirm his death. And
we haven't stopped. It's been four years and we figuratively and
physically hold on to each other. We're closer than we've ever been.
I think it's because we get each other's suffering. We know what it
was like to be his parents. Nobody can comfort me like Rick can, and
nobody can comfort him like I can.
Every pastor is going to go through something that is painful. Clinging
to each other is the way to get through. I have a little plaque on
my desk that says, "The best thing to hold onto in life is each
other." That's become our motto.
a pastor be honest and transparent with his congregation while still
his family's privacy - especially during
seasons of hardship?
Since Rick and I
both grew up in a pastor's home, we don't know any other life. I
quote Edith Schaeffer in my book. She says that a family has
doors that swing open and closed, and that all of us in ministry
have to figure out when to open our lives and homes to other people.
There are other times when you close the door, and it's just you and
As open as we are with our lives, there are things we have not talked
about publicly and don't intend to. They're sacred, private, holy
and they're painful, particularly around Matthew's life and death.
But they're part of our family's conversation. They're part of who
I think one of the things I've learned after living my entire life in
ministry and watching so many people fail along the way - their
marriage or ministry fails, they break their vows - is this: You are
entitled to a private life, but you aren't entitled to private sin.
That's a huge distinction. There's always going to be some gap
between public life and the private life, because we're imperfect
people who don't get it right all the time. However, when that gap
becomes large and there's more that's wrong than right in the
private life, then it's time to get help.
the years you've taught pastors' wives,
is there any one thing they consistently tell you they wish their
husbands knew or understood?
wish their husbands understood how painful it is when pastors treat
the church and the ministry as their mistress. That breaks the heart
and the spirit of a wife and a family when Dad has a mistress, and
her name is the church. I hear that over and over. They're not
always that blunt about it, but when you peel away the layers,
that's what they're saying.
And unlike a physical mistress, this mistress is also related to God. So
how do you get mad at God? That becomes a very complicated issue
that needs to be resolved within marriages. Yes, our first love is
God. But he tells men to love their wives as they love their own
bodies. My generation and my parents' generation could not separate
that well. God and ministry went together. If you were to ask my dad
what was No. 1 in his life, my goodhearted, wonderful daddy would
have said God and the church, because that's the way he understood
it. And our family suffered as a result.
else should ministry couples keep
at the top of their minds?
I think when you
forget why you're doing what you're doing in ministry, it's really
easy to let bitterness or resentment take over. We've had services
on both Saturday and Sunday for decades. So for the bulk of our
ministry, our whole weekend has been taken up with church. I can't
tell you how many times on a Saturday morning I see couples riding
bikes together, taking a walk together. There's a little twinge
sometimes that says, "I want to be like that! Why aren't we heading
off to some fun adventure this weekend? Why have we sacrificed in
ways other people haven't? Why do we give up so much of our privacy?
Why do they get to go on a picnic today while my husband is
feverishly working over the last bits of his message notes?"
I'm not going to deny those thoughts and feelings. That pain does happen,
but those are the moments I have to remind myself why we're doing
this. And you know, if I forget why we're doing what we're doing,
it's really easy to feel like God's given us a raw deal. And that
can begin to eat at you and deteriorate your passion for the calling
and make you resentful of your spouse.
survey you took of pastors' wives, more than half of the women who
responded said their husbands do not take adequate time off. Why do
you think this is,
and what are the consequences?
ignore the fourth commandment, they're not just ignoring it, they're
disobeying it. And sometimes, ministry feeds our ego but starves our
soul. It's seductive to be thought of as Superman. Those are the
pastors who don't usually take very good care of themselves and
don't take a lot of time off. Why would you take time off when
everybody thinks you have to be there all the time? When we repent
of our belief in our own sufficiency and then make a commitment to
unplug one day a week, life gets so much better.
One of the most challenging lessons I've had to learn - and Rick has had
to learn as a confirmed workaholic - is that it takes faith to rest.
We think it takes faith to work, but it also takes faith to rest, to
believe God is still working when we aren't. So we've made a
commitment throughout our marriage and our ministry. Our friends
Cliff and Joyce Penner taught us this little recipe: Divert
daily. Withdraw weekly. Abandon annually. You take some time every
day to replenish your soul, you take a day off every week, and you
take a vacation every year
advice would you give to pastors in the early, middle and late years
In the beginning,
you have the opportunity to start out right, so set it up well.
Understand who you are and who your wife is. Settle that
two-for-the-price-of-one thing right at the start. Begin with the
understanding that you're not perfect and your wife's not perfect,
and stay off the pedestal.
In the middle years, there's so much grace you have to give. You're
raising a family, and kids take so much time and attention. When I
was growing up in a ministry home, there was not a single time in my
or my brother's life where my parents were at back-to-school night.
Not once. It was always a conflict with church. That was a huge
mistake. They weren't trying to hurt us; they were trying to honor
God. But in the process, they did hurt us. In those middle years,
it's okay to miss a church event occasionally for something your
child is doing. Let somebody else lead the prayer meeting Wednesday
night and go to your kid's back-to-school night. I think there
should be a lot more flexibility.
In this season of our lives, we're both 63 with an empty nest. You'd
think it's all easy-breezy at this point. But we have to be
intentional about our marriage, because we've lived long enough and
have exposed ourselves to enough opportunities to serve or take that
trip or be with those people or attend that conference, that there's
a temptation to live separately, because we're both competent and
comfortable in who we are. You have to be careful. It's easy to
drift apart without the children pulling you back in every day.
You have to be intentional about seeking oneness, unity, harmony, being a
team. And that never stops. That has to continue through your whole
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The Daniel Plan teaches simple ways to incorporate healthy choices into a reader's current lifestyle and helps them understand the kind of foods God created to keep them fit and strong. The book is categorized around five key concepts for optimal health that promote success: faith, food, fitness, focus, and friends. These concepts encourage readers to deepen their relationship with God and offer inspiration as they make positive choices each
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