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We were greeted with warm handshakes and pleasantries, an outline of the morning service, and then a startling announcement: “We assumed that your wife would want to take the children.” In the early days of our marriage when my husband was the area director of a children’s ministry, I used to travel with him to his weekend engagements. However, in those days, I had a full-time job, no children yet, and no — I did not carry a Bible lesson around in my back pocket. (Given the same situation today? I’d probably go for it! Why not?) Ministry wives are often subject to assumptions and misconceptions, and it is with this audience in mind that Kay Warren has written Sacred Privilege. However, her words are relevant to all women in ministry, with or without husbands.
Kay writes from the perspective of a life-long “church girl,” the daughter of a pastor, wife to Rick Warren of Saddleback Church and Purpose Driven Life fame, and also as the mother to a pastor’s wife. The book is a distillation of wisdom gained from an entire life lived in the fish bowl of ministry — not from the viewpoint of “perfect wife,” but as messenger and strong survivor, as one who has taken strength from God for a very specific calling and now wants to pass that encouragement on to others who share that call.
If you are a woman in ministry, here’s what God wants you to know:
1. “You need to embrace your own story — all of it — for the glory of God and the good of His kingdom.” (31)
Kay’s story includes a brush with a porn addiction and a rocky start to her marriage. It includes a struggle with depression and the mental illness and ultimate suicide of her son. She assesses this terrain and concludes that the life she has lived is the exact price required for becoming who she is today.
2. “There is no greater heritage than for children to see that ministry is not just for dads but also for moms and brothers and sisters.” (50)
Sharing a ministry focus as a couple and also as a family protects everyone from resentment and eases the claustrophobia of the glass house that can plague ministry families. Kay defines “thriving” over the long haul as the ability to share a God-given dream and points to Ephesians 2:10 to affirm that God is the architect of that dream.
3. “Success in ministry is not about numerical results or recognition but about thriving, flourishing, and growing strong in one’s calling and in one’s character.” (58)
This does not mean that women in ministry will meet everyone’s expectations. On the flip side, it also does not mean that we will always be free to do the thing we love the most. When it comes to defining success in ministry, the most important voice in the room is God’s.
4. “You have a story that is worth telling.” (125)
Sharing God’s redemption process in your life is risky because your weaknesses come out of hiding. However, in the process, others are drawn into the Light, and true friendships can be formed that will endure for the long haul. Life in community — knowing others and being known — is so much safer and more comfortable than life on a pedestal.
5. “No one will take care of you but you.” (139)
That sounds cynical, doesn’t it? And it’s not to say that God, your husband, and/or your loving church family are all out to exploit you and suck you dry, but there are some aspects of self-care that are completely in your court: eating, sleeping, and moving every day are your responsibility. My favorite of Kay’s aphorisms applies here:
“Control the controllable and leave the uncontrollable to God.”
Nourishing the inner life and stepping away from ministry for Sabbath rest may require some adjusting. Cultivating this flexibility is a discipline that is well worth it in the end.
6. “Accept the loss of privacy with God’s grace.” (180)
Gail MacDonald and Edith Schaeffer have blazed a gracious trail for ministry wives (and all women) with their writing, and Edith is eloquently accurate on this subject of boundaries:
“A family is a door that has hinges and a lock. The hinges should be well-oiled to swing the door open during certain times, but the lock should be firm enough to let people know that the family needs to be alone part of the time, just to be a family.” (183)
7. “Live with transparency and work hard to do what is right in the sight of God and others.” (194)
Because ministry is a “sacred privilege,” God-honoring integrity is key, particularly in the crucial areas of sex, money, and power. Kay and her husband maintain a “warnings” file with details about well-known pastors who have left the ministry because of moral failure — just to remind them of their own vulnerability.
8. Maintain an eternal perspective.
Practicing radical forgiveness will make the battle scars earned in church conflict more bearable — and will even speed healing! Franςois Fénelon offers wise counsel:
“Don’t be so upset when things are said about you. Let the world talk; just seek to do the will of God. You will never be able to entirely satisfy people and it isn’t worth the painful effort.” (215)
The shared dreams and plans, the sacrifices and the adjustments required of women in ministry can be viewed alongside Paul’s metaphor of the Christian life as a race. We run toward a finish line that is difficult to see, and the noise of the crowd — whether cheering or jeering — can be a distraction. Making it “our aim to please” God is the mindset that will foster self-acceptance, a thriving family, and the ability to live out God’s calling on our lives with integrity and joy.
This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”