“They’re here! I can’t believe it — but they’re really here!”
It was a beautiful, sunny Easter Sunday morning in Southern California, and Saddleback Valley Community Church officially launched. For 12 weeks, we and a small band of believers had met together in our home to dream, plan, and organize this launch day. We had hand-addressed and hand-stamped 15,000 letters to the community, introducing ourselves and our new church. We scoured yard sales and swap meets for used nursery equipment. We copied pages from coloring books for toddlers. We searched through lists of students from a local college to find childcare workers. I practiced the hymns (complete with updated lyrics to a few) on the piano to be certain my nervous fingers didn’t hit the wrong notes. We rented a portable sound system for the Laguna Hills High School Performing Arts Theater. Rick poured over the Bible for weeks, praying for God’s words to speak to the folks that might show up. We prayed. We fasted. We believed in faith. On April 6, 1980, we stood at the gates to Laguna Hills High School and waited nervously, hoping and praying that at least a few people would try our new church.
They came! First one car, then three, then a dozen, then more. People of all ages — families, singles, old, young, and everything in between — began pouring out of the cars, quickly filling the parking lot. Rick and I enthusiastically greeted them all — hardly able to take in the truth that all our wild hopes were coming true. I remember smiling through tears at one point as I held out my hand in welcome to one of the 205 folks who read our mass mailing or heard about a new church for “those not interested in a traditional church” and decided to give it a shot. “God,” I whispered, “You are faithful. This is going to work!”
A church was born that day. Rick became a senior pastor, and I was given a sacred privilege: I became a pastor’s wife.
In the nearly four decades since, we have had front-row seats to witness thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children experience the grace of God to change their lives. This is their spiritual home, and we are family. These amazing people live sacrificially and give sacrificially so that others can know Jesus Christ as they do. These amazing people have taken the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every country in the world. These amazing people volunteer to wash windows, clean toilets, sort trash to buy Bibles, teach squirrelly toddlers and students, host small groups in their homes, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, teach English as a second language, tutor kids, walk the meanest streets to share God’s love with prostitutes and johns, courageously tell of how they’ve overcome their hurts habits and hang-ups through Celebrate Recovery, visit those behind bars, form care groups for people living with HIV and AIDS, adopt orphaned children locally and from around the world, embrace those living with mental illness, tear down the taboos of talking about suicide in church, offer grief support, take meals to families facing a crisis, use art to heal broken places in the soul, apply their gifts of technology, write music that honors God, help cranky and anxious drivers find parking spaces, and extend the love of Jesus into every corner of our community and beyond.
Well, almost every second. There were a few times . . .
- I wished Rick had been anything but a pastor. A plumber . . . a pharmacist . . . a photographer . . . a principal — anything but a pastor.
- I envied other families taking leisurely bike rides on a Saturday afternoon while my husband was feverishly finishing his message. I admit to being jealous of couples going on Friday night dates while my husband studied, or being sad that other friends went out to lunch after church on Sunday while my husband came home and collapsed into bed after preaching as many as six services.
- There have been times I resented the intrusion of the ministry into every Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day.
- Times when family vacation had to be moved to accommodate a major event at church.
- Times my heart was shredded when people we had invested in, loved dearly, grown so close with left the church. Some went quietly, lacking the courage to tell us directly. Some made a lot of noise, telling everyone they could how terrible Saddleback was. All I knew was it hurt. Badly.
- Times when my kids were treated unfairly; when too-high expectations by Sunday school teachers and youth workers and church members who thought the pastor’s family should be perfect all the time created pressure for them.
- Times when the stress of living with a mentally ill child who threatened suicide on a regular basis made it almost impossible to do the standard meet-and-greet on the patio — clenching my teeth in a forced smile that belied the ache and anxiety in my heart.
- A time when grieving my son’s death in public was a burden too heavy to carry and I couldn’t go to church for four months.
Yes, the cost has been high. Not only has our family paid a price in ministry, we have been tested by breast cancer, melanoma, mental illness, chronic and debilitating illness, a brain tumor, suicide, catastrophic loss. Sometimes God has moved mountains and parted the Red Sea for us; sometimes he hasn’t. Sometimes I can hear God and sometimes I can’t. Trouble, disappointment, and sorrow have grown a resilient soul.
How can you develop resilience? What does it look like to stay in ministry when the wheels come off the bus? Where do ministry families go for help when addiction, adultery, rebellious kids, financial ruin, cancer, soul-scarring criticism, or a loved one’s death leave us burned out, bitter, or broken? Is it really possible to not only survive but thrive? How do we release the God-given gifts and abilities to bless and grow the church? Is there such a thing as loving a life in ministry?
Sacred Privilege: Your Life and Ministry as a Pastor’s Wife takes a raw and honest look at those crucial questions. As I’ve traveled and listened to pastors’ wives from around the world, the questions, issues, and challenges are identical. Even though we experience a variety of cultures, pastors’ wives need the same encouragement, inspiration, and direction to become resilient in the reality of the pluses and minuses, ups and downs, joys and sorrows that come with a life in ministry.
April 16, 2017, is coming — our 38th Easter. I still say being a pastor’s wife is a sacred privilege, the highest privilege I can imagine.