It's hard not to gravitate to Sarah Jakes Roberts. Minutes into our phone call, I am reminded why I, and thousands of others, have found solace in her ministry. She is a force of a spiritual leader, whose magnetism is inextricably tied to her superpower: transparency.
If you've ever seen the first lady and co-pastor of The Potter's House at One LA and Denver in her element, it's difficult to imagine that she once avoided the spotlight that comes with her family name. "I feel like the manifestation of our purpose has different stages: shock, reality of impact, and then there's intentionality," the Don't Settle for Safe author tells me. "I think up until 2015, I just lived in this phase of shock where I felt like, Wow, people understand what I'm saying. I felt this whole time that I was living in this box and on this island, and no one understood but me."
"I feel like the manifestation of our purpose has different stages: shock, reality of impact, and then there's intentionality."
As one of five children to Bishop T.D. Jakes, the West Virginia native spent more time in church than most. In the Mountain State, her father's small congregation felt like kin, but that sentiment would change dramatically once he shifted his ministry to Dallas in 1996.
Only eight at the time, Sarah sensed the gravity of the move but couldn't anticipate the scrutiny that lied ahead. As The Potter's House swelled in size (today, it is home to over 30,000 members), so did the pressure to appear infallible.
As a child, she quickly became acquainted with false rumors surrounding her father's ascension. She also heard the secrets members exchanged about each other and witnessed how men and women bold enough to own their humanity were isolated from those who opted to pretend they had their lives under control.
Sarah attempted to blend in with the latter in an effort to keep her name out of the gossip circuit, but she struggled to find a ministry she believed she could add value to. She soon became content with fading in the background, where she would ultimately discover her tribe – a group of kids who couldn't pinpoint where they belonged in church and itched to experience life beyond the politics of it all. With a desire to feel normal, Sarah didn't merely test the limits between The Potter's House and the world outdoors. She tore through them.
Less than a year after Time magazine deemed T.D. Jakes "America's Best Preacher," Sarah discovered that she was pregnant at 13.
Although her family stood by her side as the judgment poured in, the shame that loomed wouldn't be easy to shake. Sarah worked tirelessly to finish high school early while raising her son, but her attempt to redeem her image unraveled in college as she sunk into an unhealthy relationship (and, later, marriage) marked by infidelity and deceit.
"I think that toxic relationship was my drug of choice," she reflects. "Other people may dive into work, they may dive into alcohol, they may smoke something. For me, that relationship was a distraction from me having to deal with my own pain and issues, and I don't think that I could get to a place where I was ready to receive love again until I figured out why I needed to be distracted from myself."
"I don't think that I could get to a place where I was ready to receive love again until I figured out why I needed to be distracted from myself."
On the brink of divorce, Sarah launched a personal blog as an outlet to address her hurt through prayers and stories that mirrored her own. In this space, she didn't have to conceal her brokenness. Here, she had the liberty to own her scars.
Little did she know, she would draw an audience of women longing to do the same. "I didn't really think that it was ministry but the more that it became increasingly clear that it was, I just made a vow that I was going to be as authentic and transparent as I could be," she says.
Her memoir Lost and Found: Finding Hope in the Detours of Life, a vivid look into her biggest trials and the grace she collided with through them all, followed in 2014. "I felt so many of my experiences were interconnected that I could not paint just half the picture for the person reading it," Sarah insists. "I wanted them to see the full scope of how I ended up in some really challenging but, ultimately, defining moments of my life."
In the years to come, she would rediscover love, expand her family with husband Touré Roberts, and settle into a purpose far greater than she imagined.
"I'd say 2017 is when I really decided to embrace fully that I have a call and that my call is unique to where I am, and it's not limited to where I'm invited but rather it is maximized when I use it to build things that reflect the people who are attached to it," Sarah explains.
This July, she did just that with her first-ever Woman Evolve conference in Denver. Over two days, women in attendance heard from the likes of Angela Rye, Michelle Williams, and Tiffany "The Budgetnista" Aliche during a life-altering experience that promoted both spiritual and practical development.
The idea for the event came to life when the first lady made a notable observation at a women's conference she spoke at earlier in the year. "It stood out in my mind that the women had on these 'Squad Goals' shirts that had Mary, Esther, and Ruth on it, and I was like nobody ever wants Eve to be in their squad goals because Eve messed up so bad by eating from this forbidden fruit," she exclaims.
As a result, Sarah committed to studying the Book of Genesis where she discovered that Eve's story didn't end in disgrace as common legend would have it after all. "There's this moment when God tells her that her seed is going to crush the head of the serpent," she points out. "If Eve could evolve past her mistakes, she could give birth to something that would ultimately bring restoration. For me, that is the foundation of Woman Evolve – the idea that at some point, we can all identify with being Eve. We can all identify with moments where we knew better but didn't do better, but if we're willing to evolve, then the sky is the limit and restoration is possible for us."
Beyond the pulpit, Sarah is motivating others to not merely survive but thrive in their most trying seasons through her Wild Women fashion collection released this summer. "I think everyone just wants to live in the Promise Land without recognizing that who you become in the wilderness earns you the right to live [there]," the pastor affirms.
"How we maintain our character, our integrity, our faith, and our hope in those critical moments where we feel defeated, where we are disappointed, is ultimately what gives us the power to try again, lift our heads, and keep it moving."
Whether through her Woman Evolve store or upcoming Night In The Wild tour, which starts in Maryland this November, Sarah is igniting a movement that challenges what it means to be a modern woman of faith. "I really feel like I know people online, so I am most excited about connecting with people who have resonated with my messages and with my life," she expresses. "I'm looking forward to that connection and sisterhood."
With nothing less than a transformative adventure in mind, she assures us that walls will come down to get to the heart of all we can become. "I think we, as women, can do very well in surface-level conversation, but it really takes intentionality and transparency for us to be vulnerable, and I think that when someone sets the tone, it allows us all permission to say, 'Well, I'm struggling too,'" she explains. "I'm looking forward to creating an environment by setting the tone with my own vulnerability that helps us to see that the woman I may envy is actually going through something that I can help her with and together, I believe that we can create momentum that allows all of us to win."
In many ways, Sarah Jakes Roberts has become who she once searched for within the walls of the church but couldn't find – a woman who walks in the assurance that her missteps do not disqualify her from God's love or divine use.
"It's really humbling," she says while taking in the full scope of her growth. "When I finished the Woman Evolve conference, I had so many women tell me, 'Congratulations,' but I told them that I'm just glad to be a part of it because this is exactly what I would have needed to keep me from going through the things that I went through. I know that it is helping women who are like me, so I have peace that I had to be the one who struggled and cried so other people could be free."