Sarah Jakes Roberts is in full holiday mode. On Instagram, she joked about going from lying in a hammock to celebrate her wedding anniversary to ordering ham hocks for her Thanksgiving feast but she wouldn’t have it any other way. At 33, the multi-hyphenate wife and mother of five is already thinking about her culinary legacy. “I have goals of being an old grandmother up on Wednesday night.” Though she remembers a time when the number of guests at the Jakes house on Thanksgiving required catering, Sarah opts to be in the kitchen herself. “I want my children to ask for specific things that only I cook for them.”
Christmases are spent in Texas with the family, indulging in the family tradition of Christmas Eve Charades. “And it is the Blackest game of charades ever!” Sarah laughs as she remembers the year the theme was the Pussycat Dolls. “Seeing Bishop TD Jakes act out Pussycat Dolls is not something that anyone really wants to see.” At her best when talking about those she loves, Sarah’s face beams and her eyes dance. She smiles and you know you are looking at a younger version of her mother, Serita. When she’s in the pulpit and it gets good to her (“who am I preaching to?”), it is clear she is her father’s child.
For her, there is nothing like being with her parents at the holidays. “I’ve never really spent any time away from my family.” Perhaps, that’s what makes Christmas 2020 her most memorable. The COVID-19 global pandemic halted the Texas trek and she remained in California with her husband, Pastor Touré Roberts, and their children. “I didn’t feel like there would be any holiday spirit because we all weren’t together.” Like everyone else, the gravity of how fleeting life is weighed heavily as she questioned if Christmas 2020 was a foreshadowing of life as her parents continue to age. Yet, it was in those questions and the uncertainty, Sarah gave thanks. “I found a lot of joy, gratitude and opportunity for memory in experiencing that Christmas the way we did.”
Joy, gratitude and the gift of memory seem to be themes that, not only ground the life of Sarah Jakes Roberts, they propel her forward. Because Sarah remembers. She remembers the decade she refers to as “a dark time” when insecurity, loneliness and the challenges of teen pregnancy guided her life. “I remember who I was back then and I hold her close to me. Every time I speak, she becomes a bit more healed.” The co-pastor of ONE: A Potter’s House Church (Los Angeles) is the voice many hear in the wilderness, pushing them to believe in hope and possibility. Yet, while she honors the depth of such a responsibility, Pastor Sarah says she resonates because she is one of them. “As much as I am the voice that they’re listening to, I’m also the woman out there with them. Part of the reason I’m able to articulate what women feel is because I feel it, too.”
Sarah is the first to admit she didn’t ministry as her life’s path. In fact, she says she stumbled into it. “I was quoting rap lyrics when others were quoting scriptures.” Chided by her brothers for not being able to clap on beat or shout, in Pentecostal circles that’s enough to call anyone’s salvation into question—especially a “PK (preacher’s kid)”. Though she always knew Jesus as her Lord and Savior, Black Church culture wasn’t necessarily the place where Sarah thrived. “I found myself deeply ingratiated in Hip Hop Culture. I got it and understood it.”
As her call to ministry became clear, Sarah said she made a commitment to herself that she would always be herself as she ministered. That, she is. Screenshots of her preaching attire hit church girl group chats weekly. Though she laughs off the question of whether she’s accepted her status as a style icon, calling it “extra” and asserting that being stylish on Sunday is just what Black women do, this millennial pastor has allowed her personality to shine in a way that makes many feel seen. It isn’t just that she’s fly. When church girls are taught there’s only so much personality we’re allowed to bring into the pulpit, Sarah brings her entire self. And she does it for a specific reason; it’s bait. “I want to be the woman who could have grabbed my attention when I was in church feeling like I was the only one who doesn’t get it.”
Though many have several SJR looks on their mood boards, her relationship with fashion hasn’t always been an easy one. “Fashion started off as a mask for me because I wasn’t sure I was anointed.” Jakes Roberts says when she would first began in ministry, she wanted to make sure she was stylish because she felt like fashion and her testimony were all she had to offer. She began working with celebrity stylist J Bolin. As she received more ministry engagements, consequently her profile began to rise. Sarah says she still struggled to believe she was truly effective and it led her to make the decision to stop working with Bolin for a season. “I couldn’t tell if people were responding to the clothes or if they were responding to a gift.”
For a time, Jakes Roberts backed away from fashion, deciding to dress herself—“whatever that looked like”—to fully lean into what she was understanding about God and communicating that to others. “I didn’t start working with J again until it became evident that I can preach and stand up to any moment without needing these clothes to make me feel confident.” Together, the two have been a force, releasing successful collections and creating Pinterest worthy style looks.
The fashionista, whose favorite red lip is MAC’s Ruby Woo and who will not apologize for Crocs obsession, has some fashion inspirations herself. “When Cardi B has to go to court, she is undefeated. It’s giving ‘drop the charges’.” Jakes Roberts also likes the bolder risks Meghan Markle takes now out of the watchful eye of the Royal Family, enjoys the work of Anifa Mvuemba and draws from the ways Beyoncé, Kelly and Michelle have come into their own. Yet, her greatest joy is she gets to inspire at home. “My daughters are looking at Kim Kardashian, Doja Cat and they’re also looking at me. For them to be able to say they see the glam and fashion at home, that means something to me.”
With fashion and ministry, Jakes Roberts won’t do it if she doesn’t feel it. “What I will trust more than anything is not the response, the followers or the viral messages. I will always trust what is authentic to me in whatever season I’m in and give myself room and grace to allow for growth and change.” Sarah says it’s her hope that her work doesn’t just give her that space but presents that room for evolution to others.
Judging by the response to her ministry imprint, “Woman Evolve”, it does. And that renders Sarah speechless. “I’m still wrapping my mind around it.” Created in 2018, there were only two in-person gatherings before the pandemic hit, forcing the 2020 conference to be a virtual experience. Still forming its identity, Jakes Roberts worried if the magic that made the first two conferences so powerful was still there as they offered a hybrid model for the 2021 Woman Evolve Conference, held November 5-6 in Dallas, Texas.
Though she may have stumbled into ministry, Sarah doesn’t play when it comes to the weight of her responsibility. For the weeks leading up to the conference, many shared in the Woman Evolve Facebook group that traveling to Dallas would be the first time they did so since the pandemic began. “It spoke to how serious that moment was for people and there were times when I didn’t know if I could stand up to that level of hunger and thirst.” But she did. When Sarah noticed a recurring theme in the Facebook group that women were spending their last to attend the conference, she demonstrated yet another reason why so many trust her with their spiritual care. In the safe space of their community, Sarah asked those who could to join her in sponsoring meals for those with extreme budget constraints. “They don’t need to worry about lunch when God is trying to get a message to them.”
Woman Evolve is a movement. The conference, the podcast, the New York Times bestselling book, the plans for a multi-city intentional living community—all move Sarah Jakes Roberts beyond the realm of preacher and pastor to author and businesswoman. And, again, she wondered if she was equipped for the task. Just like she had a revelation about Eve that began all of this, she had another revelation: “this is people’s money, they have an expectation and you can’t half-step any of this.”
Sarah discovered quickly that understanding the business side of ministry was as important as the investments she made into its spiritual aspects. “My audio-visual vendors need more than me telling them about the anointing I pray will fall and the grace I hope fills the room. Our sponsors want to know about their return of investment. If I want to sit at these tables, I needed to become more knowledgeable about what happens at them.”
Yet, as she sits at these tables—being offered larger speaking platforms and book deals, Sarah notices the majority of those closing the deals don’t look like her. “It’s still the same patriarchy. It’s still mostly men, the majority of them white, who are making the decisions on whether you’ll get the sponsorship, how much your book deal will be and what you’ll be offered to speak.” Jakes Roberts says learning the culture of business helped her understand her bargaining power. “I recognize my influence but, to really make them appreciate who I am and who I bring into their environments, allowing me to advocate to be paid equally, I had to get serious about business.”
Still, Sarah is clear that there is a fine line. “I want what God has already given me to be maximized but I don’t want to have to hustle up on more for the sake of profit.” Abandoning the long-held assumptions that women shouldn’t be compensated for ministry work, Jakes Roberts can support the women of Woman Evolve while also supporting her family and household. “I want to be respected for what I do and leverage what God has given me responsibly and effectively.”
And what God has given Sarah is more than even she thought possible. Though women fill stadiums and arenas to hear her speak, she never asked for it and remains humbled by it. “If God doesn’t do anything beyond what he’s done, I feel like I’m already so much further beyond where I thought I would be when I was sitting in a CPS office trying to defend the right to keep my kids.”
Those kids are at the forefront of her mind and heart as she works to ensure they have the same glorious childhood holiday memories she has. Because Sarah remembers. And in this season of gratitude, she gives thanks for what was, what is and what will come. “I love where I am right now. I love who I am right now and I’m just waiting to see what else unfolds.”
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