Update: The Hatmaker family's HGTV series, now titled My Big Family Renovation, premieres August 7.
Even in Austin, Texas, a city proud of "keeping it weird," Jen Hatmaker and her family of seven live a distinctly weird life. The writer and speaker calls their weekends a "crazy chaotic show, from Friday to Monday," as she flies between Christian conferences before joining her husband, Brandon, at their Free Methodist church plant for worship each Sunday.
Amid quippy asides and Instagram photos of everyone smiling wide, Hatmaker chronicles her family—three kids "the old-fashioned way" and two adopted from Ethiopia in 2011—on her popular blog. Her 2012 book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess (B&H Publishing), remains a bestseller as it follows her family's 30-day fasts to combat excessive consumption.
"Jen is not merely a writer or a speaker. She makes readers laugh, but she also makes them uncomfortable in their complacency," said Jennifer Lyell, trade book publisher at B&H. "She leads them to conviction, but she also reminds them of the grace that binds."
This summer, the Hatmakers' family, faith, and 105-year-old farmhouse will debut on cable TV. HGTV reached out to Hatmaker last June, after she appeared on the Today show to discuss her blog post confessing to being the "worst end-of-school-year-mom ever."
"We told HGTV, 'Listen, we are super-Christian, you guys. This is not gray. We're all the way. Brandon's a pastor, I'm a Christian author and speaker—this is who we are,' " she said. "They said, 'Yes. All of it.' That's how they're portraying us on the show, which is lovely."
The eight-episode series, Family Under Construction, is scheduled to air this July, following the success of faith-friendly reality shows such as A&E's Duck Dynasty and TLC's 19 Kids and Counting.
Nearly 15 years after moving to Austin and six years after planting Austin New Church, the Kansas-born Oklahoma Baptist University graduate has found a home in Texas' artsy, largely unchurched music hub. "We are a city who loves mercy and grace. For me, it's a real easy jump to introduce my community to Jesus, because he kind of loves mercy and grace too," she said.
A Women of Faith speaker and the author of eight books, the 39-year-old has joined a new generation of women leaders who reach audiences in both traditional ministry settings and online. She was also part of the team that launched last month's sold-out IF: Gathering, a national women's conference held in her hometown.
CT associate editor Kate Shellnutt talked to Hatmaker about her busy life, the decision to bring her family onto television, and the healing power of friends around a fire pit.
You are a blogger, a teacher, an author, a pastor's wife, and a mother. How do you describe yourself?
Well, I'm a mom, I have five kids, and I've been married for 20 years, and I live in this little community, and these are my friends. I think of myself in ordinary terms. It seems hilarious and otherworldly that I happen to have these other things I do, like writing and speaking. They still surprise me.
You have had so many milestones in your life: planting a church, adopting children, taking the 7 challenge, and now buying a house. How do you discern what big thing to take on next?
Just this morning I was thinking about my family in terms of the show. We're smack in the middle of filming. We have enormous crews of people at our house almost every day. We're constantly on camera and in transit in terms of living. We are like squatters on our own property. I was thinking about how remarkably well my kids are doing with it. They're having a good time with it, and so are we.
Half my friends would be freaking out if this were their reality. They absolutely would have thrown in the towel already, and we are enjoying it. So I think God has just designed our family with a high tolerance for big moving parts.
Some people are a little hesitant about the idea that your book 7 is against excess, and here you are on national TV, doing a home makeover. How did you reconcile those things in your mind?
I addressed that with readers early on, completely understanding that tension and navigating it ourselves. When it comes down to it, it was a handful of factors that made us feel solid about moving forward, one of which is just that our little farmhouse is simple and right up the street. Honestly, when Brandon and I sat down together with the quiet of our own minds and the counsel of our closest friends and family, we thought, For whatever reason, we have the chance to have a place in a world we never had access to.
It's a completely different world from the one where Brandon and I have influence. I don't know if we'll get something like that again, where we have such a public place with a completely different demographic. We think it's a gift, it's an opportunity, and we determined from the beginning to handle this well—with integrity and the love of Christ in us and through us and in our family.
I have no idea what God will do with it or through this show, but I hope that it makes him more famous.
The idea of giving Christianity the good name we should be giving it, one that God deserves, is a big theme for you. How did that start?
We are in the one zip code that is nothing like the rest of Texas. Because my friends and neighbors and community and city are so unchurched. I have developed a heart and love for my community that doesn't know Jesus. I don't have the luxury of being completely immersed in Christian subculture, where you can insulate yourself. The recurring theme I hear is feeling alienated from and maligned by the Christian community. You can't hear that from people whom you have loved forever without admitting that where there's a lot of smoke, there's some fire.
I don't know if there was a moment when I thought, I need to address this. It's just deeply seated in my bones that I love these people, and that we're not really put here to be Jesus' defenders. We are put here to be his representatives. That is part and parcel of my mission, every day on earth. The best I can do in the human body, with all my failures and failings and struggles, is to represent him well because he is so good and so worthy, and I know if people know him, if they just get a glimpse of Jesus, they will love him.
When you look at the church at large, at the conferences you attend, what excites you the most?
I am almost embarrassingly optimistic about the generation coming up in Christ. I find them to be incredibly brave, more resourced than probably any generation ever, educated, smart, passionate about the Word, and fairly fearless. When I think about my friends and myself when we were in our early 20s, we were clamping down pretty hard on safety, security, and comfort. What I'm seeing in the next generation is an abandon to follow Jesus, even as numbers are shrinking in American churches.
You draw attention through your writing to a lot of charity causes. What would you tell people who are overwhelmed by the opportunities to serve?
Pick one option and run with it. We don't have to have a hundred things; it won't make us holier to have so many irons in the fire. I wonder if God cannot use a group of committed believers who are willing to burrow deep down into single issues, more so than even a bunch of us who are spread so thin that we can go only an inch deep in all of them.
Many popular women speakers and writers get positive comments on the way they look. As Christian women, how do we ensure that the desire to present ourselves well doesn't lead to superficiality?
We Christian women are damned if we do, damned if we don't. Seriously. You tip too far one way, and you're vain. You tip too far the other way, and you're falsely humble. You just cannot win. Certainly, I can't. So when people are kind to me about my appearance, I'm like, "Whoa, thank you!" Because nine times out of ten, I have on my glasses and yoga pants and my hair in a dirty bun. "You think my hair looks nice? That's a miracle."
I wish we would hold this conversation a little looser. None of it defines our holiness or our walk with the Lord or even our identity. Sometimes I even grow weary of the conversation. I'm like, "Gals, let's just live and let live. If that's how you want to roll, man, roll with your press-on nails. If you want to be the kind of girl that wears jeans and a T-shirt every day, wear it."
What do you do when you're worn out and tired?
God has always used people to nourish me. So when I am worn out, I know that I need my people. I know that I need unplugged space with my family and with my best friends. My best friends are the same ones I've had for years. I know I need to turn my phone and computer off and have my friends over for dinner so we can sit around a fire pit. That's it. God is in that space. To me, community is sacred and also healing.
In addition to just circling the wagons with my people, a little bit of quiet time with God. And I don't mean it in the Christian-y way of "quiet time." I mean, just a little bit of space with no distractions where I can hear from God. I'm with God a lot in powerful ways—at church, at big conferences, in big movements and real public spaces. But it's so renewing when I can be with God away from all eyes, from all writing, from all social media, from all listening ears. When I am in his Word just as a learner, as someone who's beloved, I can take a deep breath.
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