A Lady First: Being a Pastor’s Wife
Reality TV makes a mockery of Christianity and I as a pastor’s wife am embarrassed and fed up. Not just for what these so-called docu-series are doing to open up our Faith to ridicule, but also for what a lot of pastors’ wives are doing in real “real life” that only perpetuates the problem.
And why do they always have to be Black, most of them? As an African-American pastor’s wife myself (okay, half, whatever), that just adds insult to injury.
True enough, TLC cancelled “The Sisterhood” (winter 2013) after only one season due to major outcry from the Christian community. But then Oxygen’s “Preachers of L.A.” came around just six months later and was popular enough to be renewed for a second season. Plus, I hear there are to be spin-offs in other major cities like Atlanta and Detroit. And now there’s word that a new reality show, “Preachers’ Exes,” is shopping for a network channel.
Overall, these shows and the professing Christians on them are embarrassing and misleading. Not all pastors are about the bling. And not all pastor’s wives are arrogant, entitled, self-centered, aloof, patronizing, untouchable, I-can-do-what-I-want-I’m-the-first-lady, got-to-be-the-best-dressed, elitist, biblically illiterate, selectively loving, gossipping busybodies.
But a lot of us are.
I’m not saying that every pastor’s wife on “The Sisterhood” and “Preachers of L.A.” are all of these things. I don’t know any of them personally (being among the Facebook friends of a couple of them doesn’t count). On the show, some were worse than others and, thankfully, two or three of them weren’t really any of these things (except biblically illiterate).
But the majority of these women represent a lot of pastors’ wives who covet the title and position of “first lady in the church” (a long-held tradition in the Apostolic and other churches predominantly in the African-American community) — often being groomed for it from the time they were little girls. And it’s to the ultimate detriment of the local church and the women, especially the young women, who aspire to be just like them.
Special attention and favor do inevitably come with being married to the most visible and respected person in the local church. The problem is when pastors’ wives get all caught up in the hype instead of gently resisting the congregation’s natural tendency to put them on a pedestal. Allowing yourself to be called “First Lady” in the first place is the beginning of that problem. (Read my Why I’m Reluctant page and Name Calling page to see why I would even dare call myself that in the title of this blog.)
I’m thinking about two examples. First is Myesha Chaney, married to Pastor Wayne Chaney of Antioch Church of Long Beach, California, featured on “Preachers of L.A.” (See my post Naming Names for the biblical basis for why I would, well, name names.) Part of their storyline was that he needed a second in command and she wanted the job. When he hesitated, partly because the church board was against the nepotism and partly because of his own concerns about whether she could balance it with motherhood and her other existing responsibilities, she started crying. Her husband then, um, submitted.
Not to belittle Mrs. Chaney’s real feelings, but with all due respect, I wouldn’t feel secure at a church where it seems that: 1) the second in command is easily moved to tears when she doesn’t get her way; 2) the senior pastor is easily moved by those tears because it’s his wife; 3) the senior pastor’s wife shows such lack of trust in and Godly compliance with his leadership of her, their family and their church; and 4) the senior pastor submits to his wife and not the other way around when it comes to a major matter of the church, which makes me wonder how much she was maybe already kind of running things behind the scenes before this and at the church family’s expense.
This is even before I mention the fact that God did not ordain for women to be in authority over men in the first place. But that’s another article (or two) for another time.
The second example is Lady Bridget Hilliard, wife of Pastor I.V. Hilliard of New Light Christian Center in Houston, Texas. For her 50th birthday a few years ago, the church’s website had a microsite inviting people to her party for a $100 per person admission price. The party planning committee even included a list of suggested gift ideas, making it plain that Mrs. Hilliard deserved nothing less than “monetary gifts, designer handbags (Gucci, Chanel and Louis Vitton) and gift certificates (Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Escade).” (Houston Press article, February 9, 2006). Mrs. Hilliard was already driving a Bentley with the license plate, “Mrs. Attitude.” (Guess what her husband’s said.) Enough said.
That party’s old news by now, of course, and I read the microsite was taken down shortly after the Houston Press article came out. What I have not read anywhere is whether or not the Hilliards ever apologized for it or retracted that gifts list. I’m not saying they never did apologize; I’m just saying, in all the reading I did do in my research, I didn’t read anything that said they had.
Maybe now I’m the one who sounds arrogant, elitist, unloving and gossipy. And jealous. Let me briefly address all that. It’s important you know my heart before I continue.
Firstly, am I arrogant or elitist? See my Who She Think She Is? page. Anything I think I know is not because I think I have any superior insight or privileged wisdom. All I have is the same degree of access to reality shows and The Word Network, the Internet and Google, and — most importantly of all — the Holy Bible as anybody else; and I have been given the same basic degree of intelligence, common sense and potential ability to discern as most people; and I am therefore no more capable than anybody else to just, simply, make reasonable observations about things and evaluate how those things measure up against the test of the final authority of God’s Word.
Indeed, this very blog is intended, not to prove anything about myself, but to prove that all of us have the ability to think for ourselves about our Faith and our churches. This, in spite of the fact that, as I’ve said elsewhere, it’s going to ruffle some feathers in a lot of church hats. If that’s what it takes, so be it.
Am I gossiping? No, because I’m only talking about what was done publicly, and my assessment of it is my personal opinion based on my comparison of it against the Scriptures. I’m not addressing anything that isn’t already public knowledge.
Am I being unloving. No, because telling truthful observations about someone and loving them are not mutually exclusive. If they put themselves out there (on television and their websites), as long as I’m not calling them out their name or slandering (lying about) them, then no one can conclude I don’t love them. Am I aware what I’m saying could hurt their or their followers’ feelings and therefore that’s how I could be unloving? No, even then, my hope is that those women and their followers will be ultimately helped out of this faulty and potentially dangerous way of thinking in the church. Any short-term hurt is outweighed by that long-term goal. And that long-term goal is very loving, indeed.
Am I jealous? Hmm. Jealous of what? Material things? Status? Attention? Prominence? Popularity? If my focus were on me, if I were a “first lady” and a “Mrs. Attitude” like Bridget Hilliard, then of course being jealous and competitive would come with the territory. But I don’t want the title “First Lady.” Calling myself “Mrs. Davis” is plenty satisfying enough, thank you very much.
Furthermore, I don’t covet material things and all the rest. Sure, I like nice things, and sure, who doesn’t like at least a little attention. But these are things the carnal man desires, while God says that life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions (Luke 12:15), don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth (Matthew 6:19), and be content (1 Timothy 6:6-8). In other words, balance. Biblical balance. I love and fear Almighty God too much, and my burden to warn Christian women is too heavy (see 2 Timothy 3:6), for me to be secretly pining for whatever those “First Ladies” have that I don’t have.
Here’s why I’m embarrassed and fed up with the whole “First Lady in the church” thing — whether it’s a pastor’s wife’s title or just her attitude:
Too many “First Ladies” fail to see that being a pastor’s wife is a privilege, not an entitlement. It’s a calling, not a status level. It’s a position of support and service, not of being served. It’s an opportunity for you to bless, not control. It’s about modeling a pricelessly adorned spirit, not the latest Gucci handbag. It’s a responsibility to give God all the glory, not share His glory with your husband and yourself. They fail to see it, and like sheep being led astray, their congregations fail to see it, too.
I’ve been a pastor’s wife for more than 21 years. With all of its perks come a lot of pitfalls, this I know first-hand. That’s why I also know, don’t seek to be a pastor’s wife unless you know you’re called by God. Be careful what you ask for, because if your pastor husband is going to do his job right, you as his biggest supporter and disciple are going to have to do your job right.
That means, first lady, you’re going to have to endure a lot of sacrifice, scrutiny, tests and trials, second-guessing, attacks on your marriage and family, hurt and pain, and loneliness. The fruits of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 6:22-24) — will have to be in operation on double-time. And let me throw in Galatians 6:26 for good measure: “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying one another.”
Of course, being a pastor’s wife also means being blessed to serve and help, to see the fruit of your labor in teaching and guiding your precious sisters and young women (Titus 2:3-5), and first and foremost being a fitting helpmate to your husband’s work in his ministry witnessing to lost souls and discipling believers into growing in their Faith.
In short, don’t seek after being a “first lady.” Be a “lady first.” (Thank you for that, Brother Lawrence E. Webb.)
A “lady first” is a woman (pastor’s wife or not) after God’s own heart. First.
Then it’s the heart of her husband, then her children (yes, after the husband), then the people in the church, then the larger community. Like the Proverbs 31 woman (verses 10-31), such a lady is content with her husband and children giving her honor even if no one else ever does (cf. verses 28-29). Moreover, it’s her good deeds — not her title, position, possessions or fashion style — that garner admiration outside her home (verses 30-31).
Similarly, a “lady first” strives to do what women are instructed in Titus 2:3-5: be mindful of their awesome responsibility to younger women, live holy lives, avoid idolatry, don’t gossip, teach biblical things, be level-headed, love and yield to their husbands, prefer and nurture their children, and make the home a pleasant, well-managed and healthy refuge for the family and guests.
Actually, verse 5 of Titus 2 is the only place in the Bible where it tells women in particular to not open up the Word of God to be blasphemed — maligned, cheapened, dishonored, discredited. How did/do most of the pastors’ wives on “The Sisterhood,” “Preachers of L.A.” and those you know or heard of personally, publicly live out that clear admonition?
Being a pastor’s wife called by God and not your ego, calls for being a lady first. And being a lady first, well, that’s hard enough as it is, I have to admit! (Or is it just me?!) It’s a constant striving already to be the Proverbs 31/Ephesians 5/Titus 2/1 Peter 3 woman even without the added responsibility of supporting a husband’s ministry.
But being a lady first, more than being a first lady, is what is most beautiful in the eyes of your husband, your children, your fellow church members and, most importantly of all, your Heavenly Father.
I welcome your comments and will respond as soon as I can.