Name Calling

I was having lunch with a sweet sister in the Lord one day and in the course of the conversation I mentioned how some of my friends at my church tease me by calling me “First Lady.”

My friend had never heard of such a thing. She gave me this look like, “What? They think you’re Michelle Obama?”

Apparently, the whole “First Lady” thing with pastors’ wives is not a universal practice in all Christian churches. No fault of hers, but she really had no clue.

Those who know me know my position on the subject and also know they can have a little fun with me about it. Of course, when they do, my first response is always, “My name is not Michelle!”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way offended, whether it’s my friends teasing me or a fellow believer just following one of the traditions they’ve seen done over and over again in their community’s churches. Besides, for sure I’ve been called far worse (tongue firmly planted in cheek) over the course of my almost 30 years as a Christian:

  • brainwashed (that’s what my non-Christian relatives thought; maybe they still do, all these decades later!)
  • a “goat” (versus a sheep; meaning I’m not really saved)
  • a “Stepford wife” (by Christian wives resisting the biblical teaching on submission in marriage)
  • a “bible-toting-scripture-quoting Christian” (accurate, but said perjoratively by another pastor’s wife)

And these are just the ones I know about! Being attacked with the first three is hurtful, until I consider their sources. The last one was an unintended compliment, only disappointing because of the source. In all of these cases, I am comforted by all the Scriptures that reassure me to have peace in spite of the persecutions that will come because of my faith in Christ and my efforts to conform to His perfect will (e.g., 2 Timothy 3:12).

Being called a “First Lady” clearly is not an attack, so it doesn’t fall under the same category of “name calling” as the other examples.

I was just a little surprised my lunch companion had never heard of it before. However, it was an indication of my ignorance, not hers. Of course she was clueless, because there is no biblical precedence for it at all. In fact, I don’t think there is any direct reference to pastors’/elders’/bishops’ wives anywhere in the Bible — and if there is, it is certainly not in the context of conferring some special title on them. Only deacons’ wives are specifically mentioned, but again not in the context of deserving special honor.

Okay, you might say, so if “First Lady” is not meant to be an insult, what’s the problem?

Let me hasten to say, it’s not necessarily a sin to call a pastor’s wife a “first lady.” And as I mention elsewhere, it is intended to recognize the admittedly unique and difficult role pastors’ wives have in the local church. I know, I am a pastor’s wife.

Where I personally have a problem with it is the “churchianity” this tradition plays a part in, within many churches, where a disproportionate amount of honor and power are given to the pastor’s wife just because she’s married to him. And I’ve seen that honor and power be abused, where pastors’ wives are put on a pedestal but can’t handle the special attention and so start believing all the hype, start thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to think and start feeling entitled.

The title “First Lady” immediately evokes privileged status within the local church, which to me is contrary to the spirit behind New Testament teachings (e.g., Philippians 2:1-8).

Since there is no biblical precedence for it, and since so many pastors’ wives stumble into pride because of it, why can’t being called what you truly are — “the pastor’s wife” — be enough?

Of course, this is my opinion. But as a result of it, I am reluctant to refer to myself as a first lady. I do it in the title of this blog solely for the purpose that some who need to read this blog will know from whence I speak.

As a pastor’s wife, here’s what I prefer to be called: “Sister Laurel.”

Now that’s a true statement, and for me personally, it is far more special. I have two older sisters, and I’m not close with either one of them — especially since I became a Christian almost 30 years ago. My conformity to my faith — or, conversely, their rejection and ridicule of my faith — has “put a wedge between us” as my oldest sister once complained. I wish I was as close to my blood relatives as I was before June of 1984, and candidly, it hurts that I’m not. There is a disconnect.

In light of that, and the fact that I will not give up eternal life in heaven for any temporary joys here, how wonderful it feels when my precious family in Christ calls me “Sister”! It reminds me that I have an eternal family, and it’s all because of the blood of Jesus! Blood is thicker than water, but the blood of Jesus is thicker than anything (Matthew 10:34-39).

So, if you’re gonna call me anything, call me “Sister Laurel.” That’s what God says I am. And that’s what I appreciate being the most. If you must make reference to my relationship to my pastor husband, call me “Mrs. Davis” or “the pastor’s wife” or “Pastor Charlton’s wife.” That better describes my role and my calling, and keeps me from being robbed of any eternal rewards in heaven for the unique hard work that comes with being a pastor’s wife.

“First Lady” doesn’t describe anything but an inaccurate differentiation within the body of Christ that I really don’t want any part of.

Sister Laurel

What do you think about my position on the whole “First Lady” thing in some communities’ churches? Leave a comment and I will endeavor to respond as soon as possible.

Comments (6)

  1. Sister Andi

    I’m eating my lunch and shaking my head YES-YES-YES!!!! I have never really been fond of the whole “first lady” thing. Yes these women are very strong women who take on a LOT – Lord only knows the spiritual warfare they are dealing with at church and at home. But I think some churches go way too far. Our pastor’s wife could be sitting anywhere in the congregation at any given time as “sister Gail” not “First Lady Gail.” No special seat where we can see a new outfit every Sunday.

    Let’s get the attention off the pastor/first lady/worship leader/choir and get it back on Christ where it’s suppose to be. The upside down pyramid where the pastor/church leaders are at the narrow end and bottom holding the wider end/chuch UP closer to the Lord. Not the congregation on the bottom holding the pastor up. I know I’ll get a lot of flack for my comment. But I’m ok with that. 😉

    1. Sister Laurel (Post author)

      Yes, the upside-down pyramid is a perfect picture of what it’s supposed to look like in churches and how their supposed to operate. As far as the warfare that pastor’s wives must endure, because I’ve been one for so long and have been a Christian even longer (30 years this June), I know that at every level of God-fearing service a believer will have to endure some degree of warfare. One’s warfare is not more or less significant depending on their role or title in the church; it’s just may be different. Thanks for your excellent comment!

  2. SuzeB

    Sister Laurel, congrats on your new blog. I’m a fan of your writing and blessed to read what the Lord has placed on your heart to share. Honestly, the whole “First Lady” thing makes me uneasy as a Christian because bond servants of Christ don’t have titles. The title of your blog, I think, perpetuates attention to “First Lady”. Perhaps, “Keeping it real, in faith, with Sister Laurel” might draw more attention to Jesus. Just a thought and as always, much love and respect to you, my sister and friend. Love, Suz

    1. Sister Laurel (Post author)

      Thank you, SuzeB, for your comment. Please continue to be in prayer about this calling. Regarding the blog’s title, I explain on the “Why I’m Reluctant” page that the only reason I would ever refer to myself as a “First Lady” is in the context of this blog — and that is only because I know it will get the attention of the people who need to be corrected about it the most. Of course, as you know about me, I love The Lord and want Him to get all the glory out of everything I do — as a Christian, wife, mother, friend, employee and blogger. I mulled over a lot of blog names and ran them by my husband. I prayed about this blog, that The Lord would make it what He wants it to be and what He wants to accomplish with it, for His glory. I realize this is subjective, but for now I’m confident He has a purpose with this particular title, and I’m confident that the content of this blog will help people put the focus on (back on) Jesus. Thanks again, so much, Sister Suze. Much love in Christ to you!

  3. dejohn360

    I have been looking for a blog like this for the past 3 months. I am currently engaged to a Pastor, and one of his ways of proposing to me was, “are you ready to be first lady”? When I told him that I do not want to be called “first lady” (That’s Michelle), his eyes widened. My response was, I’m more comfortable with “Sister Deirdre, Sister Dee(my nickname) or Mrs. Taylor. I don’t want them to feel as if they have to treat me special or that I’m entitled to anything. I just want to grow closer in my relationship with God, my family and my soon to be church family.

    1. Sister Laurel (Post author)

      My dear sweet Sister Dee! Thank you for your comment. I have two questions:

      1. What was your fiance’s response?
      2. Are you ready to be a pastor’s wife?

      I so appreciate your comment and look forward to corresponding more!

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