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.
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.