"First Ladies" of the Church Not Just Sitting Pretty Anymore

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Pastors' wives such as Lynne Hybels have taken on new dynamic roles in the evangelical community and within their churches, but are still taking their family responsibilities as seriously as ever.

An interesting article in The Daily Beast examined the lives and services of pastors’ wives, which have changed dramatically in the recent few years. In the past, pastors’ wives would sit nicely in the pews supporting their husbands’ choices and attempting to fend off too many demands from congregants. Today, they are a dynamic, moving-and-shaking part of the church leadership with ministries of their own, sometimes internationally, coupled with the responsibility of family.

The article explored the life of Lynne Hybels, wife of Willow Creek Community Church’s Bill Hybels who heads up women’s ministry in her church, recently traveled to the Holy Land, aided rape victims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and participates in immigration reform activities. And she still has time to take her grandkids to the movies. Lynne told The Daily Beast that she is scared of public speaking, but she has “been entrusted with the stories of horrifically abused women in the DRC, and peacemaking Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land, and undocumented immigrants who worship at my church … If I refuse to tell their stories, for me it would be an act of disobedience, a failure to love.”

Another “first lady,” Tara Jenkins, serves in the body by supporting and ministering to pastors’ wives all over the country. Spouse of Charles Jenkins of Fellowship Baptist Church in Chicago, Tara considers her work with minister’s wives a calling “to convene the ‘Esthers’ of this millennium to utilize their influence to change the world. I’m often in settings with pastors’ wives who are woefully underutilized. Sure, their congregations will follow their hairstyle or their clothing — but will they follow them into community service? God didn’t invite me into this role to sit; he invited me to serve.” Pastor Jenkins himself calls his wife “his senior advisor, confidant, and my most enduring friend.”

And then there’s Rick Warren’s wife Kay, who partners with her husband in heading up Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Although she’s a self-described “introvert,” the article calls her “the evangelical world’s leading expert on HIV/AIDS and women’s health, while supporting Rick’s ministry and raising three kids.” She founded the church’s international HIV/AIDS initiative and travels all over the country and the world making allies and getting her hands dirty in the fight. “It’s a constant series of adjustments — from my family to my marriage to my church to my friendships,” she says of her life. “You never have it fully figured out, but you just keep trying.”

The pastor’s wives in the church today clearly aren’t just sitting and looking pretty in church on Sunday mornings. They are a vibrant part of their congregation and of the Christian community, although they are just as committed to their families and to God as they ever were. Learn more about Kay Warren’s ministry, Lynne Hybels’ ministry and Tara Jenkins’ ministry.


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  • Fayez

    The pastor’s wives in the church today clearly aren’t just sitting and looking pretty in

  • gb

    Pastor’s wives, a term which basically says you only have value because you are a wife, also have lives of their own and deserve the right to work outside of the Christian ministry arena if God so calls them. The lack of depth in this article is astounding. “Here are three pastor’s wives doing it all! And my, aren’t they grand?” Why not look at the variety of people who have spouses for pastors instead of lifting up only three obviously church-sponsored ministries as examples leaving out perfectly good examples of those Christian women (and men who are spouses) who work hard in their God-given fields whether or not it is inside or outsdie of church. And the whole use of “just sitting pretty” is also incredibly offensive to those spouses who do support their spouses in ministry in that way. Terrible article.

  • Patrice

    The pastor’s wife. What does this term mean? The term pastor means messinager or overseer. Does this mean that only men need to apply- shame, start from the front and read what God has to say about women, and why in context to the culture regarding women. Does this that if there is a woman pastor it is ok for same sex marriage- may it never be. Throw out the term “pastor’s wife” with false ideas regarding what God’s true intent was and strart using Pastor’s spouse. My husband has a hard time being the “Pastor’s wife.”

    • Peter Mahoney

      Actually the word pastor comes from the Greek word poimen which means “shepherd”. “Overseer” is derived from the Greek word episcopos and “elder” from the word presbyteros. Again coming from the Greek, the word “messenger” comes from angelos which is where we get our word angel from.

      The idea of the role of pastor/elder being a male only position comes from reading 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 where the use of gender exclusive words is clear and evident.

      1 Timothy 3:

      The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer[a] must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,[b] sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

      Titus 1:

      5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

      For those of us who hold to a verbal, plenary interpretation of the Bible (I am guessing you do not), every word of the scriptures is valued and treasured… including the articles, indefinite articles, prepositions, and yes… even the use of gender. Like in many modern languages (except English so it seems), everything must agree in case, gender, and number.

      If your tradition allows for female pastors, I guess that’s for you folks to choose. That said, one cannot claim such a position to be “biblical” no matter how much it would seem to fit within the cultural norms you and I may live in. Scripture transcends culture, no matter how archaic and backward it may seem. The Bible is not a “living document” and cannot be re-interpreted to suit our whims.

      Food for thought…

      • Fernando Villegas

        The idea of verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible surely has a lot of adherents. But I hope you will acknowledge that it is possible to believe in the full inspiration of the Bible without having to accept the premise that every single word was dictate by God.

        The verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible does not account for the fact that language is much more fluid than some allow. Yes, every word should be valued and treasured, but those words have no value in an of themselves apart from their value in communicating meaning. But an overemphasis on precise wording can often lead to a misinterpretation of the text.

        Let me give you an example. In the ten commandments presented in Exodus 20, the tenth commandment prohibits, among other things, “coveting our neighbor’s wife.” If we were to use the same hermeneutic to interpret this passage that we use to interpret passages such as 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1, we would reach some bizarre conclusions, such as that men can covet other men’s wives, just not their neighbor’s, or that women can covet their neighbor’s husbands. But obviously that is nonsense! The prohibition not to covet a neighbor’s wife clearly means we should not covet someone who is married to someone else.

        This same hermeneutic can also lead others–who study the Bible and believe in its interpretation–that the “gender exclusive” words in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 can legitimately be interpreted in a gender inclusive way. This hermeneutic does not minimize the inspiration of the Bible, but rather takes seriously the fluid nature of language.

        And if you don’t accept the premise that language is fluid, answer the following question: what does the word “bear” mean?

        All of that to say that I respect those who believe in the verbal-plenary inspiration of the Bible, even though I disagree with the theory. And I also respect those who, on the basis of such a hermeneutic, interpret the given passages as restricting the pastoral vocation to men only, although again I disagree with that interpretation.

        What does upset me is the false premise, assumed by many who believe as you do, that those of us who disagree are not being “biblical” that we do not value or treasure the Scriptures, that we are following our own tradition or our cultural norms, etc. This is simply not true! I value and treasure the Bible just as much as you do, and I find the position I hold just as Biblical as yours. I respect you and your interpretation. Is it too much to ask for that same respect in return?

        No, the Bible cannot be re-interpreted to suit our whims. But it must be interpreted to make sure we read it for what it actually says, not what you or I think it says. And both you and I need to make sure that we are interpreting the Bible responsibly.

        • Peter Mahoney

          As in all things, we all have the freedom to believe as our conscience allows. We are allowed our opinions… we are not entitled to our own facts. As I stated in my original post, if your tradition allows for female pastors that is for you and your particular church to decide. As for me and the church I serve, this is settle territory.

          FYI… verbal plenary inspiration is not the same as dictation theory.

          • Fernando Villegas

            “if your tradition allows for female pastors that is for you and your particular church to decide.”

            One could easily turn that around on you and reply, “If your tradition excludes female pastors that is for you and your particular church to decide.”

            But such a reply would not be fair to you either.

            I do not believe that women can serve as pastors because my “tradition” allows it, just as you don’t believe that women should not serve as pastors because your tradition does not allow it. I believe women can serve as pastors because my interpretation of Scripture allows for female pastors, and my interpretation is based on the facts of Scripture. Just as your interpretation of Scripture, based on the same facts of Scripture, excludes female pastors. You and I both base our conclusions on the weight of evidence from Scripture, not on tradition, not on making up “our own facts,” or anything like that.

            Now obviously, we disagree on which side the weight of evidence of Scripture falls greater. But that is to be expected. Such a disagreement should not be used to assume that one side is “following the Bible” and the other isn’t. Rather, such a disagreement is simply a result of the very nature of language. Language will always be susceptible, to varying degrees, to differences of interpretation.

            It is significant to consider that God understands that limitation and yet chose to accept it when deciding to reveal himself using human language. After all, he could very easily have chosen to reveal himself through mathematics. Mathematics has the ability to explain complex ideas such as quantum mechanics or general and special relativity, and to do so with complete precision. You don’t have to worry about “different interpretations” with math. 2 plus 2 will always equal 4.

            But he didn’t choose math. He chose human language. Apparently God found the risk of a variety of interpretations on various issues something that was acceptable, so I don’t understand why the concept is so difficult for some of us to get! And God made sure, in the process of inspiration, that those things that are essential to salvation are clear.

            So, I don’t mind if you or others disagree with my conclusions. I don’t expect you to change your mind, and I certainly don’t expect you to act contrary to your convictions.

            But please do not presume that those of us with different convictions are doing so merely because our “tradition allows it.” Please do not presume that we are “making up our own facts.” Please do not presume that we are trying to “fit within our cultural norms.” Please do no presume that we are doing anything other than trying to be obedient to the Scriptures as best as we can understand them! I ask you humbly, as a brother in Christ, that you treat us with more respect than that. I hardly feel such respect is too much to ask for!

            Whether you agree with my position or not, my position is based on the facts that I find in Scripture, and nothing else.

            “FYI… verbal plenary inspiration is not the same as dictation theory.”

            You are correct, so your point is taken. However, many people with whom I have discussed this issue are not aware of the distinction, and often equate the two. Now that I know you are aware of the distinction, I will speak specifically of verbal plenary inspiration.

            Having said that, I still believe that the theory of verbal plenary inspiration (specifically, the “verbal” part of that theory) does not fully take into account the inherently fluid nature of language.

  • Rock

    As long as I can remember pastor’s wives have been fufilling their calling by God.

    Just not from the pulpit unless they are asked to speak. Conferences etc. are a good thing.

    Maybe it’s just my pet peeve but what’s with the whole ” First Lady” thing? Is the pastor’s wife more special than other women in the church?

    Are we becoming more like the government? I totally disagree with this term.

    Just sayin

    • Peter Mahoney

      The term “First Lady” has been around for generations and it still endures in some circles. It isn’t meant to convey power or authority… it is a term of respect from a by-gone generation. While I don’t necessarily connect with the title (and neither does my wife) I certainly do wish the respect of past generations would make something of a comeback.

  • alhatesreligion

    Does anyone else think the “First Lady” name is goofy? So is the Pastor of the Church the President?

  • Always Wondering

    “And their just as committed to their famlies and to God as they ever were.” That has to be tagged on a couple times to remind us all that women must carry this burden while men do not? This article does make the eyes roll. That women who happen to be married to pastors have their own lives and ministry is not new nor should it be. “Pastor’s wife” is not an office. It is amusing that if a women is a powerful leader in her own right–like Beth Moore–it is not expected that their husbands sit and look hansome or that they don’t have a life and ministry of their own.

  • CaroyPepe Vega

    Well, I do not consider myself a “First-lady”, my husband is a pastor and yes it is a hard work, even when i do not have international ministries…, I respect the women who do, if their husbands and children are happy and properly taken care of and that was their call from god, who can say anything against it, in my personal case, God called me (and many others pastors wives, doctor wives, engineers wives, etc) to do the hardest thing for me, stay home, have a quiet loving ministry… MY FAMILY!, I homeschool my children, work from home to help ends meet (my husband part time job and pastoring salary is not much), have a pregnancy resource center in our dining room, and counsel a group of teens every week, we also run a Children´s Bible Club and have enough time to make love to my husband and do housechores, honestly this is a CALLING! this is not sitting looking pretty… I am sorry , the article made me feel that if we do not do more and are noticed then we are doing nothing but looking pretty, looking pretty is just the cherry on top, to make our husbands proud while juggling the rest of our lives.

    A question, how old are these “first´ladies” children?? I bet they are grown-ups… congrats to them! and please consider all the “regular” “just looking pretty” women as well. THANK YOU! BLESSINGS!

  • RevLuckett

    thank you Caroy for your comment. My wife is not in the forefront of the church nor is she over the women’s ministry. She is a wife to me and she does things behind the scenes like give clothing to children who don’t have. Helping those who are in need who may be ashamed to come forward and say so. We could not fit in a traditional church setting because so much is expected from the Pastor wife. She comes to service and bible study in sit amongst the congregation. sometimes she may sit in the back and other times in the front. I mostly wear a suit and tie where she will wear jeans and a shirt. She’s there when I need support or if I just need to talk about something.

  • Ruby

    I think it’s all about in which season of our lives we are in. Maybe these pastors’ wives have grown up kids already, and they are financially established, so now they can travel and do many things that others can’t. I just hope that noone judges those whose ministries are home-based, because we are doing just the same: serving our Lord.