“Big Tim” does it every time he sees her. It doesn’t matter if it’s at church, in the grocery store or at the little league game. Every time he sees my wife he smiles real big, bows his head ever so slightly and says, “Hey, First Lady! How you doing First Lady?”

I chuckle on the inside because I know Kristie is gritting her teeth. She doesn’t like the label—not one bit. I’m getting a good laugh out of the entire episode. Meanwhile Kristie gets this nails-on-the-chalkboard cringe in her soul. But she’s smooth as water. You’d never know she dislikes the label because she smiles that big country grin back and says, “I’m fine. How are you ‘Big Tim’?”

The “First Lady” no longer lives at the White House. Michelle Obama isn’t the only leading lady in town. Chances are you have a “First Lady” right at your church. The “First Lady” had come into her own, with top 20 awards and even clothing lines designed especially for her.

My wife’s reaction illustrates a healthy skepticism towards this phenomena.

On the one hand, my wife senses everything that’s unhealthy about the label. “First Lady” is not a biblical office. Neither is “pastor’s wife.” My wife eschews any sense that she has a unique role and calling in the church apart from being a growing Christian, a faithful member and servant. She doesn’t feel entitled to any special treatment because she’s my wife—whether positive or negative treatment. She doesn’t seek any privileges as the woman married to the pastor. She knows such practices can be abused.

Indeed, we see the abuses. We see or hear stories of wives of pastors usurping their husband’s role and office. They move from pastor’s wife to first lady to “co-pastor.” Or, we see the love of the sheep turned into opportunity for gain. Congregants take great pride in their first lady’s appearance and status, financing shopping trips and lavish lifestyles. I guess it’s the feminine equivalent to all those Cadillacs churches have purchased for their male pastors. It’s not difficult to spot the problems.

But while some abuses exist, it’s also true that honor for pastors and their wives can be almost non-existent. The wives of pastors sometimes live in fish bowls, always watched and judged. They can live beneath inordinate expectations and nearly suffocate from stifling criticism. Such women often mourn the absence of friendship in their churches and their husbands wonder if leaving the pastorate might not be a better decision for the sake of their families.

So there’s another perspective on this “first lady” phenomenon. I think my wife grins and bears “Big Tim’s” greeting because she knows Tim is attempting to honor her. She discourages anyone else from calling her that, and even tries unsuccessfully to dissuade Tim (who usually gets a pass because he’s lovable in that big teddy bear way). Her discouragements aside, Kristie knows a healthy respect brims beneath Tim’s use of the phrase. She accepts the respect that’s intended–and she should. Many wives of pastors serve faithfully in their churches, give as much or more as their husbands, disciple younger women and carry themselves in a manner worthy of respect. It’s natural and right that those who feel encouraged and helped by their lives and labors should love and hold them in high regard (Phil. 2:29).

Accepting appropriate shows of honor while discouraging inappropriate displays can be a difficult balancing act. So what to do?

A few thoughts:

First, let’s positively encourage appropriate displays of respect for faithful pastors (1 Tim. 5:17-18) and for women worthy of respect (1 Tim. 3:11; 5:2-3). I don’t think most of the church world suffers from showing too much respect—perhaps too much criticism. And though many selfish, greedy and worldly leaders have bred contempt among some Christians, nothing is as liberating and life-giving as a congregation of saints who affirm, encourage, uphold and honor one another. Such honor should be shown to the wives of pastors who support their husbands in the work of the ministry and sacrifice much for the blessing of the saints. We don’t want to abandon appropriate respect because of inappropriate abuse by some.

Second, let us use words more often. It’s not uncommon for appreciation to be shown in large gifts. Pastor appreciation banquets (itself a sometimes problematic phenomenon) often feature the unveiling of some expensive material gift from the congregation–cars, cash gifts, extravagant vacations. This is how many churches say, “We love you.” But I wonder if it’s not better to simply say the words. Often. Sincerely. Thoughtfully. Churches can run the risk of treating their pastors the way some parents treat their children at Christmas or birthdays. Having neglected to show their affection all year long, some parents try to “buy” their children’s affection or assuage their guilty consciences with expensive toys. Perhaps some of the church’s celebrations are really corporate exercises in assuaging guilt for neglecting the pastor and his family for most of the year. And let’s be honest: the members of the family most likely to be neglected are the pastor’s wife and children. So, we might have a healthier culture of affirmation and respect if we simply expressed ourselves with words throughout the year and filled our sisters with a sense of our affection and appreciation.

Third, let’s endeavor to use biblical labels for biblical offices and shy away from creating new ones. It’s not a sin to create a role or title. But sometimes doing so confuses things. Like “First Lady.” In the secular culture of politics that title suggests an honorific role and a level of representation that nowhere exists for the wives of pastors in the New Testament Scripture. As stewards called to be faithful to our God’s word (1 Cor. 4:1-2), we need to be wary of adding to His word or innovating. When we do, we tend to open Pandora’s Box and some departures from God’s word can’t be easily fixed. We are safer and stronger if we treat God’s word as sufficient and stick to the biblical offices and titles He gives us.

Fourth, let’s do more than use biblical labels. Let’s also return to biblical qualifications for the offices of the church. The church is God’s household. As such, the Father sets the rules for the house and all us children should happily comply. Sometimes Kristie and I leave the children at home for a couple hours when we’re away. Usually we leave the oldest in charge of the others. She’s not their mother, so she can’t do whatever she’d like. But she is trustworthy, mature and capable in a pinch. While my 14 year old daughter could do a good job as well, not all the children meet those criteria yet—especially my 7 year old son who asks to be in charge nearly every time we run an errand. He desires a good thing, but he doesn’t meet our qualifications. So it is with women who desire to lead as pastors in the local church. The Father has left His family to live according to His rule—one of which is only qualified, mature men should care for the Father’s family in His absence (1 Tim. 2:11-3:7). One of the most difficult but necessary things ahead for the church is the restoring of proper biblical leadership.

I’m really thankful my wife takes no delight in being called “first lady.” She’s quite happy to be my wife and helper in life. And I’m glad we’re part of a church family that frequently honors her with kind words and small gestures. Kristie knows their love. Consequently, adopting man-made titles and extravagant displays are unnecessary. Life is biblical and simple, so we all win.

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49 Comments

  • Avatar Louis Love says:

    You nailed it T. Sometimes the pastor’s wife can be the loneliest person in the Church. Thank God for the congregations who seek to honor and respect her in loving and wise ways. It really encourages me when I observe the members of New Life displaying acts of kindness and love to Jamie all through the year.

    Jamie’s not from the country, so you call her first lady and all kinds of things could possibly happen. But she will give one of those city girl smiles that reveals in an ever so gentle way, her dislike of the term.

    Does this mean I have to give back that Elliptical the congregation gave me for Pastor’s appreciation? 🙁

    Thanks T for setting the record straight.

  • Avatar Thabiti says:

    Ha! Ain’t nobody messing with Sis. Jamie. I know she’ll get a brother told–nice and citified Christian like ;-).

    But, no, brother, you need to keep that elliptical. They were trying to tell you something! 😉

    One might be in my future real soon :-).

    T

  • Avatar Deryk Hayes says:

    Thabiti, I really appreciate this post. Prayerfully one day I’ll be able to sit down with you and explain why. However, one reason is due to the fact that this position and others are creating a lot of obstacles with in the church, specifically when those titles are used from this “I’m more than others” type attitude. I’m thankful that you are writing about things like this, and as a young man who aspirers to this office, this work I’m thankful that God has given me a wife who doesn’t aspire to the role of “First Lady!” Your wives coming to the porch to chop it up is also a blessing to my wife.

    Thanks for your faithfulness man, all of you brothers on the front porch. Thabiti you and your family are in my prayers as you move toward this church plant in D.C. Are there any helpful resources that you’ve found or have written specifically to encourage and help an African American church planter’s wife in the journey?

  • Avatar Thabiti says:

    Hey bro,

    Thanks for joining us on the porch! Climb on up anytime.

    And,man, a good wife is the favor of the Lord, isn’t it? As for books re: church planting wives, I’ll let my wife give you a couple thoughts. She’s been reading some lately.

    Grace and peace,
    T-

  • Avatar Pastor Bruce says:

    Such is human nature from one extreme to another. I shy away from titles and all the other stuff that celebrity pastors do today, (my wife is only my first lady!) but let me not pretend, I have often been lifted up by a kind word of appreciation from a church member.

    Keep at it bro’

  • Avatar george canady says:

    Thanks Pastor, as I learn this on going lesson with love for my pastor’s wife. I hope to show my family how to love my Pastor and his wife with balance. This helps.

  • Avatar Ritetheology says:

    Gentlemen, i think were making a “mountain out of a mole hill”. Those of us who traffic in the black church understand the symbolic use of the title “first lady”. I’m sorry that your wives are offended at the terminology. In my opinion we have two options. Option “A” This Sunday you men can stop all the nonsense by simply making a public announcement that you would like everyone to STOP using that title because its offensive and unbiblical to your wives. Or option B, our wives can embrace the title and use it as a bridge to ministry. I think option B is the better choice. Face it, the wife of a pastor-especially in the black church-finds herself in a unique position that can be leveraged for either good or evil. First Timothy Chapter 3 as you know gives the qualifications for those MEN who would serve the church as Elders and Deacons. Here’s what’s interesting, verse Eleven states: “Likewise, their wives must be reverent………”. Who are the wives that Paul is addressing? Well most believe that he’s addressing the wives of Deacons. Well that is partially true. BUT contextually I’m convinced that he is also addressing the wives of the Elders/Pastors as well. So you see, Pastor’s wives in fact do play a special role in the body as evidenced by their qualifications. So you know what? We can quibble all day over a symbolic title-which in the black church is indeed a term of endearment-or we can encourage our wives to embrace the title and be faithful.

    P.S. Since we’re discussing unbiblical titles, where do you find ” Senior” pastor in the bible?

  • Avatar Eric Baldwin says:

    You are exactly right. I personally get tired of the whole I can live more biblically than you mess from pastors and church leaders. If that’s how Big Tim, receives you then don’t be so holy than thou that you can take pleasure in the way he respects you! They called Jesus Rabbi but he didn’t go around cringe on the inside screaming with in his brain MESSIAH!!!! He met people where they were and blessed them PERIOD!

  • Avatar Thabiti says:

    Hi Ritetheology and Eric,

    Thank you brothers for joining us on the porch. Thanks for jumping in with your thoughts and views. I love good conversation.

    First, let me say that I personally find more “holier than thou” or self-righteousness in your tones and comments than anything written in this post, which talks both about both the positives of the practice as intended by many and the abuses which can be plainly seen. I think you “doth protest too much.”

    Second, Ritetheology, the passage in 1 Tim. 3 literally says “Likewise, their women.” I doesn’t refer to wives, which Paul could have specified if that’s what he has in mind. Most commentators allow that what Paul likely had in mind was what we would call “deaconnesses” or female deacons or female assistants to deacons, not spouses. I’d make that case base on the word translated “wives” (should be women) and the opening word “Likewise,” which suggests Paul is continuing a series offices including elders, deacons, and deaconnesses. The passage has nothing to do with what we’re discussing here.

    Third, Ritetheology, you are certainly correct when you say the wife of a pastor finds herself in a position that can be leveraged for either good or ill. The point of the post is simply to say do the good to avoid the ill. There’s a way to honor folks that’s fitting, and there’s a way that gets leveraged for ill. We should be concerned to do the positive and protect against the negative.

    Finally, Ritetheology, you won’t find the title “Senior pastor” in the Bible. But, you will find “pastor” in the Bible. Also, you will clearly see historical example where at least one man emerges as a kind of “first among equals.” That’s what we usually mean when we refer to a “senior pastor” here. So Titus appoints other elders. Timothy has to lead and even correct fellow elders in Ephesus. And so on. The difference between “senior pastor” and “first lady” is that senior pastor is a category of a office that is clearly biblical while while “first lady” comes from entirely outside the scripture. It’s apples and oranges really.

    Thanks for your thoughts, brothers. Grace and peace to you.
    T-

  • Avatar Eric Baldwin says:

    You also don’t find Jesus saying rape is wrong either but I’m sure you preach against that. The bible tells women to be quiet too. Do you preach that? All of that in this article is mixing the major up with the minor. At the end of the day it’s all about showing the love of God thru Christ Jesus and the Gospel!

  • Avatar Michael Jamison says:

    You may want to read Matthew 5:27-28 again, bro. I don’t think you properly understood it the first time around.

  • Avatar Ritetheology says:

    Bro T. You “shouldest” been a politician rather than a preacher because you like to dance about the issues. First off you state that 1 Tim 3:11 addresses a third office (aren’t thou Baptist) the text states: “Likewise their women…..”. Whose women? Who are the “their”? The context would indicate that the “their” includes pastors and deacons. Therefore who are the women of Pastors and Deacons? So if these “women” are not wives, who are they? Well they would have to be the women of the Ephesian church. (Cf 1 Tim 2:9) if this is the case then the text gets kinda weird. Paul begins his discussion of church leadership and then out of the blue just throws in some extra thoughts about the women. Elders need to be this and Deacons need to be this and “oh, by the way, women need to be this”. Paul where did that come from? Brother “Wives vs. Women” makes plainer sense (and you know the old adage). Therefore contextually Paul is NOT is establishing some third office (your words). Brother I would argue that this passage is very relevant to this discussion. Why? Because if “Gune” is translated “wife” then the wives of pastors and deacons are in a special position. You argue for the irrelevance of the monicker “first lady” yet you support a made up office called “deaconess”. Which one is worse? In the black church, “First lady” is as benign as calling Deacon Jones “Doc”. Pastors’ wives(1st ladies) are a first among equals in the congregation thus the special qualifications. By the way, if a wife is NOT ” First lady ” qualified (vs 11) neither is her pastor husband qualified to serve. And in closing, “Deaconess” this made up position ought to technically offend you as much as the title “First lady” offends your dear wife. We are NOT comparing “apples and oranges.
    RT

  • Avatar Todd says:

    RT, why are you so turned up? Better being politician than a preacher? OUCH! I’m glad we big boys here, (just don’t say nothing about nobodies mama:) Your points are stated clearly, organized well, and contextual(even if one does agree I for one appreciate both of your processes about coming to a conclusion). Also, outside of Wiersbe & John Phillips I don’t know many other commentators who take the position of wives. If you have other examples please share. Thanks, but Look, we on the porch man, enjoy some red Kool AId and chill! lol!! JK!

    As far as the post, Pastor T, I really appreciate it. However, I will push back just a tad but overall I am in agreement.

    Let’s assume we discard the name, I don’t necessarily know if that cancels the function and mindset of the people. A rose by any other……… Now don’t get me wrong words do have power!! However, in our context in particular, the pastor and his family, irregardless rather we agree, hold a more elevated and scrutinized role than in other church cultures. So while I do believe that discarding the title is ideal, I don’t know if it is a reality. However, I do agree that one can function in the role without the title. As Sandy Ray asserted “a testimony whoops a title every time”.

    One other issue which is not the main point of your post but one that made me yell NOOOOOOOOOO but I think you’re right. Your second point, in particular regarding the pastor’s anniversary. Plain and simple, Pastor T, if our Pastor does not have an anniversary HE WILL NOT EAT!!! He came during a nasty split, instituted church discipline, expository preaching, accountability from the leaders and members and at one time our congregation of 125 dropped to 7 in attendance!! The Lord has blessed since and has added to His Church, however, after 7 years the exegetical exorcism is still incomplete. So I find myself saying once again, not wanting to throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Well Pastor T, thanks again. To be honest I usually enjoy the comments more than the post. It is always interesting, encouraging to see how we discuss in disagreement. Also to not be a contrarian, I agreed with the majority of your post, in particular the simplicity you described at the end.

    3rd John 2

    To you all!!!!!

  • Avatar Ritetheology says:

    Brother I apologize for not addressing you by name but I can’t find your name in the post. Listen, I’m not turned up, I’m Black. You know how we talk. When I was a baby I cried loud. I love the brothers on the porch and hope they take my posts in the spirit that I write them. “In all things charity…….”
    Bruh, I’ve been part of the black church my entire life and I’m over fitty. So when things are said about the church I feel like I have a vested interest. As a black pastor Im committed to black America. Why because I’m black? No, rather because the need is Sooooo great. What white American churches take for granted, black churches are in desperate need of.
    God bless your pastor and his “first lady” (smile). A lot of Black churches find themselves in the same boat, a mile wide and an inch deep. Are you kidding? From 125 to 7. That church was filled with unbelievers or very carnal believers. You see this is what I’m talking about. What your pastor is trying to do now is what should of been happening over the years in our churches. “Church discipline and Expository preaching” just to name a few are foreign concepts in many black ministries.
    You know what? I’ve preached this for years: because of the great theological needs in black America we NEED the BEST men possible to help stem the tide of moral decay. It bothers me to no end when our best and brightest head off to the suburbs in order to do ministry. Hey! wait a minute. We need you. To many of our best and brightest are failing to heed the Macedonian call. “Come over here and help US……” One criticism that I have for my “Front porch” brothers is that they could be a greater advocate for the black church. Maybe that’s what they’re doing in their own way.
    You asked, are there are others who hold to wife vs. Deaconess position. I think the majority opinion is “wife” vs. Deaconess. For example men like John Calvin, S Lewis Johnson, HA Iornside just to name a few.
    Well let me go,
    Peace Brother
    RT

  • Avatar Thabiti says:

    Hey man,

    I’m with Todd. It seems you need to calm down or write with more tact. It ain’t that serious, bro.

    But to your points: There are two broad schools of interpretation for 1 Tim. 3:11. There are some who interpret the passage to refer to the wives of deacons, and among them a very small minority would also include the wives of elders. So, you hold a minority view in that camp.

    There are others who argue on exegetical grounds that Paul here refers to a third office, commonly called “deaconess.” The very word “likewise” denotes a series of offices is in view. It’s the same word used in 2:9 and 3:8 where Paul begins the second office in the discussion, the deacon. The language/role of deaconess is not as extra-biblical as you make out. Clearly Phoebe is in that role (Rom. 16:1). Some hold that Eudia and Syntyche could have played a very similar role with Paul (Phil 4:2). And there’s even thought that Tabitha/Dorcas might have belonged to an order of widows who served as deaconesses (Acts 9:36-41). That the office existed should be as plain as Acts 16:1. We find support for the deaconness in extra-biblical writing as early as Chrysostom, in the early history of the Greek Church, and even in the writings of Pliny. What you view as unbiblical was in fact the practice of the early church.

    That 1 Tim. 3:11 is likely describing the office of female deacons is further supported by the entire context/purpose of 1 Tim. 3:1-13. Keep in mind that the entire passage is about what to look for in an officer before you elect them as qualified to serve. The insertion of “Women in like manner must…” (the literal translation) suggests the listing of a third office. In the original the word “their” is not present; it’s supplied by English translators and in this case leads you to conclude too strongly that “wives” is what is meant. “Wives” is possible but it’s nowhere near definite. If Paul wanted to be definite in that meaning all he had to do is insert the word αὐτῶν.

    Even if I accept your interpretation of 1 Tim. 3:11, it still doesn’t establish an office of “first lady.” It simply says that the wives of leaders ought to posses a certain spiritual maturity. That’s it, really. So, again, I have to conclude that the verse isn’t really that applicable to the discussion at hand.

    One final point about the language of “deaconnesses.” My issue with “first lady” is not that the phrase isn’t in the Bible. My issue with the label is that the office or position isn’t in the Bible. We have plenty of labels we use that aren’t in the Bible but do describe a truth that is in the Bible. Take “Trinity,” for example. But with the case of “first lady,” neither the title nor the role is taught in scripture, even if we allow your translation of 1 Tim. 3:11. In my opinion, then, the use of the phrase and the creation of the “role” (whether informal or formal) introduces unhelpful categories into the church. These categories are abused about as often as they are simply honorific. As I say in the post, I’m all for properly honoring people, including pastors’ wives. I simply think there’s a better way of doing it.

    Thanks for the interaction, friend. The Lord’s grace be with you,

    Thabiti

  • Avatar Thabiti says:

    Dear Todd,

    Thanks for the comment, bro. We’re glad to have you on the porch!

    Two quick replies. First, I agree that just getting rid of the label doesn’t fix the mindset. We have to inform the mindset, which is the purpose of teaching. That’s why I think teaching people to properly honor is important. I’m not against the honoring (or even the high scrutiny, since the Bible teaches that teachers receive stricter judgment); I’m against the abuses which are not created but are helped by unbiblical approaches.

    Second, I think the situation with your pastor is in a different category. It’s not at all what I’m addressing. i think a man whose work is the ministry of the word should be able to make his living from that ministry (1 Tim. 5:18; 1 Cor. 9, etc). Helping a man eat and provide for his family is quite a long ways away from what I’m addressing here: exorbitant gifts, etc.

    Glad to have you in the conversation with your mildly “contrarian” self :-). Grace and peace, man.
    T-

  • Avatar Thabiti says:

    Dear Eric,

    1. I certainly do preach against rape and I’m sure that’s included in Matthew 5:27-28, which Michael points to below. Not only is it included there, but it’s also forbidden in the Law, which Jesus came to fulfill.

    2. And, as a matter of fact, we’ve been working our way through 1 Corinthians in Wednesday night Bible study. When we reached the “women must remain silent” passage, I did teach Bible on that point. We had a great time wrestling with the text!

    3. I’m not sure your comment helps the discussion that much, friend. Nor does generally pointing to the love of God through Christ Jesus settle matters very helpfully. All kinds of error gets imported into the church and our thinking with such general appeals. If God speaks to a thing specifically, we must obey it specifically. We need to obey it with the gospel of Christ in mind, but we can’t appeal to the gospel as a way of erasing what God requires of us. Better to be faithful even if it’s difficult.

    Thanks for joining the conversation. I pray the Lord makes His face to shine upon you today,
    T-

  • Avatar Pastor Bruce says:

    To my shame, although obviously against the vile act, neither did I really pick up the rape context of Matthew 5:27-28. Helpful, thanks.

  • Avatar Larry Miles says:

    It really is disheartening that “we” hold to particular “golden calves” so dearly. The post is simply unveiling an unnecessary weight among us regarding a title, that, in the end does more harm than good. Liberalism and “ahhh whats wrong with that?” causes particular infections to creep in unaware. “We” seemingly love to have certain distinctives among us to create prestigious veneers. Since “First Lady” is not a Biblical concept, but a created title to distinguish a pastor’s wife from other women in the church, what is the basis of needing that distinction among the flock of God? Do we think people otherwise would not know who the wife of the pastor is? And why does the title generally replace the woman’s name? If humility is an intentional character trait to be sought after and practiced among Biblical Christians, why the creation of extra-Biblical monikers? If James chapter 2 condemns any hint of partiality in the church, how can one argue FOR a title of “First Lady?” If I Cor. 12:23-25 speak about bestowing more honor on less desirable spiritual gifts, to avoid schisms, how can one argue FOR, ‘First Lady?” Do not women plot, charade, trump and scheme, many times in hopes of being “First Lady?” (or to outdo the “First Lady?”)

  • Avatar Todd says:

    Brother RT, thank you for responding. I’ll be brief since I’m not directly on the topic of the post. 1) I want to apologize. I wouldn’t have been so jocular if I knew you were over 50. 2) I completely understand your sentiments concerning your passion for the black church and black America. Even though our church went through a tough transition overall the black church has rooted and grounded me in great doctrine. Our doctrine, at least in our circle (Ohio Baptist General Convention) has been steeped in the experiences of the Psalms and not as much as the propositions of Romans. It maybe true that other cultures represent Ephesus in Rev. 2; however my culture surely represents Thyatira in Rev. 2. Black churches are a loving, forgiving group of people and it is my privilege and pleasure to be a part of it, along with you and Pastor T. Yes, I feel your sentiments in particular whenever I’m around a white brother who points out the sinfulness of MLK & the sinless, impeccability of Jonathan Edwards.

    Pastor T, thank you also for responding. One of your strong gifts is being able to accurately restate someone’s position without misinterpretation. As you noted my reply was off centered. This post caught my eye because this one of the first things our new pastor (who is single by the way) implemented.

    However, I do have a question. You offered a number of suggestions but what context would you suggest implementing those suggestions? From the pulpit? Sunday School? Small groups? Leadership Meetings, ect?

    Thanks again brothers for your correction and sharpening.

    Todd

    3rd John 2

  • Avatar Thabiti says:

    Hi Todd,

    Great questions, man. And again, I really appreciate your spirit.

    How to implement the suggestions depends in part on how this issue surfaces in a particular church. I don’t think one size will fit all here. My personal bias would be to address things quietly rather than from the pulpit. You don’t want to discourage or offend those who are simply trying to be kind and respectful. I’d also want to correct while doing a lot of laughing and giving a lot of “thank you’s” for the kindness and respect intended. For example, a dear brother in our young married small group once asked what he should call Kristie. I think he trotted out the “first lady” thing and Kristie kindly laughed and said, “Oh, no my brother.” We kept laughing and joking each other. This brother, now knowing she doesn’t prefer any titles and having had a good time laughing with us, now calls her “Pastress.” The point was made; the spirit was good; and now there’s friendly banter where there could’ve been awkward silence with a more public/confrontational approach.

    That works for our church because we’ve never had this practice, though we have a long history of respecting pastors and their wives. It might not be that simple (or maybe it might) if you’re coming into a church that has the opposite history and practice. But on the strength of 2 Tim. 2:24-26 I’d want to be gentle, even casual, and teach with a smile.

    I hope that helps. Grace to you and all the saints,
    T-

  • Avatar Cole Brown says:

    I’m a white pastor that was converted and discipled in a black church. I later planted and now pastor a multi-ethnic, predominantly black church. My wife, a black woman, was initially resistant to this calling precisely because of this idea of being a “First Lady.” She believed I was called to pastor but did not believe she was called or gifted to be who she would be expected to be as a First Lady.

    It was when she discovered the truths in this post that she finally felt free to be who God made her to be, to use her gifts the way that would best serve God and the church, and to celebrate her husband’s calling to plant and pastor.

    I am grateful for this post for this reason and hope it frees other women to do the same.

  • Avatar Ritetheology says:

    Bro Larry. I’m sure you agree that to the best of our ability we should govern ourselves by the text (rightly divided, of course) and not our prejudices and biases. It sounds to me that much of this discussion in general is rooted in personal bias and not exegesis. In your post you wrote,
    “…….Since “First Lady” is not a Biblical concept, but a created title to distinguish a pastor’s wife from other women in the church, what is the basis of needing that distinction among the flock of God……”
    Brother I truly believe that a Pastor’s wife
    IS to be distinguished from other women in the church. I base this on my understanding of 1 Tim 3:11. I’m convinced that the word “gune” is properly translated “wives” vs. “women” (or Deaconness). I’m also convinced based on context that the wives that Paul is describing are NOT just the wives of Deacons, BUT also the wives of Elders mentioned earlier in the passage. Notice that these wives are required to possess certain qualities:
    1. Reverence
    2. Not slanderous
    3. Temperate
    4. Faithful.
    Of course, ALL women should be these things just like all men should be (ideally) Elder and Deacon qualified. But the reality is even if all women aren’t these things the exception SHOULD be the wives of Elders and Deacons because of the work their husbands are involved in. Therefore by way of application the wives of Pastors ARE distinguished from other women and do bear a weight of responsibility. The wife of a Pastor can’t be business as usual. She HAS to be the “first among equals”. The title “First lady” is more than about “respect” its about “responsibility”.

    Just sayin,
    RT

  • Avatar Larry Miles says:

    Bro RT,
    I’m challenged to receive your response without a “Bereanic” (made up a word lol) examination.

    “Brother I truly believe that a Pastor’s wife
    IS to be distinguished from other women in the church.” Arguably true, yet the issue is a “title” of rank, when scripture gives none. Character traits made manifest? Yes. But sans a title of rank. Scripture never referred to the apostles, pastors or deacons wives in any prominent. way. What then do you call the husband of a woman that is pastor of the church? (Women, likewise must your husbands be…ut oh)

    I’m not tracking with “gune” being synonymous with, “First Lady.”

    The “first among equals” is an extrapolation. Mary was chosen to carry Jesus for birth, yet she needed to be at the foot of the cross as well and later receive power, “from on high” as the others did.

    I’ve got to side with scripture that there is no room for partiality. Overall, “First Lady” is a conceptual labeling embraced primarily by the African-American expression of the church and wades through the charismatic movement at large.

  • Avatar MarkSingleton says:

    Pastor,

    Thank you for this. Such a needed post. This and HB Charles’ post on Armor Bearers I believe are leading towards a bigger discussion, What does a Church look like? I guess and with that then the discussion begins, What is not found in a biblical church. Armor Bearers. First Ladies. Chairman of Deacon Boards. Bishops. Apostles. Ministers. (More so how the language is used on the last three)

    What does the church actually look like? What are the biblically qualified and determined roles? I am so glad to see what is happening in the church as reform is beginning to take shape for many people and churches are being challenged to step back and consider why they do what they do. I believe this post will be a good tool in the discussion.

    Thanks tons Pastor,
    Mark

  • Avatar DonnanotDiva Williams says:

    Why is it that these “no First Lady” articles are almost always written by men. I am the widow of a man who was a pastor. I do not say pastor’s widow because that links me to a history that is no longer my journey. But, back in those days, the “title” First Lady did not offend or cause me any dismay. It is what the people chose to call me. I did not read any meaning into it other than it was tradition. It did not set me up for vanity or entitlement. I was the pastor’s wife as opposed to the dentist’s wife of the teacher’s wife or anybody’s wife, etal. Are there women who are married to pastors that take it too far? Yes, and maybe this is the reason for the argument about not using “First Lady,” the idea that the woman will take that as an opportunity to flex her muscles in the local assembly. Well, dear pastor, this is probably more a husband/wife marriage issue, not a First Lady issue. My husband vested his ministry in me; he was mentor, encourager, teacher, pastor. I grew in my faith walk because of his support but I never got it twisted; I was his support and in turn he trusted me in his ministry. I did not know, until after his death, that this conversation was even taking place and each time I hear it I am irritated and frustrated. I wonder if this is a means to keep the wife quietly invisible, after all we wouldn’t want people to think more highly of her than they ought! Oh, no, you say? Well, then, someone explain to me the counsel my husband received from seasoned, well-known, pastors: “Sit and her down and let her look pretty. Don’t let her get involved with the people.” Thank goodness my husband ignored that counsel, otherwise I would not be prepared for such a time as this. Oh, and the people, they walked away anyway but Jesus stayed. Twenty-five years married, twenty years a pastor’s wife (yes, I said it). Call me what you will; those twenty years were instrumental in my growth as a Christian and as First Lady! Wouldn’t take nothing for my journey then…. or now!

  • As I read these comments, it really interest me to the point of making a comment. I am a wife, mother, grandmother but most of all a servant of the most high God. My husband is a pastor and I am his wife. I don’t like the title “First Lady” the word of God doesn’t address us as First Lady, all it says is that the Pastor should be the husband of one wife 1Timothy 3:2. Why most women want to claim a name for themselves when it is not Biblical? Why would a husband do that to his wife when he knows it is not Biblical? I was mentored by my husband and learned a lot from him as well as some older women and it is still on going. The Lord has blessed me with gifts that I am able to use and I think it is an insult when someone calls me the First Lady because I am not. I am no different from the other sisters in the church?Because I am married to the pastor, does that make me special? “ABSOLUTELY NOT” God does not have a special place for us pastor’s why are we having one here on earth? The church body loves us and we are grateful for that. Thanks for hearing me out.

  • Avatar Evy says:

    Actually, the term “trinity isn’t a good example because the term isn’t in the bible and God didn’t intend it to be there. He is not a trinity or triune God. He never asked to bear that title. This is also, another term that comes from “traditions of men”. The Lord my God is ONE. Your post however is quite interesting and I am in total agreement. Blessings

  • Avatar Maria Barfield-Williams says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this article! I was so happy to have encountered it and hear the sentiments that was expressed by your wife (Sis Anyabwile) that I can totally identify with and was enlighten by some of the other discussion comments. Furthermore, I sincerely appreciate how you clearly and biblically communicated how “Accepting appropriate shows of honor while discouraging inappropriate displays can be a difficult balancing act. So what to do?”

    I don’t know when and how “First Lady” became associated with the wife of the pastor and I never could identify with it in the Christian Faith because of its worldly title (particularly set aside for the President USA Wife) where it is fitting and certainly belong. I can remember as a youth and young adult growing up in the two churches I attend and the wives of the pastors were referred to as “Sister”as we did all the other Christian women in the church, which identified our common Faith as “believers” by our profession of faith in Jesus Christ thus placed in the the body of Christ through adoption. One of the true marks that would set apart the wife of the pastor from the other Christian women (the wife being a Christian women herself first) in the church to me was how their husbands (the pastor) would show their affection and support for them and his family (Ephesians 5:21) thus setting the standard of respect that was to be shown to them by the congregation (for the most part). Then the wives would use their God given gifting(s) that would place them in a unique place in the body of Christ for Kingdom building and servant leadership that would ultimately add to their role as the wife of the pastor giving them their own identity based on their Christian character and gifting (Titus 2:3-5). Therefore, given that kind of biblical teaching I experienced, I do believe that it does not warrant me to take on a worldly title to make who I am known…if my title alone as a Christian women and my demonstration to loving God and loving His people for His glory does not gain me the respect with the congregants then I must remember I am to please God and not man where my true obedience is commanded.

    The title “First Lady” is seemingly only used to reference the wives of pastors in black Baptist Churches (where my membership is associated) And I am almost certain it is likely a Baptist tradition. Though tradition in and of itself is not bad and can have a healthy place in Christianity as long as it does not seek to replace the truth of God’s word. Therefore, I believe as Christians we should not adopt unbiblical titles that does not align with our Christian belief because we are set apart to be Salt and Light to the world. However, when we as the pastor and the wife start to subject ourselves to the worldly standards and titles we no longer can be influential and transform lives for the sake of Christ and his glory thus we loose our testimony to what we are called to be in Matt. 5:13-16. I think one thing we should remember as a Christians is that the “world” will never adopt a Christian/Biblical title and use it to identify themselves with us…to the contrary they make mockery of it. Peace and blessings!

  • Avatar ALL Saint says:

    It is not biblical. You are no special than any other woman in the church. God said to not have respect of persons. When you take on that title you sat yourself apart from the rest of the woman in the church, don’t care how you try to reason it out. If we are called to serve why would I be the First Lady. The bible said younger woman sisters, older woman mothers. Plain and simple.

  • Avatar ALL Saint says:

    They play no special role. Who told you that. The bible surely did not say that the pastor’s wife play a special role. Stop adding to scriptures. The bible say call younger woman sisters and older mothers. Where is the qualifications of a pastor’s wife in the bible? Show me. You all just make up stuff to suit what you do.

  • Avatar ALL Saint says:

    What….

  • Avatar ALL Saint says:

    I agree with your post 100%. The bible say call the younger woman sisters and older woman mothers. First Lady is not biblical. It has no place in the church. We are not to have respect of persons. Pastors wife is no different or better than the other woman in the church. This has gotten out of hand!

  • Avatar Todd Mccauley says:

    Try 1 Tim 3:11 on for size. This verse is NOT addressing women in general, but specific women in the body of Christ. Guess who?

  • Avatar DonnanotDiva Williams says:

    Assuming, of course, that the pastor’s wife takes thst “title” as seriously as most church folk seem to take it. Many wives do a lot of behind the scene ministry for which they seek no acknowledgement or accolades. This so called argument, in my opinion, is specious at best and is as disrespectful and devaluing as the attitude of too many members is towards the pastor’s wife.

  • Avatar DonnanotDiva Williams says:

    The deacon’s wife, at least that’s the text I read. But, if you are referring to the pastor’s wife, are you suggesting that she has run amuck because of a title? What wives do you know, seriously?

  • Avatar Todd Mccauley says:

    Try both Elders and Deacons wives. They are to be qua lifted just like their husbands or else their husbands shouldn’t serve. An Elder or Deacon who has unruly children should not serve any more than an Elder or Deacon who has an unruly wife. The title “First Lady” is really not the issue. The real issue is the Character of the Pastors wife. First ladies or Pastors wives have a certain responsibility based on 1 Tim 3:11.

  • Avatar DonnanotDiva Williams says:

    I would say, and it is only my opinion, that all believers have the same responsibility. Perhaps this text points it out because the elders/deacons would be/are high visibility and therefore should be more diligent about the life they lead before a people as well as the wives.

  • Avatar Todd Mccauley says:

    Miss Donny let me leave this discussion on a high note. First, I appreciate your opinion. Thanks for your feedback. Secondly, I agree that ALL believers should strive for the standards mentioned in 1 Tim 3. But can I say, honestly that ALL don’t meet those qualifications therefore if a man and woman finds themselves in these leadership positions they do have a greater accountability. Don’t trip on the title First Lady, but be more concerned about the heavier responsibility that comes as a result of being the Pastors wife. Being a pastors wife is no cake walk through the park.

    Blessings my sister.

  • Avatar DonnanotDiva Williams says:

    Absolutely. I was a pastor’s wife for twenty years, married twenty-five. I am now a widow and the real challenges did not begin until after his death. Loved the work of the ministry but I do not miss the “place.”

    Because of His Love

  • Avatar Thabiti says:

    Dear DonnanotDiva,

    Thanks for joining us on The Front Porch. I’m sorry I somehow missed your comment until our editor pointed it out. I certainly didn’t intend you to feel overlooked or anything, and I apologize if you did.

    Again, thank you for your comment. And, more than that, thank you for your example of marital faithfulness and support to your husband. I praise the Lord for your 25 years together and your 20 years of labor in the church!

    Honestly, except for whether to use the title or not, I don’t know that we disagree much. Looking back at my first suggestion in the post, I think I write there much if what you suggest in your comment. I certainly have no qualms about a wife supporting, encouraging, helping and partnering with her husband to fulfill the worm of the ministry. A good wife would, and a humble husband would seek it!

    But none of that requires a “tradition” of extra-biblical titles and functions in the church. In fact, the entire practice isn’t really old enough to be a tradition. We’re talking about something you won’t find in Black church life say more than 25 years ago. As far as I can tell, it’s come largely through the influence of word-of-faith and charismatic teachers.

    So, I definitely think we should honor, encourage and love the wives of our leaders. Definitely. It’s sin if we don’t.

    Grace and peace,
    T

  • Avatar DonnanotDiva Williams says:

    No worries. To be honest, I forgot all about my comment until someone recently replied to it.

    I just wish, sometimes, that an argument for the respect and encouragement of the pastor’s wife was just as strong. I have held the hands of broken wives, seen the anger of forgotten wives and wiped the tears of hurting wives. Most of them don’t care about that so/called title. What they would love is not to not feel like an island surrounded by a sea of people (to quote a friend). Yes, there are perks to but there is entirely too much masked pain.

    Because of His Love

  • Avatar DonnanotDiva Williams says:

    Typing too fast

    “Not to feel like an island…”

  • Avatar Charisse Wonder-full Causey-co says:

    I believe that being called “First Lady” is a form of respect to women who is “all supportive to their husband calling to Pastor. They’re separate from other wives because their husband calling is separate from others Christian spirituality. Being called to pastor is , I feel, is not the same as being a deciple for Christ. It takes a special woman to be a Pastor’s wife and she does in deed endure more then the average Christian wife. Not that I am undermining the role of a wife in general. But Pastoring is a on call 24/7 calling from God. And a pastors wife is a special calling as well to endure her husband calling chosen by God, holding and lifting him and his calling up, being a mother and servant of the Church Ministry her husband is responsible in God for. Being a Pastor is not to be taken lightly and being a submissive, obedient, humble, long suffering, Godly wife to her pastor husband as well as his ministry and the church he Shepards is far from average. I have no problem with saluting a pastor wife as “First Lady”. Her shoes can’t be easily sized for any or every woman.

  • Avatar Larry says:

    At the end of the day, many “saints” are not satisfied with the scriptures, in that they do not give prominence where some think prominence should be. Sadly it is primarily in the black context of the church, we have this, “first lady” issue. Sadly, (again) the black church has become more and more superficial and beholden to a “form of godliness.” Big hats, stilleto shoes, opaque sheer pantyhose, shimmery dress suits, oversize rings on the fingers, etc. ugh! It’s become a sorority, with a particular, “look.” I side with the Biblical model on womanhood and apply it to the pastors wife as well. The 12 apostles wives/family was not “showcased.”

  • Avatar Charisse Wonder-full Causey-co says:

    That is very stereotypical and prejudice of you. Maybe you should visit some “Black Churches” and diverse churches as well. My pastor or in your case “leader, saint etc” preaches that we accept all, from well dressed to the homeless because it’s not what we wear, it’s showing people who Jesus is in all of us. I salute my pastor and very down to earth first lady who sits with the church and teaches us to love and pray for people like you.

  • Avatar BDP69 says:

    Love your response. As a wife of a deacon, I tell individuals they do not have to address me as deaconess….just say my name. I’m not “title” hungry. I’m secure within my skin and who I belong to…the Lord.

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