Help wanted. Must sing, play music, lead youth groups, entertain church notables, minister to other wives, be Biblically literate. Dare I mention the occasional Sunday School lesson or coordination of the Christmas program, often difficult colleagues, demanding customers, and way too much overtime? Then there’s the attire: Sunday best—hats included. And the pay: $0.
It’s your garden-variety job description for pastors’ wives. At least that was in most churches. But in the last two decades the paradigm has shifted with the explosion of African American mega-churches in the 1980’s when the sizes of those congregations grew larger than some towns, and running those churches was akin to running a mini-government. Not only did the role of pastor become larger than life, but also that of the pastor’s wife.
“As a first lady you live in a fish bowl,” says Rev. Dianna Masters, who is first lady/co-pastor of St Luke United Methodist Church in Dallas. “Everyone’s looking to see what you wear, what you do.”
Tisa Hill, a first lady at both Calvary Chapel and Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Churches and wife to Rev. E.V. Hill II, is typical of today’s active first lady.
“I’m a Sunday school teacher, I am a teacher to our young girls, I used to lead the women’s ministry, also participate in mentorship program in church, and I’m also an evangelist.”
And while just when the term “first ladies” began to come into use interchangeably with “pastor’s wives” is hard to pin down, most link it to the rise of mega churches in African American communities around the country.
Dubbed first ladies out of respect for the role they play and importance to the senior pastor, more and more in the black church community it has become an elite group of women—complete in many cases with armor bearers of their own—whose role in the faith community has evolved into that of quintessential tastemaker, inspiring fashion, forging community outreach with programs addressing the needs of the surrounding neighborhoods and in many cases becoming a key part of church leadership. In a small number of cases, their leadership role even ascends into the pulpit with the title of co-pastor.
Deborah Morton, who began co-pastoring with her husband, Bishop Paul Morton over a decade ago, now serves as senior pastor of their New Orleans church, St. Stephens Full Gospel Church, while her husband pastors their Atlanta flock of more than 1, 200.
Just as the church has continued to reflect the changing needs of the church community, a savvy group of first ladies has become more responsive to them.
This website and blog is dedicated to them and we invite you to join the conversation. Comment on our stories and their lives. Share the accomplishments of your first ladies with us. We’d love to have your thoughts and input.
Enjoy and keep the faith.