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First Ladies Network to prepare pastors’ wives for burdens, joys of role

Kim Hardy is first lady of Lifepoint Church in Marietta, Ga., where her husband Dexter is founding and senior pastor. Photo by Lifepoint Church

ATLANTA (BP) — Their lives are akin to living in a fishbowl, openly viewed and critiqued by others. Unrealistic expectations and unique stress are common amid inherent privileges.

But Kim Hardy, helping lead a new First Ladies Network for Black Southern Baptists, views the lives of first ladies — as they are called in church culture — through a biblical lens. She is the wife of Dexter Hardy, founding and senior pastor of Lifepoint Church in Marietta, Ga.

“I frame challenges biblically, that’s how I’m able to have an enjoyable, life-giving, refreshing experience being a pastor’s wife,” Hardy told Baptist Press. “While most of us would call it a fishbowl, it really is a world that God has (ordained). Not everyone can walk in that world.”

Hardy, an author, speaker and life coach, is among three women helping organize the First Ladies Network of the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) of the Southern Baptist Convention. Joining her are Pam Mitchell, wife of NAAF Executive Director Dennis Mitchell, and Peggy Alexander, wife of retired California pastor Lyman Alexander.

“We know we’re in the trenches, the ministry trenches,” Hardy said of first ladies. “And while it does have privileges and we love what we do, the burdens come along with the blessings.”

The network will participate in a Refresh Retreat Oct. 13-15 at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, N.C., co-sponsored by The North American Mission Board and NAAF to encourage and strengthen African American pastors and their wives.

So challenging can be the role of first ladies that Mary Mohler, wife of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler, founded the Seminary Wives Institute at SBTS to help equip ministry wives for success. She also frames the role through a biblical lens.

Mary Mohler, who launched the Seminary Wives Institute at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 27 years ago, was honored for her work at the 2023 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting. Photo by SBTS

“We definitely don’t put the emphasis on … the struggles they’re going to face. … We see it as a high calling. We see the calling to be a minister’s wife as an exciting calling,” Mary Mohler told Baptist Press. “There are struggles. We’re not sugarcoating that. We want to equip them with skills and we’re up front about it.”

Mary Mohler referenced a blog by Chuck Lawless on the five greatest challenges and the five greatest joys of being a minister’s wife.

“And the joys are way up there,” she said. “You see peoples’ lives changed by the power of the Gospel. How do we top that?”

Hardy also enjoys seeing lives changed while walking alongside her husband.

“I absolutely love being a part of seeing peoples’ lives changed. I love it. I know it’s messy, but it’s a calling on my life and on my husband’s life,” Hardy said. “But (there’s) nothing like walking alongside a person and seeing Christ and the hope of glory come out of a person. I never get over the amazement of how God can change a life. And we get to see it firsthand.”

Kim Hardy, standing left, joins Pam Mitchell at an organizational meeting of the National African American Fellowship’s Ministers Wives Network at Ridgecrest Conference Center in July. Photo by Diana Chandler

The institute offers courses in life management, biblical counseling, biblical studies and Baptist history, and is adding a new course this fall on Navigating Cultural Chaos. The institute has evolved to meet the changing needs of ministers’ wives while continuing to focus on things that have remained the same.

“We are trying to help them navigate cultural chaos in ways that we weren’t before,” she said. “But in terms of the pressures on a pastor’s wife, I think in the 27 years, a lot of it remains the same. … Those are things that Susannah Spurgeon would have dealt with.”

Burnout, feelings of neglect, loneliness, dealing with difficult people, childcare amid ministry are among top concerns.

“Satan’s all over that if they don’t deal with it,” Mary Mohler said.

Similar to the seminary wives institute, the NAAF First Ladies Network will offer enrichment and mentoring, as well as safe spaces for first ladies to be strengthened while being transparent with their peers.

The network met during the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting and the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference and will continue to evolve to become a group all NAAF wives can embrace, Hardy said.

“We don’t want it to be an organization that’s only coming out of two or three women,” Hardy said. “We want the voices of wives across the country to speak into it.”