Tara Dew wears many hats. She is the wife of the president of New Orleans Baptist Theological SeminaryDirector of Thrive – NOBTS’ Ministry Wife Certificate Program – and Adjunct Professor of Women’s Ministry.
None of these were on her radar when she served with her husband, Jamie, when he was a pastor in North Carolina. A former teacher, Dew was content to be a stay-at-home mom while she worked on a master’s degree in education.
In 2012, her husband became a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to Wake Forest, North Carolina, a move that changed both their lives.
“At that time, I was able to take classes for free at the seminary, which I had never been able to do before,” Dew recalled. “I had worked to send Jamie to school, and as a pastor’s wife, I had faced all these expectations about the responsibilities I would have in a church. So I was so excited when I was able to take classes myself and learn.
Pressure on wives
She had noticed how many pastors’ wives were experimenting with a “buy one, get one free” mentality in churches: “Hire the pastor, get his wife too.” They probably had no idea they were describing that expectation, Dew said, but wives often feel pressured to serve in ways that don’t match their gifts.
“One of the most common questions asked of pastors’ wives is, ‘Can you play the piano?’ said Dew. “Many, including myself, wish we could play the piano, but can’t. I remember being confronted with ‘What are you doing? If you can’t play the piano, what do you do?
“I knew that God endowed and equipped me in very specific ways and I wanted to serve the church using those gifts,” Dew said.
She now encourages students and future ministers’ wives to take a spiritual gifts test to find the best ways to serve.
“There is no job description for a pastor’s wife in the Bible,” Dew noted. “There is no single model. Every pastor’s wife is unique and different.
This realization led to the subject of Dew’s doctoral dissertation.
“For the next six years I worked on my doctorate in education and what I sought out were pastors’ wives, wondering if they were like me,” Dew recalled. “I graduated in October 2018 and my thesis was titled ‘Survive or Thrive – An Explanation of SBC Ministry Wives’ Preparation’.
“What I had looked at in my survey was what women ministers were doing in their churches and how they had been equipped for those roles,” Dew said. “What I found was that they were doing a lot in their churches and only a very small percentage had even had one class.”
Dew sent her findings to the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention, and soon after an opportunity arose for her to directly influence one of those schools.
In 2019, the couple discovered that Jamie’s CV had been submitted to the NOBTS search committee for a new president.
“It was very clear to us during these three months [of interviews] that God had prepared Jamie so perfectly for this role,” Dew recalled. “And at the same time, He had prepared me for this role. He had given me passions and a know-how that I did not even see.
“It’s such a goodness from God that without us even knowing it, he had prepared us for the roles he had prepared for us.”
A vision for women
After working a year at NOBTS, Dew began meeting with a few people to pray about a strategic vision for women in theological education, which will soon be called “Prepare Her.”
The first aspect of Prepare Her concerned academics. Knowing that God calls women to a variety of disciplines, NOBTS ministries needed to be reviewed and updated.
They started a chapter of the Society for Women in Scholarship on campus, which Southeastern and South West Seminars had already been set up. The group includes monthly meetings to encourage women in academic aspects such as publishing and speaking at conferences.
Some 70 people are now involved with the chapter and several attended the first meeting with the Southeast and Southwest groups at the SBC annual meeting in Anaheim in June.
The second component of Prepare Her was to train and equip the spouses of male students coming to NOBTS, knowing that they would serve together in ministry. “Thrive” was born out of doctoral research by Dew and Prepare Her.
Due to endowments, the two-year Certificate Program for Ministry Wives is free and consists of a weekly class that is also streamed for those off-campus. Spouses of pastors who are not seminary-bound but want more training can attend classes for a small fee.
This fall, NOBTS will begin “Thrive Plus,” four additional classes that give spouses the academic requirements to serve with the International Mission Council.
The third component is “Together”, an intergenerational program aimed at improving the lives of participants on campus. Together brings together female students, student wives, faculty wives and other women for prayer walks, service and worship opportunities.
A related program spun off from Prepare Her is the Abide Women’s Conference held annually at NOBTS.
“So many times women feel really isolated and alone in ministry,” Dew noted. “They feel ill-equipped for what is expected of them or what they are asked to do. So being able to accompany them, encourage them and give them confidence to be what God has made them is so rewarding.
“Also, as we watch our Thrive ladies learn and serve alongside their husbands, we see the blessing in their marriages, in their churches, and in their communities. This was such a highlight of Get Her Ready for Me.
To find out more about NOBTS and prepare for your visit PrepareElle.com.