Tara Dew wears many hats. She’s the president’s wife at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, director of Thrive — NOBTS’ ministry wives certificate program — and an adjunct professor of ministry to women.
None of these were on her radar while 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 of education degree.
In 2012 her husband became a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, a move that changed both their lives.
“At that point, 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 put Jamie through school, and as a pastor’s wife I had faced all of these expectations of the responsibilities I would have in a church. So I was so excited when I got to take classes myself and learn.”
Pressure on wives
She had noticed how many pastors’ wives experience a “buy-one-get-one-free” mentality from churches: “Hire the pastor, get his wife too.” They probably had no idea they portrayed that expectation, Dew said, but wives often feel pressure to serve in ways that don’t fit their gifts.
“One of the most common questions that pastors’ wives are asked is, ‘Can you play the piano?’” Dew said. “Many, including myself, wish we could play the piano but can’t. I can remember being faced with, ‘What do you do? If you can’t play the piano, then what do you do?’
“I knew that God had gifted and equipped me in very specific ways and I wanted to serve the church using those giftings,” Dew said.
She now encourages students and future pastors’ wives to take a spiritual gifts test to find the ways they can best serve.
“There’s not a job description for a pastor’s wife in the Bible,” Dew noted. “There’s not a one-size-fits-all model. Every pastor’s wife is unique and different.”
This realization led to the topic of Dew’s doctoral dissertation.
“For the next six years I worked on my doctorate of education and what I researched was pastors’ wives, wondering if they were like me,” Dew recalled. “I graduated in October of 2018, and my dissertation was called, ‘Survive or Thrive — An Explanation of the Preparedness of SBC Ministry Wives.’
“What I had looked at in my survey was what ministry wives 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 of things in their churches and only a very small percentage had ever even had one class.”
Dew sent her findings to all six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries, and soon after an opportunity arose for her to directly influence one of those schools.
In 2019 the couple found out Jamie’s resume had been submitted to the NOBTS presidential search committee.
“It was very clear to us over the course of those three months [of interviews] that God had prepared Jamie so perfectly for this role,” Dew remembered. “And simultaneously He had prepared me for this role. He had given me passions and expertise that I did not even see.
“It’s such a kindness of God that without us even knowing, He had been preparing us for the roles that He had prepared for us.”
A vision for women
After working at NOBTS a year, Dew started meeting with a few people to pray about a strategic vision for women in theological education, soon to be called “Prepare Her.”
The first aspect of Prepare Her concerned academics. Knowing God was calling women to a variety of disciplines, NOBTS ministries needed to be revised and updated.
They started a chapter of the Society for Women in Scholarship on campus, which Southeastern and Southwestern Seminaries already had in place. The group includes monthly meetings to encourage women in aspects of academics such as publishing and speaking at conferences.
Some 70 now are involved in the chapter and several participated in the first meet-up with Southeastern’s and Southwestern’s groups during 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 they would serve in ministry together. Thrive was born out of Dew’s doctoral research and Prepare Her.
Because of endowments, the two-year ministry wives certificate program is free and consists of a weekly class that’s also streamed for those not on campus. Pastors’ wives who aren’t connected to the seminary but want more training can join the classes for a small fee.
This fall NOBTS will begin Thrive Plus, four additional classes that give ministry spouses the academic requirements to serve with the International Mission Board.
The third component is Together, an intergenerational program to enhance participants’ lives on campus. Together brings female students, students’ wives, faculty wives and other women together for prayer-walks, service opportunities and worship.
A related program that has grown out of Prepare Her is the Abide women’s conference held each year at NOBTS.
“So many times women feel really isolated and alone in ministry,” Dew noted. “They feel ill-equipped for what they are expected or called to do. So being able to come alongside them, encourage them and give them confidence to be who God has made them to be is so rewarding.
“Also, as we watch our Thrive ladies learn and serve alongside their husbands, we are seeing the blessing of that in their marriages and in their churches and in their communities. This has been such a highlight of Prepare Her for me.”
To learn more about NOBTS and Prepare Her visit www.PrepareHer.com.