Since it’s Women’s History Month, I’ve decided to launch a new feature I’ve been thinking about for a while now…In thinking about my mother who was the First Lady of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia for 38 years before my father retired in 2017 and after reading Kimberla Lawson Roby’s final Rev. Curtis Black book “Better Late Than Never” which explored Charlotte’s desire to not be a typical First Lady, it dawned on me that I should feature First Ladies. Everyone is always talking about what the pastor of this church and that church is doing, but First Ladies are equally as important as the pastors to whom they are married! So once per month, on a Friday of course, I will be featuring a First Lady. So if you know of a First Lady who should be featured, please e-mail me at email@example.com because I’m looking for notable First Ladies to feature!
Now that my introduction is complete, let me present to some and introduce to others the First Lady of Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Stockbridge, Georgia, Dr. Elaine Gattis…
Below is her biography followed by my interview with her. Read, enjoy and share!
Dr. Gattis, a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, is an educator, author, speaker and ordained minister of the Gospel who holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the California State University, East Bay, a master of divinity degree from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, and a doctor of ministry degree from the Morehouse School of Religion at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. She is affiliate faculty of ministry at Ohio Christian University’s Morrow, Georgia campus. She also serves as the executive pastor of Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Stockbridge, Georgia, where her husband, Reverend Dr. Terrance Gattis serves as the senior pastor. The couple, who married in July 2009, are parents to a blended family of four grown children.
1. How do you feel about the term “First Lady” and is Mt. Olive Baptist Church the first church where you have served as First Lady?
I don’t have any strong feelings about the term “First Lady.” I recognize that it is nothing more than a term for a pastor’s wife that is culturally used in African-American churches more often than others.
Mt. Olive is actually the second church where I have served as First Lady. My husband founded a church and had been a pastor for a few years when we met. However, he was called to serve as senior pastor of Mt. Olive Baptist Church about five months after we were married. Nevertheless, Mt. Olive is the first traditional church where I have served as First Lady.
2. What is the “job description” of a First Lady?
Depending on the context of the church, the job of a First Lady may vary. Traditionally, she is perceived as a woman of authority and respect as she is sometimes considered a spiritual leader or spiritual mother (depending on age and tenure) of the church. She may lead the women’s ministry, host women’s events, teach Sunday School and more. But sometimes First Ladies are viewed superficially as the pastor’s wife who sits on the third row, dressed to the nines with the biggest and best hat in the church. To some, the role of a First Lady is seemingly a position of glamour and prestige.
Today, the role of the pastor’s wife is more varied. Many of us are co-pastors, associate pastors, or have prosperous ministries of our own. We are not simply symbols of the position and status of our husbands. Rather, we are building our own ministries, we are business women, ministerial entrepreneurs, authors, speakers, theology professors, thinkers and problem solvers, and we are gifted and called to do great things for God’s kingdom.
Ultimately, there is no biblical mandate for a pastor’s wife that is any different than that of any other wife. There is, however, a mandate for those of us who are called according to the purposes of God, and that is to make our calling and election sure, as instructed in 1 Peter 1:10. Before marrying a pastor, I was clear that I had purpose in God and a calling from God. My goal is, and has always been, to stay true to that purpose and calling regardless of who I am married to. Therefore, rather than allow the term or position to define me or box me into superficial roles, at the end of the day I have sought to shape perspectives of what it means to be a current-day woman in ministry, irrespective of whether or not your husband happens to be clergy.
3. What is the best part and what is the worst part about being a First Lady?
The best part about being a First Lady is the opportunity to serve in ministry with my husband. Ministry is challenging and difficult enough when you are in it alone but to share the same passion for God and ministry with my husband is a true blessing.
On the other hand, while the First Lady is often the most popular woman in the church, it is ironically a very lonely position. It is difficult to maintain a social life in addition to juggling family, work, and ministry. Furthermore, a pastor’s job never ends, which makes quality time together, outside of ministry very challenging. While I am not employed by the church as my husband is, we are both bi-vocational, in the sense that we have full-time jobs in addition to the work of the ministry, and it is often a challenge to find quality time for each other.
4. What are some misconceptions that people have about being a First Lady?
Some misconceptions about First Ladies is that we are simply figure heads who are not strategically involved in the advancement of the church. Because of these misconceptions, her contributions to the ministry are sometimes underappreciated and un-affirmed which can lead to burn-out and resentment toward the church.
5. You are also executive pastor at Mt. Olive Baptist Church. Do you feel that a First Lady should be a co-pastor at her husband’s church? Please explain your answer.
I don’t feel that a First Lady has to be a co-pastor at her husband’s church. I think that she needs to be who God has called her to be whether that is an usher, a praise team leader, an associate pastor or a mission’s coordinator. Some wives will have no interest in serving in the pulpit and that is quite fine. However, a problem that I recognize with traditional churches is that they don’t provide a platform for wives called to ordained ministry to be fully and effectively employed in ministry alongside their husbands.
In churches founded by a husband and wife (also known as planted churches) there is freedom to determine your roles and to both be fully compensated accordingly. However, traditional churches are not typically structured in a manner that accommodates husband and wife ministry teams. They simply hire one senior pastor to fill the position and all other clergy are volunteers unless the church has the resources to employ a ministerial staff. Still, there is no guarantee that there would be an available staff position for the pastor’s wife.
6. You are from California. What is it like to live across the country from where you were born and raised? What do you miss about California and what do you enjoy about Georgia?
I moved to Georgia in 2006 because I received a word from God to “go to a place that I will show you.” When I moved here, I had no concept of how long I would be here. Thirteen years later, I am still here, and living apart from my family has been the most challenging aspect of living in Georgia. Needless to say, my family is what I miss most about California.
Georgia has been good to me. It has served as my Promised Land. It is where I met my husband, the love of my life, and where much of my growth and success in ministry has been realized. Living here has been like an adventure that never ends.
7. You are a contributing author in the best-selling anthology “Women Who Soar.” What did you write about in your submission?
In “Women Who Soar,” I wrote about my faith-filled journey of packing up everything I owned and moving over 2,000 miles away from home and all that I knew and loved to a place where I faced many obstacles and challenges. However, by standing on the Word that God planted in my spirit, I found the strength and courage that I needed to realize my God-given purpose and to grab hold of the promises of God. Ultimately, by taking a leap of faith, I was able to soar into my destiny!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
My prayer for women in ministry and for wives of clergy, is that you discern the ministry that God has for you and follow hard after your God given purpose. Know and be confident in who you are in Christ. Know that there is purpose for your life and remember that the “joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10c)!
Amen…Again, if you know of a First Lady who should be featured, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org because I’m looking for notable First Ladies to feature!