Co-Pastor: A History of a Modern American Icon

“… how leading women across denominations navigate competing expectations of strength and submission in the often narrow (and changing) definition of ”

Team Members/Contributors

Kate Bowler Duke Divinity School Contact Me

About this sabbatical grant for researchers

This book is a cultural history of the wife “co-pastor” as a modern American icon. The female co-pastor, smiling beside her preaching husband, plays many parts: submissive wife, spiritual authority, and Hollywood celebrity. This project examines the rise and spread of evangelical articulations of idealized femininity in contemporary North American megaministry, from megachurches, televangelism, spiritual conferences, bestselling books and worship albums to religious social media campaigns. Using ethnographic fieldwork of "women's conferences," a host of interviews with co-pastors, and an analysis of all 1600 Canadian and American megachurch websites, this book recounts the tangled history of the rise of these conservative women to the heights of spiritual stardom. It is a story told in five thematic chapters, each of which shows conservative women with national ministries attempting to embody and articulate a different area of feminine expertise: the domestic beauty, bridal mystic, culture warrior, divine sentimentalist, and spiritual therapist. The contested role of the female co-pastor evokes three kinds of questions: 1) what kind of agency is this? 2) how does this compare to the formal and informal duties assigned to associate female pastors of mainline denominations? 3) how does this compare to the expectations of female politicians, executives and other women leaders? Throughout, I seek to provide rigorously analytical and empathetic historical frameworks in order to understand the lived experiences and sacred worldviews of these women who stand in the nation’s ecclesial spotlight.

Image Title Year Type Contributor(s) Other Info
The Preacher's Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities 2019 Book Kate Bowler