Millennials are the largest generation since their parents, the Baby Boomers, and already are making their mark on society and the church. As many young women are marrying and beginning their new lives, some will also take on the responsibility of first lady—the wife of the senior pastor—in their respective churches, a role with much spiritual and moral weight.
While the traditional idea of a first lady remains the same, many young women have a more contemporary view of how their lives can impact other women in their congregation.
LaToyia Ledbetter, 32, is a first lady at Mt. Pisgah MBC in Chicago. Her husband, Rev. Ernest Ledbetter III, is a third-generation pastor, so she is familiar with how the term “first lady” has evolved over the years.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the title … People just want to find a way to respect you as the pastor’s wife,” she says. “But I don’t want you to put me on a pedestal. We are all supposed to be working in the body of Christ … and bringing souls to Christ. We don’t want it to be like, ‘This is the pastor and first lady. Rise when they walk in.’”
Katie Windley, a millennial first lady from North Carolina, says she prefers to be called by her name rather than “first lady” because it’s simply a title, something she says pales in comparison to the moral role at hand: setting a godly example.
“To me, you should represent your spouse, carry yourself to a standard where others can look up to you. You should always carry an attitude of faith and not of anger, attitude, or animosity, but love and kindness, but you should never allow your being a first lady to become arrogant,” she says.
Katie admits that being a first lady is “challenging, but most desirable because God gives you the strength to handle things.” Many of those challenges also come from the pressures to live up to a position that many women regard as a real-life example of the Christian walk, something that LaToyia believes is every woman’s duty.
Rocking the Label
LaToyia Ledbetter poses with her husband Rev. Ernest Ledbetter III of Mt. Pisgah MBC in Chicago.
“At our church, we say that everyone is the first lady in her household,” LaToyia laughs. “You should be the first lady in your house, so technically, there should be a ton of first ladies. I don’t think the title ‘first lady’ [defines] a great woman. You can be a great woman without being called a first lady.”
“My responsibilities do make me feel different, because I have to set myself apart from others, even the ones that are my age that attend church or family members,” Katie says. “I can’t [be effective] in this role if my living doesn’t match up, but I am still down-to-earth and love to laugh and have fun.”
Regardless of the labels we use, LaToyia says there are major keys to being married to a pastor that all women must keep in mind.
“You have to love God for YOURSELF,” she says. “Have a personal relationship with him and a STRONG prayer life. That will get you through the toughest of situations, especially in those beginning years when learning to balance ministry and marriage.”
She also reminds young women to respect their husband’s calling, by always ensuring he has time to himself to pray, study, and listen to God’s voice—never make him choose between God and you.
Katie also emphasizes pursuing your own calling while you support your spouse. “I make time for my dreams because you have to. You can cause yourself to be mentally and physically depressed trying to follow right alongside your husband’s dreams. You still have to live for yourself and accomplish all you set out to do.”
LaToyia also points out that a first lady must have a congruent personal and spiritual relationship with her husband.
“I tell women who are dating ministers, go listen to a sermon while dating. You may love his company and think he’s a great guy, but you can’t be with half of him. If he is teaching something that you as a Christian can’t agree to or respect, then you should reevaluate and pray as you will have to support both the man and the ministry in marriage.”
The New-Aged First Lady
While the role of first lady in the church is an important one, millennial woman are increasingly independent and putting marriage among their generation on hold. In fact, only 27% of millennials are tying the knot nowadays compared to 36% of Generation Xers, 48% of baby boomers, and 65% of traditionalists at the same age.
With more millennial women holding out on marriage and pursuing personal goals, where does the concept of being a “first lady” fit into life? By definition, a first lady is “the leading woman in a particular activity or profession.” This means the status of first lady is not directly tied to courtship, as many of us grew up hearing.
“I think women of past generations have seen themselves through the lens of patriarchy, i.e., they saw themselves as helpmeets to those whom they married, and they worked within that space—but never out of it,” says 20-something believer Kristina Redd.
Photo Courtesy of LeToyia Ledbetter
“Women have conceptualized the power to be leaders outside of their husbands’ work. Now, marriage isn’t the requirement to be a first lady. The dynamic has changed where it’s understood that women may be married or single, but their passions and dedication to their own work is commendable and glamorized.”
Some millennials also agree that being a leading lady isn’t confined to being the bar-none, most excellent person in your field. For many, a first lady is someone who gives 100% of her effort, and doesn’t exalt or separate herself from her fellow women.
Student Kathryn Turner says she believes that “the millennial first lady can be the last lady in her profession, class, or whatever it may be as long as she performs to her best abilities. She understands that all people are different and will not judge anyone.”
Kristina chimes in that women of past generations have often “distanced themselves, so to speak, from [the women] they lead. A millennial first lady is admired more for her approach instead of being a figurehead. She rolls up her sleeves, and she isn’t afraid of the first lady crown to fall off while working.”
Leading Ladies of Tomorrow
While many millennials still believe the first lady role is a symbol of personal and professional success, many point to personal qualities that set a leading lady apart from the crowd, making her more than just a profitable working woman. Compassion, supportiveness, and humility were frequently cited as key traits.
“She’s someone who had a first-hand experience and clearly bounced back—a survivor of some sort,” says 24-year-old Jacquelyn Segovia, who also says many people want a first lady to “act right,” so it’s important that she stands up for herself and be a people person.
“She’s also a go-getter! Anything with Christ, she can do!” Jacquelyn adds.
Kathryn says the millennial lady is particularly unique because she doesn’t aspire to fit into a category, but instead “helps other women create their own category free from persecution or criticisms by others who have not learned to live as confidently and as comfortably in their own skin as she has. She brings women together, celebrating both their differences and common ground without attempting to overshadow or remold one another.”
Kristina points out that a first lady should be a dynamic person who understands her influence. Her faith is vital because her growth is based on a desire “for God to empty her fully so she can commit herself to the void her life was written to fill,” she says.
Most importantly, many young women agree that the life of a first lady is marked by interactions with her peers. Being a testament to God’s love and strength goes a long way in making today’s woman a first lady.
“A millennial first lady can look like and be any woman,” Kristina says. “She is present in the lives of those she cares for, and has expectations for those whom she gives her heart to. Any woman can be the leading woman of her life and for the story God has written her into.
When spring semester begins at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Jewell Jones will be like most college seniors, finishing up credits and looking forward to graduation, with one exception: Jones recently made history when he became the youngest state representative ever elected in the state of Michigan.
While serving in your state legislature isn’t a common extracurricular activity for most undergraduates, Jones is not new to politics. He first made national headlines after becoming the youngest person elected to the city council in Inkster, MI. Now, at only 21 years old, the political science and business double major is making history again before crossing the stage.
Jones ran for the seat after the passing of Rep. Julie Plawecki, D-11, whom Jones knew personally and describes as “a very passionate and community-driven individual; someone, simply, with a warm heart.”
Jones first became engaged in community organizing and politics at a young age by attending events with his family and church. “I’ve been extremely active in my church, traveling all over the nation to visit our different Temples, and for as long as I can remember, being about service to the people,” Jones says. “[I went from] a drummer, to an usher, a nurse to a Junior Deacon, to now, a Senior Deacon. I’ve learned to offer a helping hand where it was needed, and ensure my brothers and sisters are taken care of!”
Juggling a budding political career with schoolwork can be hard, but Jones says he takes it all in stride, knowing he can’t be everywhere and focusing instead on where he can be. Outside of his political responsibilities, he’s also deeply involved in his school’s Black Student Union and Army ROTC. Despite the pressures, Jones says most have been supportive of his work, and one of his biggest keys to success is having a strong support system. Jones believes that “having someone in your corner” makes a world of difference.
“A robust and formidable support system allows one to navigate through life, much more rapidly,” he says, “and on a greater level as the team continues to grow.”
Known as the “Neighborhood Hope Dealer” to many, Jones hopes to bring more people—especially youth—into their communities to make a difference. It’s something he’s been passionate about since attending a Congressional Black Caucus conference in the nation’s capital a few years ago.
“There are plenty of opportunities [to be involved]—one can become a precinct delegate, or just a concerned citizen/community organizer with some sort of community organization, or simply behind an issue that they’re passionate about,” Jones explains. “Really, all it takes is getting off the sidelines. Start talking to people, and the door will be opened.”
This attitude toward community change has propelled Jones into the national spotlight and leadership roles in his community, where he intends to promote “the classic approach, through grassroots organizing and educating and expanding the electorate.” All of this comes at a time when politics in America couldn’t be more divisive, with tensions high across the nation, including Michigan. When asked about his advice on bridging gaps in the local community, Jones is optimistic and direct.
“Everyone’s experiencing the same issues,” Jones says. “We need to begin working together, lay it all out on the table, and bring the diversity of opinion and ideas to the forefront to make sure we are truly working for the betterment of society. We need to have more conversations, listening to understand, rather than listening to respond.”
Already, Jones has the mindset of a seasoned leader, and true to his new service position in state government, the representative-elect is most excited to meet new people, bring resources to his neighbors, and see the greater community succeed.
“In the future, I am looking forward to seeing the fruition of the movement that’s going on—young people are making huge strides.”
Breast cancer is often associated with older women. However, young women are not exempt.
Although October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness of the disease, many women still take their health for granted, particularly millennials. However, breast cancer, a form of cancer that originates in breast tissue, is the most common cancer among women worldwide.
In fact, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 1 in 8 American women who reach the age of 80 will be diagnosed in their lifetime. Each year, over 246,000 women will be diagnosed; that’s one woman every 2 minutes. Roughly 25,000 patients under the age of 45 will be diagnosed this year alone, which includes millennials, the largest generation since baby boomers. Millennials were born between the early 1980s and late 1990s, making them between ages 18 and 35 now.
Christina Best, 24
Christina Best, a 24-year-old North Carolina schoolteacher, is one of those young people. She was recently confronted with some of the toughest news of her life. Earlier this year, Christina discovered some irregularities during a regular self-exam, then visited a doctor who broke the news: She had Stage 2 breast cancer.
“The most challenging thing for me was the period of not knowing after my initial diagnosis,” she says. “I had a lot of plans for the summer that I eventually had to cancel. I experienced a lot of anxiety by not knowing my stage of cancer initially and what my treatment plan was.”
During the summer, Christiana underwent surgery to remove her cancer and discovered that it hadn’t spread. She’s currently undergoing chemotherapy, which has presented its own challenges: losing her hair, living at home again for the first time since leaving for college and being on extended sick leave, which has given her more free time than she’s had in years.
“What has helped are the small goals I make for myself – walking around the neighborhood every day for exercise or going to see friends when I feel up to it. Additionally, my post-treatment plans of [going back to school to pursue] a third degree gives me a lot of motivation to finish my treatment and get on with my life and goals.”
For African-American millennials, the risk is among the highest of all diagnosed cases among women of all ethnic backgrounds. More Black women under the age of 45 are diagnosed than their Caucasian peers. While genetics and first-degree relatives (mother, sister, daughter) can influence a woman’s chances, 85 percent of women with breast cancer have no family history. And awareness about the disease in younger women is still hard to find. Christina wrote a blog post about walking into the cancer treatment center to find women much older than her who seemed surprised to see her there.
“I personally don’t know any millennials with breast cancer. It’s certainly not common at this younger age, but there is a growing presence and, thankfully, the Internet is allowing us to connect with each other and share our experiences.”
Painted Pink is one of those organizations helping to raise awareness of breast cancer among millennials. With a mission to “Educate, Support, Empower and Survive,” the Atlanta-based group focuses on preventative measures and funding for cancer patients. Founder Ann-Marie Appiah is a millennial and survivor that hosts an annual luncheon in Atlanta during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Christina emphasizes living a healthy life, knowing your body, maintaining regular self-exams and doctor’s appointments and being proactive about your health. While there is no single cause for breast cancer, doctors say that exercising, eating healthy, not smoking, taking caution around chemicals, and managing alcohol consumption go a long way to giving you the best shot at a cancer-free life.
If you do know someone who was recently diagnosed, Christina says to “be present and treat the person regularly. Also, listen to what it is they want and need but give them the time to know what it is they want or need. If they want to vent, let them do so. If they want encouragement, give them encouragement. If they want to be happy, let them be happy.”
Another is one of the biggest tools that people like Appiah and Christina credit for getting them through their diagnosis and treatment. “Faith has been the center of my treatment,” Christina explains. “I am naturally an optimistic person, but keeping my faith has been essential to peace and healing. I know that everything I go through in life is for greater, and I have much to offer through the blessings that I am given.”
This year’s Olympic Games include many American athletes of color to root for in a range of sports. While it’s quite overwhelming to keep up with medal counts, records and your favorite athletes, the Olympics are an incredibly inspirational culmination of hard work, sacrifice, and faith. It takes just as many prayers as it does crunches to reach the greatest level in sports. We compiled a short list of American athletes who have boldly confessed their Christian faith on the way to Rio. Check out their stories below and be sure to cheer them on in the coming weeks!
Trayvon Bromell, Track & Field
Twenty-one-year-old Trayvon Bromell is a member of the men’s 100m relay team, something that seemed almost impossible just a few years ago. After suffering debilitating knee and hip injuries, Bromell executed patience and diligence on the road to recovery. “I didn’t have the resources and my family didn’t either, but God got us through it and it all paid off. I put my faith in God, knowing He would get me through it,” Bromell said in a 2015 interview. A junior at Baylor University and NCAA champion, Bromell has received attention from sprinting greats Michael Johnson and Justin Gatlin. He regularly professes his faith on Twitter, including in his bio, “He must become greater; I must become less.” He’s the reigning indoor world champion in the 60m sprint, and will make his Olympic debut August 13 in the 100m and August 18 in the 4x100m relay.
Carlin Isles, Rugby Sevens
Carlin Isles, 26, is known as the fastest man in rugby. A former track and football star at Ashland University, Isles was a long shot prepping for the London Olympics when he came across rugby sevens video online. Knowing his shot at the Olympic track team was slim, he called the head of the U.S. rugby team, switched cities, and began training in a new sport—a decision that required a great leap of faith. “I knew it probably wouldn’t be easy at first … Basically, I put my faith in God and myself and it all panned out,” he told the New York Times. This is the first Olympics featuring rugby sevens (the condensed version of rugby) as a medal sport, and Isles, though only 5 feet 8 inches tall, is one of the quickest in the world. He recently told ESPN, “I pray that when I get there, I can do what God allows me to do and take it from there. I’m sure a good Olympic showing would only be beneficial.” The U.S. team competes against Argentina in Group A on August 9.
Simone Biles, Women’s Gymnastics
By now, you’ve probably heard that Simone Biles and the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team won the gold medal during the 2016 Olympic Games which further confirms what we already knew about this woman of God. She is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most decorated athletes in the world. The gold medalist has taken the entire world by storm during this year’s games and even has a gravity-defying move named after her (Google “The Biles” to see what we mean.), but her story hasn’t always been this amazing. Biles was born to drug-addicted parents which resulted in she and her siblings being shuffled between her mother’s house and foster care. Thankfully, her grandparents eventually adopted Biles and her sister and raised the girls in a God-fearing home where faith and family always came first. Now, fast-forward to today, and you are sure to find a rosary that was given to Biles by her grandmother in her gym bag, and you’ll definitely find her attending church on her only day off from her grueling training schedule, Sunday. In the midst of all the media attention and extraordinary ability, the gymnast has always made faith and family her main priority.
Jordan Burroughs, Wrestling
Jordan Burroughs is defending his Olympic title in freestyle wrestling during the Rio Games. The three-time All-American and two-time undefeated national champion has won multiple international titles and Olympic gold, but none of it, according to Burroughs, compares to a relationship with God. “A gold medal is always going to leave you empty … There’s no other thing in life that’s more fulfilling than a relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s all about being content with God’s provision.” In a beautiful blog post from 2012, Burroughs writes, “I believe that Faith is the most important aspect of our sport and our lives. As a competitor, the first day that we decide to put on a pair of wrestling shoes and step into the center circle and shake hands, we need faith before any victory can ever be earned.” He will begin his title defense August 19 in the men’s freestyle 74kg division.
Claressa Shields, Boxing
Reigning Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields dominated the amateur boxing world and won in her weight class at the inaugural Olympic women’s boxing tournament in London in 2012. The 21-year-old Flint, Michigan native is a historic champion with a stunning 74-1 record. She’s the first American woman to win titles at the Olympics and the Pan American games. Universal Pictures recently acquired the rights to make a movie about her life. Despite her success in the ring, Shields cites her faith as the source of her drive to give back. “[Harriet Tubman] was a very strong black woman and I think it took a whole lot of courage to actually be free and go back and free others and I feel like that’s kind of my job as a Christian,” Shields said during a 2015 Black History Month keynote speech. “I made it and it’s time to come back and save others to help them be as successful as they can be.” Catch her in action August 17 in the women’s middle 75kg class.
Allyson Felix, Track & Field
Allyson Felix is a household name in track and field, and for good reason: she’s a 4-time Olympic gold medalist, with over 30 championship medals over the length of her career, and a 4-time recipient of the Jesse Owens Award, the USATF’s version of Athlete of the Year. Rio marks her fourth Olympics, and at the age of 30, Felix hasn’t slowed down—literally. She also isn’t shy about discussing her devout Christian faith, which she says keeps her going. Felix recently told the LA Times, “Faith leads my life. That’s definitely the reason that I run. I feel like I’ve been blessed with this gift, and so that’s something that helps me to see the bigger picture.” She is also a member of Project Believe, an anti-doping program to fight the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Felix voluntarily gets tested for PEDs regularly to promote integrity in the sport. In a recent Instagram post, she quoted Eric Liddell: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Allyson will race August 13, 15, and 19 in the 400m, 200m, and 4x400m relay, respectively.
It’s June and that means music festival season is well underway. All across the nation, music fans are clamoring for tickets to concerts and festivals to see their favorite artists in person. This year alone fans have been filling stadiums to get in “Formation,” kicking it with Drake “all summer ‘16,” or booking flights for Made in America, and many of them are self-professed Christians. Is it wrong to love God and know the words to all of Beyonce’s “Lemonade” too?
The secular music debate isn’t a new one, and it’s not going away anytime soon. I remember missing most of the ‘90s boy band craze because I grew up listening to Gospel and Contemporary Christian music.
As I’ve gotten older, it’s become more apparent that many genres of music can be beautiful and encouraging while some songs can have a negative effect on your spirit. We live in a society where some artists are “crossing over” to win a broader fan base and bring people to Christ, including Erica Campbell’s attempt at “trap gospel” with her chart-topping single “I Luh God.” However, should all secular music be off-limits?
We know from the Bible that music is an important part of our Christian walk. It’s one of the many ways we can praise and thank God for His goodness. That’s probably why there’s basically an entire book (Psalms) dedicated to praise and worship! The first verses of Psalm 150 say it best:
“Praise the Lord!…Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with flute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!”
The Bible speaks at length about praising the Lord with song and how the angels rejoice and sing of His goodness. The Bible also hints that not every song is good: “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools (Ecc 7:5)”; “He put a new song in my mouth (Psalm 40:3)”; “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda (Prov 25:20).”
Nearly every time the Bible mentions music, it also includes the word “praise.” To praise is to express warm approval, or admiration of something, to show respect or gratitude, particularly in song.
When we sing about something, we are expressing some form of praise, and we must ask ourselves if what we are singing about is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, and/or praiseworthy. Keep this in mind next time you’re trying to decide what songs to add to your playlist.
Remember that everything we let into our subconscious can impact our hearts toward God and our willingness to sin. It’s crucial to build strength against temptation by arming ourselves with God’s Word.
“It’s the little foxes that spoil the vine (Song of Solomon 2:15),” so what’s in our earbuds is important, regardless of genre. Here are a few perspectives from fellow Christians:
I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and listening to secular music planted a lot of bad seeds in my heart and caused me to want to sin. Every song has a spirit attached to it and it’s a must that we guard our hearts. If you think about it, every secular song is either tempting you to have sex, giving you the urge to “turn up,” makes you want to curse someone out, kill someone, miss your ex, get sad and depressed, etc. I can’t listen to that music the minute I leave the church parking lot because it doesn’t glorify God. Personally, I have not listened to “Christian” music that [has] made a negative impact on me. I have been to several Christian concerts and when I leave I’m like “YAS! Let’s go evangelize!!!!” – Taliah, Georgia
Some of my favorite artists are Ne-Yo, Usher, Wale, J Cole, and Drake. I could [literally] write a thesis on that man. I can’t say if there’s one kind of secular music to listen to. Secular music is not for everyone. Some people desperately need gospel music or their respective spiritual jams to “shield” them from the external forces amongst us. For me, I know what feeds my spirit and what doesn’t. While I listen to majority gospel music, I have certain pockets of moments during my day when a certain album, song, or artist is needed to stimulate/relax my headspace. Not all music labeled “Christian” is good to listen to. Like anything else, everything in moderation. Music has agency. It’s an individual experience. – Myles R, Alabama
I listen to secular music because I’m a dancer and a writer; I like the sound and beats that I can dance to. I enjoy listening to current things because I like to be on top of things since I work with kids. I think music can be a form of entertainment. Who says that even praise and worship can’t be entertaining? I think the “more modern” Christian is someone who enjoys listening to secular music but still has a heart for Christ (Chance the Rapper’s “Coloring Book” is a good example). I consider things like the music and the message, so I don’t listen to everything. It is a constant battle between feeding our flesh and our Spirit, but if music isn’t something you struggle with, then I see no harm in listening to it. Everyone has different convictions. – Faith L., Chicago
Some secular music is really good, like songs about social issues, love, and politics. Even though the song may not be explicitly religious, if done in excellence and not vulgar, it can be quite enjoyable, even edifying. Secular music wasn’t allowed when I grew up, and although I hated it, it made sense. Back then, I just liked the beat. Some lyrics made me wince but were rarely enough to stop listening. There is music labeled Christian or Gospel that has nothing to do with Christ– it glorifies man and his desires, treating God as the means to acquire blessings & breakthroughs instead of worshipping. It’s not good to call it “Gospel” when the purpose is to entertain. The minute you attach Christ or The Gospel, the expectations of your music changes. Also, telling someone “Don’t smoke, don’t drink and don’t chase after wealth and fame” is great, but unless the context is turning from sin and honoring God, He gets no glory. When a gospel artist makes the switch to secular or what many call “good art” it’s not wrong, but it bothers me because I see it as a lesser choice. – Andwele W., Marketing Director for P4CM (The Passion for Christ Movement)
It’s clear there are different views on what role music plays in our lives and how it aligns with our faith. There are artists like Trip Lee who use contemporary, mainstream musical techniques to glorify God and more traditional artists that stick to the Gospel genre like the Winans. While there are others, such as Tori Kelly, who maintain their musical career while striving to live in God’s image, and, of course, the secular artists, such as the Black Eyed Peas, who make beautiful songs like “Where is the Love?”
The important thing is to constantly evaluate what we allow into our mental space, guard our hearts, and ask the Lord to keep our thoughts pure.
Let us know what you think about the topic and what artists you’re listening to this summer.