Every student looks forward to graduation day, but for 21 women at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College, they had a special reason to celebrate. Together, the women made up the first graduating class of Thrive, the ministry wives certificate program that launched two years ago with a new face and a fresh focus.
Thrive graduate Michelle Schelm was grateful for the encouragement she had received during her coursework.
“It’s been a wonderful two years being a part of Thrive. I have enjoyed each class and learned more than I can say,” Schelm wrote in an email thanking Thrive director Tara Dew. “It’s been a great encouragement to me to learn from other ministry wives and hear their stories. I feel stronger in my faith and calling now than when I began two years ago.”
Thrive includes eight courses, each eight weeks long, that rotate over four semesters assuring that each student can complete the program within two years time, regardless of when she begins.
While Thrive launched in 2020, it could be said the program was birthed the day Tara Dew, president’s wife, first stepped into her role as pastor’s wife years ago. At the time, Dew feared she didn’t “fit the mold” of a pastor’s wife because she didn’t sing or play the piano.
Dew soon realized other women felt ill-prepared for ministry life and when she pursued her doctor of education degree, she made the needs of ministry wives the focus of her research.
Later, as the Thrive leadership team met and planned, they drew from Dew’s research to set out a course to help prepare ministry wives in the areas of teaching, counseling, administration and hospitality.
Reaching graduation day meant reaching a milestone.
“To walk with these ladies over the last two years has been more meaningful than I ever imagined,” Dew said. “When I began my doctoral research back in 2012, I never dreamed what God would do in the next ten years. God has done exceedingly, abundantly more than I ever imagined.”
Heather Johnson, assistant director, helped guide each course and assisted online learning. As she came to know each student personally, she saw the impact the program was making.
“The ladies have shared that these classes have blessed their marriages and given them tools to serve alongside their husbands,” Johnson said. “They talk more often with their husbands about ministry, and they are less intimidated by the ways God has called their families to serve.”
The program’s design means students move through each class together. The fellowship and community the students experienced also provided encouragement, Dew said.
Emily Smelcer expressed her gratitude for the program in her final paper before graduating.
“The things I have learned and will take away from this course are things that will help me for a lifetime of ministry alongside my husband,” Smelcer wrote. “As a ministry wife, I feel more equipped after this course, along with the other Thrive classes, as I do ministry in my daily life.”
Rebecca Minor agreed. “I have grown so much as a pastor’s wife and as a student in Thrive.”
While pastors’ wives often feel isolated in ministry under the pressure of expectations in many directions, Thrive provides community and support, Dew said.
“This Thrive community has given these women the tools needed to serve alongside their husbands,” Dew said. “But also the encouragement and fellowship of being with others who understand.”Thrive is offered online through the NOBTS and Leavell College Flex program NOLA2U as well as through the on-campus experience in New Orleans. To learn more about Thrive and other programs serving women, visit visit www.prepareher.com.