Thursday Night Lights: The influence of 16 years of Mary Mohler’s leadership of the Seminary Wives Institute
For the past 16 years, lights have been burning bright in the classrooms of Southern Seminary on Thursday nights. It’s a popular time for night classes, but there’s another reason it’s the busiest night of the week. Classrooms that may have otherwise gone dark for the night light up and are filled with the wives of seminary students. On these Thursday nights, women who often entered the seminary community unsure of their place in ministry find illumination in rich theology and discipleship, preparing them to let their light shine before others for the glory of God (Mat 5:14-16).
Numerous faculty members and tireless volunteers such as Sharon Beougher, wife of Southern Seminary professor, Timothy K. Beougher, and Jodi Ware, wife of professor Bruce A. Ware, invest their Thursday nights in the distinctive ministry of the Seminary Wives Institute (SWI). None have invested so fervently and sacrificially as its founder, Southern Seminary’s first lady, Mary Mohler. What began as an idea sparked by a similar program at a sister seminary has grown into a robust model for training seminary wives — nearly 2,500 since its inception in the fall of 1997.
“Just as Dr. Mohler has redirected the school theologically and established its vision and mission, so Mary has been integral to shaping the school’s culture and spirit,” said Karen Allen, first lady of Midwestern Seminary and graduate of SWI. “I have known hundreds of seminary wives who have benefited from SWI and am thankful for her passion for wives to have preparation and training in ministry.”
What light has resulted from all these Thursday night SWI classes? Among current students, graduates and long-time contributors, three results stand out: a calling for wives alongside their husbands, an increased love for the church and a vision for a Titus 2 life.
A calling for wives
Ware said that she sees “numerous women begin SWI with a bit of trepidation with that sense that ‘God is calling my husband into ministry, but I am not sure he is calling me.’”
One example was Char-La Fowler, a 2005 SWI graduate. “I arrived in Louisville somewhat clueless about the new path on which God had placed me,” said Fowler, a former lawyer turned stay-at-home-mom. “But because of SWI, I left equipped to walk beside a man of God as he shepherds God’s people.”
Ware said: “After a few courses and a couple of years, SWI students have a clearer sense of ministry, privilege and responsibility. It unites these couples in the learning experience, in some cases even allowing both husband and wife to take classes from the same professor. Many students have expressed an excitement about partnering with their husband in whatever way God leads.”
Jaël Schmid, a 2012 graduate said, “Mrs. Mohler has been a great role model, especially in her diligence and self-discipline. Through her help, I better understand the pressures and difficulties my husband faces.”
An increased love for the church
SWI has also cultivated in its participants an increased love for the church. “SWI fanned the flame of my love for ministry in the church with my husband,” said Kristi Hunter, a 2009 graduate. “I suppose four years with my husband working and completing his M.Div. could have dampened my spirits. But SWI was an important part of helping my faith to flourish, and they set me up for a life of loving and serving my family and the church. I love the church more for my time in SWI.”
Char-La Fowler points to numerous ways she has applied her SWI experience since graduating in 2005: “teaching Bible studies with sound doctrine and a compassionate ear, planning an event, and redeeming my time between family, church and home.” But, more often, she said, “I catch the impact of SWI in my love for the church, my joy in serving Jesus, and my yearning to see the gospel change hearts.”
A Titus 2 life
What’s been unmistakable to anyone involved with SWI has been Mary Mohler’s conviction to live out Titus 2:4-5, which says, “So train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”
Charlotte Akin, now the first lady of Southeastern Seminary, saw this commitment in Mohler as she worked alongside her at the beginning of SWI in 1997. “I see how Mary has taught seminary wives to become Titus 2 women,” she said. “Mary is a great example as she models well the Titus 2 passage. She teaches especially by example. She loves to teach other women to live for Christ.”
This modeling gave Kristi Hunter a vision and practical applications for hospitality in her home. “Even now I am impressed as I recall how specifically Mrs. Mohler taught us to love our guests by remembering their names and the specific food they enjoyed,” she said. “Hospitality, I learned, is not the same thing as entertaining. Entertainment focuses on the event, but hospitality focuses on the people who are in your home. I am a more loving and attentive host in our home because of my time in SWI.”
Dorothy Patterson, first lady of Southwestern Seminary, said, “Mary Mohler’s greatest legacy for the kingdom of Christ is to be found in the crowns she will lay at the feet of the blessed Jesus — her dedicated service as a helper to her husband, a nurturer of her children, and an efficient manager of her household. Her life, dedicated to doing these first works, is simultaneously for this generation of women and by way of testimony for generations to come, her greatest ministry — a spiritually mature woman pouring her life and testimony into women who are new and fresh to the faith in the Titus model.”
As Mary Mohler and her team turn on the lights for another semester of Thursday nights, SWI graduates continue to expand farther and wider, spreading the light of Christ to homes, churches and communities for the glory of God. In the words of current student Tiffany Gunter, “Who knows how long the embers of truth will glow in my life because of SWI.”
Candice Watters is a co-founder of Boundless webzine, mother of four children and a contributor to SWI’s Seminar Saturday