The Preacher’s Wife

The Precarious Power of Evangelical
Women Celebrities


From the New York Times bestselling author of Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved, a fascinating look at the world of Christian women celebrities

Since the 1970s, an important new figure has appeared on the center stage of American evangelicalism―the celebrity preacher’s wife. Although most evangelical traditions bar women from ordained ministry, many women have carved out unofficial positions of power in their husbands’ spiritual empires or their own ministries. The biggest stars―such as Beth Moore, Joyce Meyer, and Victoria Osteen―write bestselling books, grab high ratings on Christian television, and even preach. In this engaging book, Kate Bowler, an acclaimed historian of religion and the author of the bestselling memoir Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved, offers a sympathetic and revealing portrait of megachurch women celebrities, showing how they must balance the demands of celebrity culture and conservative, male-dominated faiths.

Whether standing alone or next to their husbands, the leading women of megaministry play many parts: the preacher, the homemaker, the talent, the counselor, and the beauty. Boxed in by the high expectations of modern Christian womanhood, they follow and occasionally subvert the visible and invisible rules that govern the lives of evangelical women, earning handsome rewards or incurring harsh penalties. They must be pretty, but not immodest; exemplary, but not fake; vulnerable to sin, but not deviant. And black celebrity preachers’ wives carry a special burden of respectability. But despite their influence and wealth, these women are denied the most important symbol of spiritual power―the pulpit.

The story of women who most often started off as somebody’s wife and ended up as everyone’s almost-pastor, The Preacher’s Wife is a compelling account of women’s search for spiritual authority in the age of celebrity.

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The Perilous Power of the Preacher’s Wife

She may not run the church. But she can still rule the kingdom.


“With the accuracy of a historian, the insight of a scholar, and the heart of a Christian leader, Kate Bowler explores an influential phenomenon within Christianity in this challenge to today’s church leaders. Readers of Bowler’s previous books will not be disappointed.”

— Phil and Debbie Waldrep, founders of the Women of Joy ministry

“I cannot overstate the effect this book had on me. Whether you are a student of American religious history, a follower of popular Christian culture, or someone who has never thought twice about the women who grant legitimacy to the powerful men they marry, Kate Bowler will take you places you could not have gone on your own. She is a scholar who knows how to tell a story, a theologian who can make you laugh out loud, and the kind of listener who earns the trust of her subjects and readers alike. She won’t tell you what to think, but she’ll introduce you to people you’ll never forget, and you’ll be the better for it.”

—Barbara Brown Taylor, New York Times bestselling author of Learning to Walk in the Dark

“Fascinating, insightful, and utterly illuminating, this book shows why historians need to be involved in all of our theological conversations. Kate Bowler throws the lights on, bringing us a desperately needed perspective on the invisible rules governing how, when, and which women lead in the religious marketplace. As a woman in public ministry, I’m grateful for the clarity and challenge of Bowler’s findings as well as her kindness, camaraderie, and wisdom. I won’t see my work the same way again.”

—Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist and Miracles and Other Reasonable Things

“Bowler (Everything Happens for a Reason), professor at the Duke Divinity School, explains in this excellent analysis how some evangelical women have managed to become mega-ministry celebrities by transforming the limited roles allotted to women in evangelical culture into positions of power. Framing these women’s work as that of wives, mothers, homemakers, and teachers―rather than pastors or business leaders―Bowler reveals how figures including Joyce Meyer, Beth Moore, and Victoria Osteen wield enormous power in their husbands’ ministries, both on stage and behind the scenes. . . . [This] wonderful work provocatively considers what women gain and lose in becoming ‘market-ready’ for evangelical communities.”

— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Filled with vivid human portraits, The Preacher’s Wife is an absolute joy to read. Kate Bowler’s account demonstrates, with great insight, the difficult balance megachurch women must constantly maintain, stepping into the limelight but never appearing to monopolize it. The book advances our understanding of evangelicalism and women’s role in modern American religion.”Protestants and the Power of the Past

— Margaret Bendroth, author of The Last Puritans: Mainline

“Kate Bowler provides an extraordinarily rich portrait of Christian female celebrities who are breaking church barriers on women’s roles even as they uphold a carefully crafted stance of holy obedience. With generosity, perceptiveness, and wit, Bowler analyzes these women in all their intricacy as they manage beauty, sexuality, family life, and money on a public stage. A truly splendid book.”

—R. Marie Griffith, author of Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics

“This is a surprising book: scholarly yet accessible, critical yet kind, feminist yet not ideological. Kate Bowler managed to help me understand these women, marvel at these women, and even respect the creative tenacity of these women, when on my own, and without her guidance I would have only ever criticized these women―and for that I am grateful. She is a marvel.”

—Nadia Bolz-Weber, New York Times bestselling author of Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint

“The Preacher’s Wife is a smart, thought-provoking account of contemporary women in megaministry, but it’s also a book about the extraordinary pressures faced by all women, religious or not, today. With empathy and humor, Kate Bowler paints an unforgettable portrait of a fascinating group of evangelical women.”

— Catherine Brekus, author of Strangers and Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740–1845

Kate Bowler, Ph.D. is a 3x New York Times bestselling author, award-winning podcast host, and professor at Duke University.

She studies the cultural stories we tell ourselves about success, suffering, and whether (or not) we’re capable of change. She wrote the first and only history of the American prosperity gospel—the belief that God wants to give you health, wealth, and happiness—before being unexpectedly diagnosed with stage IV cancer at age 35. While she was in treatment and not expected to survive, she wrote two New York Times bestselling memoirs, Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved) and No Cure For Being Human (and Other Truths I Need to Hear). After years of being told she was incurable, she was declared cancer-free. But she was forever changed by what she discovered: life is so beautiful and life is so hard. For everyone.

Kate is determined to create a gentler world for everyone who wants to admit that they are not “living their best life.” She hosts the Everything Happens podcast where, in warm, insightful, often funny conversations, she talks with people like Malcolm Gladwell, Tig Notaro, and Archbishop Justin Welby about what they’ve learned in difficult times. Author of seven books including Good Enough, The Lives We Actually Have, and her latest, Have a Beautiful, Terrible Day!, she lives in Durham, North Carolina, with her family and continues to teach do-gooders at Duke Divinity School.