Laura Foster worships at Northside Baptist Church in Valdosta alongside her husband, Robby, on Oct. 6. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index
VALDOSTA — Laura Foster remembers when her husband told her of his calling into the ministry.
Robby Foster, currently pastor of Northside Baptist Church here, had originally planned to become a professional golfer. He and Laura were students at Gainesville College (now the University of North Georgia in Gainesville) and when the golf program was cut one year after Robby enrolled, Laura’s future husband stood at a crossroads.
When they married 35 years ago Laura didn’t know she would end up as a pastor’s wife, but there she was, with Robby asking her if she was going to be with him on this road in ministry. She told him that wherever the Lord led him, she would go.
What it takes to be a pastor’s wife
“From the very beginning we were a team,” she said recently. “Being a pastor’s wife was my first ministry and I totally supported him.”
The very beginning (in ministry, at least) was 31 years ago. It started with Robby accepting the pastorate at Hopewell Baptist in Gainesville, included a six-month interim pastorate at Dewberry Baptist #1 in Gainesville, and continued six years ago when the Fosters moved to Valdosta and Northside.
Her desire to support Robby’s ministry has been unwavering from the beginning. Knowing what exactly that entails, however, didn’t come easy or without feelings of inadequacy.
“Growing up, I had no concept of what being a pastor’s wife meant,” she admits. “My perception was that they prayed these beautiful, eloquent prayers and knew the Bible so well. They had it all together and it intimidated me.”
Foster admits that she basically learned about being a pastor’s wife through trial and error. Her mistakes were her education.
“I’ve just put together 31 years of experience,” she says. One program she and her husband credit for helping connect pastors and their spouses with others, however, is the Timothy+Barnabas program operated out of First Baptist Woodstock.
“I learned a lot about being a pastor’s wife through that,” she says. “It had a great impact, just sitting and talking with others.”
That interaction has spurred her interest in not just women’s Bible study but encouraging conversation among generations.
“It’s very vital. Our older women need to invest in younger women. I see it work and have been teaching it for five years at Northside.”
The women’s Bible study she led for 15 years at Hopewell could draw as many as 60 in attendance. Foster would establish another at Northside called the “Paper” class. Why? Because it was for women who felt they didn’t fit squarely in any of the other classes listed.
“It’s for widows, divorcees, singles, whoever. I love this class,” she says.
Living out devotion
Foster notes how women’s ministry has evolved. There seems to be a stronger emphasis on Bible study alongside missions involvement. “God has used those to really birth women’s ministries. That’s my passion. I want to show that it isn’t there to take on a leadership role and supplant men, but for women to be ministered to like any other part of the church, such as youth or children.”
The connections between Foster and her husband are interesting. Saved when she was 12 years old at Westside Baptist in Gainesville, that church was eventually purchased by Chattahoochee Baptist Association. It was later given to Hopewell as the new home for a Hispanic ministry birthed out of the church while Robby was pastor.
Today the couple have a daughter who still lives, with her husband and the couple’s grandchildren, in Gainesville. Their son Josh, 27, is on staff at Northside as mission/college pastor.
Foster’s devotion to serving as a complement to her husband’s ministry was exemplified in her own mother. When Laura was 16 her father was hurt badly in a tragic motorcycle accident. It just so happened that Robby’s pastor was the one driving the car who hit Laura’s father (The pastor, who would end up being the one to officiate Robby and Laura’s wedding, was determined to not be at fault.).
It took five years for Laura’s father to die from the injuries. Doctors encouraged her mother to place him in a special care facility, but she’d hear none of it.
“She said her vows were for better or for worse,” remembers Laura.
Recently she has been handing more responsibilities for Northside’s women’s ministry over to a co-leader. Robby has been nominated unopposed for a second one-year term as the Georgia Baptist Convention president and expected to be elected again to that position next week. That would include traveling across the state speaking to various Georgia Baptist pastors, leaders, and churches.
“I feel that this part of my life is to be available to travel with him,” says Laura, “to support him and be a pastor’s wife.”
And so, wherever the road leads them, they both will go. Together.
Scott Barkley is editor of The Christian Index.