When Lillian Hinds stands before her congregation at Meadow Oaks Baptist Church in Temple, Texas, she looks into a community of faith that she has served for the last 10 years, making her one of the longest, if not the longest, tenured Baptist woman pastors in Texas. Her journey in ministry has been one met with great struggle and wonderful successes. It is a culmination of a lifetime of learning and commitment to hearing and answering the call of God on her life.
Lillian’s faith was formed in Freeway Baptist Church in Houston, a fundamentalist Baptist church her father started and pastored; it was the kind of church that considered Southern Baptists “liberals.” Here, Lillian’s faith was nurtured and grown by her caring parents. Years later, as she reflects on her raising in the church, she remembers the great hope of salvation her church wanted to bring to the people. Even as her theology developed and she stepped away from some of the precepts commonly held in the church of her childhood, including a disallowance for women pastors, Lillian can appreciate the spiritual care offered by her father, who as she put it, “was a fundamentalist, but not angry about it.”
Having a heart for people and their needs, Lillian earned a bachelor of arts in psychology and a master of science in psychology in the early 1990s from the University of Texas, Tyler. She would go on to earn her license in counseling, as well as in child care. She began her career in these fields and worked to impact her community through this service.
And yet, God’s call on Lillian’s life was shifting. She loved serving in the church with youth or children throughout her life, but this new call was to be expressed in preaching.
“Preaching or nothing,” she described her calling. “I knew in my heart that if I did not get a church—and I felt 99 percent sure I wouldn’t—I would just go get a job…and I didn’t feel any sense of guilt of [being] all or nothing.”
This deep resonance of calling would empower Lillian to continue her education in seminary, as she sought the equipping necessary to serve the church. And it was in seminary that Lillian felt the Holy Spirit move in such a tremendous way.
When Lillian is asked about her experience at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, she exhibits a passionate expression of true thankfulness.
“Truett is everything—when I walked into Truett, I felt the Holy Spirit,” she said. “For me, Truett is a thin place, where the veil between mortals and the transcendent, the Other, is thin.”
It was in the classrooms where her theology was challenged, torn down, and rebuilt that she felt the most care.
“There was always—in every class, in every situation—there was so much affirmation of being a woman called to preach.”
Lillian speaks fondly of each professor who poured into her spiritual formation as well as her theological formation. Learning to exegete Scripture and preach sermons was merely part of her experience. She was learning how to minister and serve Christ’s church, all the while having the Spirit of God form her into who she needed to be.
Lillian’s seminary experience, however, was not an entirely easy one. Entering Truett at age 52—old enough to be other students’ mother as a fellow student pointed out to her—she was not like all her peers.
“At 52 I had been in church since I was born. I knew my Bible, I knew stories, I knew doctrine…but to see it in a different way, in a new way. It’s not easy,” she said.
Through her dedicated work, the foundation of Lillian’s service was being laid, and she hoped for the opportunity to express all that was invested in her as a student.
Being a woman pastor in a Texas Baptist church is not an easy feat to achieve, something Lillian was well aware of as she looked for her place of service upon graduation from Truett. However, a word of encouragement came from a special place, one that she holds close to heart.
As a fundamentalist pastor, Lillian’s father could not integrate his understanding of the Bible and his daughter’s call to ministry. Even from the perspective of having peace in her life, he wondered why she would pursue such a thing. However, before he passed away, he gave his daughter a book, and inside the book was a Post-It note that simply read, “Don’t ever quit – Dad.” Lillian speaks of the note as “his way of affirming me as best as he could.” Wise words passed from generation to generation, pastor to pastor.
Lillian shares this same message to women who are pursuing ministry now, especially women who sense the call to the pastorate. She encourages all young ministers to be secure in their call, preach Jesus Christ crucified, and be faithful until the end. Lessons she learned from her father, strengthened by her time at Truett Seminary, are now lived out in the pastorate at Meadow Oaks Baptist Church.
Lillian recognizes that she is not the first to plow the ground for women pastors as she cites heroines of faith such as Addie Davis. Neither does she portray a Pollyanna vision of women in ministry in which all the hard work has been done. She understands her role as a woman pastor in Texas as one of “breaking up the big chunks in a field plowed before me” and has hope for future generations of women ministers to have an easier road and more opportunity than she has experienced.
There is great celebration in serving Meadow Oaks Baptist Church for 10 years, both for Lillian and the congregation. She has persevered through significant difficulty and continues to serve in humility and care. These days she is less afraid about the future, noting that “God has worked and will continue to do so.” In the moments of doubt or trouble, she looks to the cross and encourages others to do so too.
“Look at the cross and it is hard to feel sorry for yourself,” she said.
While Lillian notes a sense of pride at the length of her tenure and the significance it has for women preachers, she is careful to nuance this fact with her hope of equality.
“I don’t want to be known as a woman preacher,” she said. “I just want to be known as a faithful preacher.”
Her journey is not so unlike anyone else’s. God called; she answered. Equipped by her education, empowered by the Holy Spirit, Lillian has lived out those great words, “Don’t ever quit,” to the benefit of her church, the state of Texas, and the Kingdom of God.