By Liz Andrasi Deere
Lillian Hinds has been pastor of Meadow Oaks Baptist Church in Temple, Texas, for over a decade. Early in her tenure, she struggled financially and thought she was the only pastor to do so. Lilian looked to other churches and pastors and “it just seemed like everybody was doing so well,” she said.
A Downward Spiral
Lillian pointed to the 1980s as the beginning of her financial downward spiral. The economy in East Texas, where she and her family lived, is based on oil and in the early 1980s, oil crashed. As a result, so did the family’s photography studio, whose services proved to be a luxury their neighbors could no longer afford.
In the wake of this, at a service at First Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, Lillian received a vivid call from God to preach. She and her husband, Eddie, sold their home and moved to Waco so she could attend Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. They went into more debt in order for her to earn her Master of Divinity.
Lillian completed her degree and began pastoring Meadow Oaks Baptist Church; it was a small congregation which needed time to catch up financially. So, she relied on Eddie’s income and the health insurance his job provided. Then things spiraled further. Eddie became ill and had to retire early. Suddenly, their primary source of income and health benefits was gone.
Over time, she shared her story with Marcy Mynatt—a dear friend and church member. “You really have to kind of trust someone, I think, to be able to share money issues with them,” Lillian said.
Ministerial Excellence Initiative
In 2015, the Lilly Endowment distributed more 600 surveys to pastors in 30 states to try to uncover the economic challenges pastoral leaders faced. Here are some of the findings:
The following year, in 2016, CBF received a $1 million grant as part of the Lily Endowment’s National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders, which helped CBF to launch the Ministerial Excellence Initiative (MEI) “to help pastoral and congregational leaders identify and respond to financial stressors causing anxiety.”
And over the past two years, this CBF initiative, led by Bo Prosser, has pushed forward on its goal “to stimulate a sense of confidence and increase knowledge in the lives of our pastoral leaders and congregations.”
The grant also allowed CBF to establish the Ministerial Excellence Fund (MEF) in partnership with the CBF Foundation. Data gathered from the cohorts of ministers who have benefited from this fund are in the graphic below.
Survey data also revealed that many pastors rarely discuss the financial strain they carry. This can lead to isolation and discouragement as they wrestle alone with feelings of shame and blame. Every pastor’s financial situation is different; so CBF, through the MEI and MEF, provides dynamic funding, resources and training to support pastors so that they might find the freedom to thrive. To learn more, visit www.cbf.net/mei.
Too Good to Be True?
It was Marcy who alerted Lillian to the grant opportunity. “I almost didn’t apply because it looked like one of those gimmick things…and I thought, ‘nobody just gives away money like that!’” Lillian said.
When Lillian was selected to be part of the pilot group of recipients, she asked Marcy to be her Trusted Congregational Advocate, a requirement of the grant. In April 2017, the two traveled to CBF’s headquarters in Decatur, Ga., for a four-day gathering to being a year-long study. It was there that Lillian came face-to-face with other pastors who were struggling to climb out of debt.
No Shame, No Blame
A major theme of those four days in Decatur was shame and blame.
“There is no shame in your being here. Our prayer is that these grants will help relieve some of your personal stress and begin to heal you of some of your pain,” Prosser told Lillian and other recipients.
Lillian remembered thinking over the first two days, “I’ve got no shame and I’ve got no blame. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve done nothing to be ashamed of.” She dismissed the whole idea. And yet, she was uncomfortable and irritated that shame and blame kept coming up.
On the third day of the meeting Prosser said again, “There’s no shame and there’s no blame.” And Lillian finally confessed, “Okay, I’m ashamed; I am ashamed of this.” She said, “It was like opening a wound full of infection and it began to drain out, letting me breathe.”
She began to consider the role she had played in creating this debt and acknowledge the hold it had in her life. “I can make a mistake in a church service and for some reason I’m able to forgive myself. But the years that we had debt and struggle—some of it due just to the economy, some of it due to our own mishandling—regardless of the source, I just could never say, ‘oh, we just messed up.’”
Lillian found freedom by exposing her shame to the light. There was strength in the community built through the MEF.
At the end of the four days, Lillian was handed a check for $10,000. She went home with the money ready to pay down her debt from school, and also to begin a conversation with her husband.
This time was rich, but hard, Lillian said. “Talking about money was very difficult for both of us… [but], we began to talk; it took some practice to do it well because we were both very defensive.”
Obviously, issues around money elicit emotions. When asked why she thinks that is, Lillian responded, “These issues represent our time. In our culture they represent our values. I think it’s the culture we live in; it’s the air we breathe. So, it starts to seep into your pores without your realizing it. If you have problems with money, it opens up the door for shame and blame.”
A Glimpse of Jesus
As Lillian reflected on this life-changing experience, she quoted the refrain from an old hymn, I’ve Had a Glimpse of Jesus:
Back to the cold world I will not go,
Back to the old paths of pain and woe,
Back to the old life of sin, O no!
I’ve had a glimpse of Jesus.
“That was what that week was like for me. I’ve had a glimpse of the other side, of the freedom.”
Through conversations with Eddie, her husband, and meetings with a financial planner—an opportunity made possible by the CBF grant—she committed to this freedom from shame and blame.
“I’m not going to go back down that road; I’m going to stay free. Even though we still have debt, it doesn’t have the same hold on me it had,” Lillian said.
She and Eddie had some incredible time together where they could say, “Look at what God has done in our lives up until now, and now look what God’s doing.”
Over the course of the year they learned how to save while still paying down debt. Lillian’s financial planner also gave her a retirement plan. She recalled crying on the phone as they talked about this plan.
“I never thought I’d be able to retire,” Lillian said.
Lillian and Eddie started looking at their spending more clearly. “When you’re hopeless, you feel that ‘I might as well go buy this expensive thing; what difference does it make?’”
The learning process helped them change this attitude and they began to ask, “Do we want this? Do we need this?” Often, they would instead decide to put the money into savings rather than spend; when they did decide to spend money, it was deliberate.
She remembered fondly, “It was just amazing. I’m grateful for the CBF grant because it lit all this fire for me—or put out all this fire for me. Whichever way you want to phrase it, it was a good beginning. It’s God that changes our lives, and He could have used another way; but this is what He used to get my attention, to get our attention, and to relieve us from so much guilt, shame and blame, and to give us some training on what to do differently.”
Now is the time to apply for the Ministerial Excellence Initiative (MEI) grant, designed to help pastoral and congregational leaders identify and respond to financial stressors causing anxiety in their personal and professional lives. The MEI grant provides direct financial support and direct retirement support totaling $10,000. Additionally, grant recipients receive coaching, financial literacy training and financial advisement! Learn more about the MEI program and eligibility and apply today at www.cbf.net/mei.