For over two decades, Stovall impacts Southwestern women for Christ
Terri Stovall, dean of women, interim associate dean in the Jack D. Terry School of Educational Ministries and professor of educational ministries, has an adventuresome spirit that is unleashed every time the wind hits her face as she rides her Harley Davidson CVO Tri-Glide motorcycle or a roller coaster.
Motorcycles and roller coasters are both passions of Stovall and her husband, Jay, who have been interested in them since they first got married around 31 years ago. They are fans of Disney World and Disneyland and are such avid fans of roller coasters that they became members of the American Coaster Enthusiasts club. “We just enjoy being around such a fun atmosphere, and there is no better stress reliever than to scream and laugh on a big coaster,” said Stovall. She and Jay “love the adrenaline rush” when riding roller coasters and their passion for riding motorcycles “on the back roads of Texas” brings them into community with a different group of people that they appreciate getting to know.
“For both hobbies, we have the opportunity to meet a lot of people who are not typically in our seminary or church world bubble,” Stovall explained. “It is a great way to build relationships with people we would not necessarily meet otherwise.”
She grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, and was involved in all the typical Baptist youth activities, even earning the awards for memorizing the most Bible verses in Vacation Bible School and earning badges in Girls in Action and Acteens, explaining, “Those early year experiences laid a solid foundation of knowledge of who God is and what He expected.”
Stovall accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior as a 15-year-old following her parents’ divorce. Her dad left the church, which was a pivotal moment as Stovall said she needed to make her faith her own and “make my own decision about who Jesus was in my life.”
Stovall was involved in the youth group in high school and upon arriving at Texas A&M Corpus Christi she became involved in the Baptist Student Union (BSU). In the summer of 1984, she served as a summer missionary with the state BSU in Wisconsin. It was during that summer, that she felt the call to ministry and remembered wanting to “tell God’s story to people and reach people in their need.”
After graduation, she served as campus evangelism coordinator at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas. Part of her role there was to launch the Baptist Student Union at the University of Texas at Tyler, which is “still growing and I’m excited to see that,” reflected Stovall.
God continued to confirm His calling upon her life which led her to begin as a Master of Divinity student at Southwestern in 1988. Working at Handley Baptist Church in Fort Worth led her to change her degree program to a Master of Arts in Religious Education.
“God really used my time here,” Stovall said. “What I was learning in the classroom I was immediately going into the church and executing.”
Upon graduating from Southwestern in 1991, she continued working as a church administrator at Handley Baptist Church until 1996. However, due to the encouragement from Southwestern professors she met in a professional organization, she enrolled at Southwestern again to pursue her Doctor of Philosophy in church administration.
Based on her work in churches, she quickly saw how some churches thrived and some declined. She began the Ph.D. program wanting to know the factors that made the difference between thriving and declining churches.
Stovall served as the women’s minister at Fielder Road Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, during her doctoral studies. Paula Hemphill, wife of then-President Kenneth S. Hemphill, realized a need to have something for women’s ministry at Southwestern. Daryl Eldridge, who was serving as the dean of the School of Educational Ministries at the time, asked Stovall if she could do a women’s ministry project and write a curriculum project for one of her doctoral seminars. More than 20 years later, what began as a women’s ministry theological academic curriculum Stovall wrote for one of her doctoral seminars has grown to a robust program that includes classes offered at the certificate, undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels.
When Stovall was the assistant professor of adult education and aging, she saw the women’s ministry evolve from initially being only for seminary student wives, which was started by Paula Hemphill, to grow to include “women who are serving in the church and giving them the skills to disciple women.” She said the first program created at Southwestern “was a certificate program aimed at women who are serving in these positions that wanted next-level” training because “helping women know how to lead, disciple or even how to administrate programs well is necessary.”
Stovall believes that Southwestern has the “widest offering of options” when it comes to women’s ministry, adding that “The faculty here are dedicated to helping women figure out what God has called them to do and how to get the best training for that.”
One element of how Southwestern makes a “definite investment in women” is through the Women’s Center. Under Stovall’s leadership, the center is a place where women can go for “community and connection.” Stovall said, “It’s nice to gather together with women of like minds” even though their callings may “look a little different. We’re still sisters in Christ who need each other.”
Stovall is compelled by her passion for women being a part of God’s plan.
“I see women as such a vital part of God’s mission,” she said. “We are image bearers. We are a part of the family of God, and we are part of the church. Whether you’re a woman who is in an official ministry position, a wife and mom, or in the marketplace, if you’re a believer, you have influence. You have the ability to share Christ and the ability to teach others. We want to equip you to do that well.”
Stovall invests in her students in many ways by spending time with them outside the classroom too. She wants to “pour into their lives, know where they are spiritually, walk alongside them, and help them navigate what their calling looks like.” She desires for her role to be expanded beyond being a teacher to being a mentor and disciple.
Amanda Walker, a 2013 Southwestern Doctor of Educational Ministries graduate and 2006 Master of Arts in Christian Education graduate from Ruston, Louisiana, took several classes from Stovall during her time at the seminary.
Walker said Stovall was the “first to redefine what a women’s minister ‘looked like,’” adding that prior to meeting Stovall she believed “a woman in ministry played the piano, wore a dress every day, and went to seminary, but was not ‘serious’ about theological education.”
“She upended those assumptions,” Walked remembered. “Dr. Stovall helped me define my calling to serve the Lord however and wherever He called me. Her classes equipped me to serve the local church and encouraged me to go deeper in my theological education. She also helped me see that women wanted more than ‘fluff’ in their relationship with Christ. Women want to study and learn the Word and then teach the Word to those in their sphere of influence.”
Laura Pepper, a Master of Divinity student from Sugarland, Texas, and intern at the Women’s Center, has known Stovall in a variety of ways including as professor, mentor, and supervisor. Pepper has a heart for Latin American missions and hopes to serve in Latin American church planting after graduation.
“As my professor and boss, she has made a huge investment in my life from the discipleship aspect,” said Pepper. Stovall asks her a lot of questions and seeks to find out “how I am doing in my personal walk with Jesus. As a boss, she is great at investing in my personal life.” Pepper has learned “what it means to be a follower of Jesus as a woman in ministry, what it means to serve the Lord well and serve other people well.”
Stovall “is privileged” to be a part of what God is doing in the lives of women. After 20 years of teaching, she is thankful to have had the opportunity to impact so many students’ lives. “They’re serving in amazing places in a thousand different ways. I’m so proud of them and I am just thankful for the brief moment I have in their lives.”