Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The pastor and debt

One of the struggles many pastors face involves their personal finances. It is not uncommon for a pastor to finish his or her seminary education with a student loan debt of $40,000-60,000. Many churches now struggle with paying for their pastor's insurance, and many are requiring the pastor carry a higher deductible. A trip or two to the hospital or the ER can add significant dollars to the minister's debt load. Add to this an auto loan, rent or mortgage payments, and a few credit cards, and soon the pastor finds that there isn't enough money to pay all the bills and provide the basics for the family.

Financial pressure is often the reason that pastors decide to leave the ministry. They simply cannot pay their bills with the salary their churches are paying. Others may not leave the ministry, but they are constantly seeking a church that offers more salary and benefits. This is not a healthy situation for the pastor or the churches.  Too often, the pastor just remains in his or her present church sinking further and further in debt. This is not only a major distraction to effective ministry, it also adds considerable tension in the family.

The best solution is to avoid the debt in the first place. I've written elsewhere about the problem of pastors going into student loan debt which you can read here.  There are ways to get your education without incurring student loan debt. That may involve fewer parties and more hours working. It may require taking longer to earn your degrees by taking only the hours you can afford each semester. But, when you graduate you won't be tied down to enormous sums of student loan debt.

We often base our purchases on wants rather than needs, and with the easy availability of credit it becomes easy to satisfy those wants. Seldom do you see the price of a new car advertised. They are selling the low monthly payments. Once someone gets new car fever it is hard to see the impact those low monthly payments are going to have on your finances for the next six to seven years.

"If you get our store credit card you can save 20 percent on your purchases today." You'll hear this almost any time you buy something from a major retailer. Are they so kind-hearted that they want to save you money on today's purchases? No. They know that people spend more money when they use a credit card than when they spend cash. Not only will the customers who use their credit card spend more, they will pay them a high interest rate for the privilege.

Many reading this post are already in debt and wondering how they will ever pay off their loans. A few years ago I began listening to podcasts from Dave Ramsey. His approach to financial independence isn't appreciated by everyone, but I believe it is based on sound biblical and financial principles. He provides clear, simple steps for getting out of debt, building up an emergency fund, and saving for future needs and retirement. In addition to explaining these principles to those who call into his radio show he describes them in his book The The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. My one regret is that I did not have this information years ago. I could have avoided a lot of financial mistakes.

More married couples argue about financial matters than any other issue. When families are drowning in debt it creates incredible tension in the marriage. Pastors who are struggling with financial matters are distracted in their ministries. The pastors, their families, and their churches all pay a price when the pastor struggles to meet financial obligations.

If you find yourself in such a situation I encourage you to invest in this book. Just the fact that you begin to have a plan for getting out of debt can relieve some of the pressure you are facing. As you begin to take the "Baby Steps" Ramsey teaches in the book you will find that you are now in control of your finances. In time, you will reach the place where your debt is gone and you are making wiser decisions when it comes to your finances. For the next minute just sit there thinking what that would be like....Now, what are you going to do about it?

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