Romans 13:8a says, “Owe no one anything except to love one another.” I know that debt is the “American Way.” But just because it is what “Americans” do, that doesn’t mean we should throw caution to the wind. In fact, ministers should be more cautious than anyone about debt.
The fact that the Bible says nothing good about debt, and several bad things about debt, should give those of us in ministry pause. Consider the following:
Debt calls us away from generosity
When you are in debt, especially when heavily indebted, you start looking for ways to trim your budget. One of the first places we are tempted to cut back on, even eliminate, is generosity.
Maybe some of that is justified. You may not need to spend hundreds of dollars on your kid’s birthday present or buy them a new car when they get their license. But we shouldn’t stop giving to the church. In fact, we should do the opposite, we should ask the Lord if we should give more, not less.
I know this seems counterproductive and even foolish. But, God’s economy is not man’s economy and we are called to live by faith and not sight.
Debt calls us away from fidelity to Scripture
When you are living paycheck to paycheck, you don’t want to do anything that might interrupt that paycheck. But, what do you do when you come to a difficult passage of scripture; a passage that might upset some regular givers to your church?
Maybe you have been warned to avoid such passages in the past. Debt tempts us to steer clear of these passages, because we do not want to get into bigger financial trouble than we are already experiencing.
Debt calls us away from peace with our family
The most stressful time of our 25+-year marriage were the years we spent in debt.
It started shortly after we got married. My wife got a job; I had a job; and we thought we had excess cash. I went guitar shopping and picked up a brand-new guitar on 90 days same as cash.
But my wife couldn’t juggle the stress of student teaching and this job, so the job had to go. Ninety days turned into two years at more than 25% plus interest. This stressed our young family. Unfortunately, we didn’t learn our lesson until 12 years later. During that time period, we could trace most of our heated discussions back to poor money management.
Debt calls us away from peace with our church family
More than just avoiding difficult passages so as to not offend, debt in a church can cause strife within the local body. When a local body borrows money, it will likely do so on the hopes that everything will keep moving in a good way.
What happens when the plant or institution that employs so many in the area shuts down, downsizes, or moves? What happens when the housing bubble bursts? That mortgage that wasn’t too difficult to pay now becomes a great weight on the shoulders of a few faithful tithers.
If a congregation isn’t careful, they will look at their financials and realize we are sending more money to interest on a building than to missions to spread the Gospel.
Debt calls us away from obedience to the Lord’s call
How many pastors do you know who God has called to another field, but they chose not to go because they cannot sell their house for what they owe? How many ministers have ignored the call to missions, or been turned down an appointment, because of debt? How many have gotten into trouble with finances and are no longer trusted to lead?
I truly wish there was never a good reason to go into debt and that so many didn’t need debt to get an education, buy a car, or buy a home. How often do we rationalize more than we need, and end up borrowing more than is necessary?
I have done it. I can tell you, life is easier when debt calls, and you don’t answer.