Help for the Pastor in Financial Debt

Debt Kills

Pastor debt can kill a ministry.

While listening to the Dave Ramsey radio show yesterday, a lady came on the air and was saying that she and her husband were having a hard time making it financially since they had a $150,000 in student loans. She and her husband were getting Masters in Pastoral Counseling.

They are working at a Bread and Breakfast for a place to live and $176 a month in cash. They had no other income. It was obvious they were living off the student loan money. This is not the way to enter ministry.

For starters, if they could not get jobs as pastoral counselors with a Bachelors degree then the Master's probably was not going to do them any good.

The other thing, unless you are really lucky, you are not going to make much money in ministry. Very few make a lot of money in ministry. But starting out with $150,000 in debt is not the answer. They will be stuck with this for years. They may be stuck with it for the rest of their lives. This was a stupid thing to do. Very, very stupid.

Many pastors have served, currently serve or will serve in a church that is barely paying its bills. And when tithes are down, the first person who suffers is the pastor.

In many cases, pastors do not have an emergency fund saved up but have a lot of pastor debt. We depend on God to supply.

When we were forced out of a church in Danville, AR we had no money. My wife worked at the hospital and shared with her co-workers about our situation. Some of the nurses she worked with attended the Baptist church in town.

One day I received a call from the pastor of the Baptist Church whom I had never met. He asked me how much I needed to move to San Antonio. I said $600. He asked me if this was enough. I told him yes.

In retrospect, it was not enough to move, but I forgot about rental deposits, utilities and so on. I should have asked for more. He brought a check by that after noon for $600.00.

When we resigned from a church in Coleman, TX, people brought us money to help us move. God moves in mysterious ways.

What do we do when we find ourselves without a church. Our first instinct is to panic because this also means we are expected to move out of the parsonage quickly. Do not panic!

Dave Ramsey and hub author David Schulze

We were at Dave's place a few weeks ago for counselor training.
We were at Dave's place a few weeks ago for counselor training.

Do Not Have Any Debt!

The first thing to focus on is not having pastor debt, to include student loans. You can stop laughing now. We go to Bible College and take a full load so we can hurry up and get through it and get out too save the world.

In order to carry a full load, one usually has to take out student loans to pay for this. This is what I did. I made a mistake.

I left Bible College with the thinking that with hard work and love then any church I was planted in would grow and as it grew so would the finances. With growth in finances would be a growth in my salary.

What I did not know is that not every person wants their church to grow.

God was not in a hurry for me to finish Bible College and save the world. The church I was assigned to was not in a hurry for me to save the world. The world was and still is not ready for me to save it.

One thing to keep in mind is that when you are in Bible College, you should seek help. If you qualify for food stamps, by all means, get them. Ask the church you came from for help. Do not be afraid or ashamed to ask for financial help.

Send out a monthly newsletter to your family and friends. Do not directly ask for help, but tell them what is going on and what your plan is. Give a family update.

The Bible College did not tell me about all the options for applying for Federal Aid. I went from a good paying job to one that did not pay so good while at Bible College. Financial Aid was based on my previous income, which meant I did not qualify for any grants.

Doing reading on my own, and not with any help for the supposedly experts in the Financial Aid office at the Bible College, I found out that I could submit another form for special circumstances--that being that my income was going to be cut by about 75%. After submitting this, I was then given a Pell Grant.

Dig and find the help you need so you do not have to depend on "borrowed money" or end up with pastor debt. Do not depend on others to do your digging for you.

I am still paying on my student loan. I graduated in 1995. I still have about ten years left on it. When all is said and done, I will have paid about $50,000 for around $25,000 in student loans. If I could do things over, I definitely would. (4-01-2012--I have paid off my student loan by following the Dave Ramsey plan.)

At this point I will get my loan paid off just as I retire. I can see that, due to my poor financial planning, I will be working long after others have retired.


Back-up Plan

One last thing to keep in mind...

The clergy killer is there to try to force the pastor to resign as a first choice. Firing is a second choice. It is more enjoyable to the sick mind of a clergy killer to get the pastor to quit on his own.

When the clergy killer or well intentioned dragon attack the first thing they attack is the church's financial base in hopes of getting tithes to drop off so the church finds itself in a financial bind and dilemma.

Do we pay the pastor or do we pay the bills? The clergy killer will always go for the bills in hopes that when the pastor does not get paid he will resign. The clergy killer will have his dragons go along with him.

This generally is what happens in little churches. Big churches can usually weather a financial storm longer because they have savings.

Be prepared. Have a savings. Have a back-up plan. Do not have any pastor debt.

You may have heard of Dave Ramsey. If not then check out his website and follow his plan for financial success.

At the end of the day, remember who it is you work for...


Church Debt

Since it is generally acceptable to have personal debt then it is also generally acceptable to have church debt. This is a false belief.

Many churches have found themselves growing and needing more space. Everyone gets caught up in the church having a new building. New buildings are nice. A loan is acquired. The building built.

A year or so after all the excitement has waned, the depression of having to pay back the loan starts to set in. Thousands of dollars are paid and are to be paid in interest. Money that could have been used for ministry.

Some start thinking, "Why did we do this?"

Churches have to be careful about the debts they get into as well. They need to plan and save.

I believe that if God wants a church to have a new building, then He will provide the money so that the building is paid for in cash. If He can provide bread, meat and water for six million people, wandering in the desert, then He can provide the millions needed to expand.

The problem is we do not believe God can do miracles anymore. We do not want to wait on His timing. I was at a meeting where a pastor shared, "For three years we prayed that God would give us this abandoned building. The owner wanted more than we could afford. He offered us terms. Local banks offered us terms. But I did not want to accept them. I believed that God could provide. And God did. One day a man walked into my office and said he would buy the building for us."

We need to wait on God. His timing is not like our timing.

And many churches have had to close or declare bankruptcy because they did not plan right. The new building turns out to be a curse and not a blessing.

The church I attend today has grown and grown. They built a new sanctuary and soon it was over-filled. They were having several services a day. They took out a loan but were able to pay it off quickly. But soon they needed a bigger sanctuary. They took out a loan and have not been able to pay it off quickly.

But the problem is we need a new sanctuary or more pastors. The church has a Saturday night service and five services on Sunday morning. Each service is full. So now to help with some of this they are using the old sanctuary as an overfill.

In the current culture today, a church that is reaching the lost is not going to have the same financial base that a church who grows by transferred growth does. The one has new Christians and the other mature Christians. New Christians are still growing and tend not to tithe or tithe as much. In some cases they may not be able too. Mature Christians usually tithe.

But for some reason mature Christians do not like to be around new Christians so they take their tithes and go to where the mature Christians are. I guess they do not like new Christians messing with their comfort zone. This is what I have noticed in general.

What we need is a miracle from God to pay off this loan. Then we are going to need the funds to buy property and build a new building. The current property has no more space for growing.

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Thank you for your visit. Please leave a comment. 6 comments

David Schulze profile image

David Schulze 4 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

Friday we finally paid off our student loan. We are not debt free except our home. Gavin I went to NBC and there they hit us hard with new and increased fees and tution each year I was there. Only the services did not increase, the teaching was no better. We paid lab fees so that our sermons in classs could be recorded--they were not. But what they did do was build a new chapel that really was not needed. They built this building off the backs of us poor and struggling students. It is no wonder that the CON is failing here in the US. Money, not holiness living has become their theme.


Mandy Green 5 years ago

This was insightful. My husband (and 2 girls) are not alone in this! My husband is a Sr. Pastor at a small country-bumpkin church. He has a B.S. & the Triple-Masters (MAR/MRE/MDiv) from Liberty Univ. I also have a B.S. in Public Health. I am now a stay-at-home mom, and work a few Saturdays every month just to pay my student loan. The past 6 yrs have been intense--should I say intense? We are $60K in debt b/w the 2 of us. Our parents never went to college, not that it's their fault, but we had no, and I mean no financial heads-up or coaching going into college. Wow, what a wake-up call. Doing it over again, I would have never gotten a 4 yr degree. My parents were loan-happy! What a burden for our family here in VA now. Both of our families live in PA, and it's rare we get up to see them, esp. since the rise of gas. These small church are hard for a Pastor's wife for sure....


Wes 5 years ago

This is a great article. My wife and I were going through FPU while we were in Nashville a few years back and were on target to be debt free by October this year. God called us to Buffalo to plant a church with a friend and that put our debt timeline back a good bit. We're still pluggin at it with our Emergency fund and down to just my school loans, but having to get home to alabama to visit the family has been our biggest issue. It's hard to be so far. So unless some rich saint comes along and blesses us with $17 grand we're just gonna have to keep pluggin along and it'll just take longer than we originally planned.


Gavin Hendricks 6 years ago

This in excellent I opener for those that are entering ministry with debt or student loans. I am still paying off student loans after the completion of my Ph.D. After 23 years of active ministry in the Church of the Nazarene I do think church organizations that recognise the call of ministry in propective students should be more pro active in helping ministerial students not to fall prey to these huge financial debts. There is no shortage of money in the world but it is how God demand of us to be stewards of the resources he provides. I am still actively involve in ministry and I m just excited to bring together the God given talents and a desire to serve.


David Schulze profile image

David Schulze 6 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

Thank you for your imput. I wished I had paid cash for my education as well. We used the school money for a lot of things, things we could have lived without.


Jen 6 years ago

Great article. My husband is also in ministry. We have been paying his debt for 10 years and have 10 more years left unless we can pay extra on the loan. I SO wish that we would have tried to raise money for school rather than taking out student loans. We could have worked hard at a secular job for a couple of years to pay off debt while doing volunteer ministry. Future pastors.... GO INTO MINISRY WITH NO DEBT!! You will have much more freedom.

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