Thursday, January 28, 2010

Are We Ignoring a Major Crisis?

We just finished week four of Financial Peace University (FPU) here at Trinity. The fourth session was Dumping Debt. This is Dave Ramsey's bread and butter. You can tell this is where his passion is and what his focus is on. He is intense about people taking whatever steps they need to to remove themselves from debt, or for the biblical reference, Proverbs 22:7 "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.

We have 15 families going through this program. One was debt free when they arrived and another became debt free last week. On week three we were asked to write down how much non-mortgage debt we have. Take away the house payment but add the car payments, credit cards, student loans, etc. The total for the 15 families was just under $650,000. That averages out to over $40,000 per family of debt and remember one family came in without any. Half of the people attending our class are from Trinity. That means that $325,000 of that debt is potentially held by the members of my church. That is triple our annual operating cost and that is only 7 families out of the 60 giving units we have in the church.

The reason we are offering FPU is because as my wife and I decided to get serious about our finances and while listening to Ramsey's Total Money Makeover, I was struck with a comment he made, "It is not that people don't want to give, they are not in a financial position to give." We wonder why we as a denomination can't make our budget and our conference has to make cuts everywhere. No wonder churches are suffering financially to pay the bills and keep the doors open. I know large churches who are just hitting their mid-20s in life, who are so desperate for financial stability that it hurts. I know small churches praying for younger families to come in because they think that will save them from going under.

As I stared at that number, $640,000, I wondered what it would be like if I passed note cards out to everyone in my congregation and asked them to write down their non-mortgage debt. I am extremely nervous about what that outcome would be. I have a feeling we would be in the millions of dollars, and we only average 90 a Sunday in worship.

Are we as a church, as ministers, missing the crisis that is right in front of us. Are our congregations truly serving the master 'money' because they don't see any other way out? We as a church have to step up our teachings and our approach to money. Many ministers hate talking about it from the pulpit. Many laity hate hearing about it and fumble around in the pews when 'that sermon' is preached each year. But is this really only the fear of the reality that we live in?

Are ministers afraid to preach about debt and money because they don't have a handle on their own. To receive a Masters of Divinity, in my neck of the woods, means you have to get a private graduate school education. That is thousands of dollars and many new pastors coming out of school are deep in debt, and are not easily embarrassed (see questions for ordination to get joke). Because of this many probably feel hypocritical about talking about money because they are slaves to the lender themselves.

The truth is we need to be offering something to our church family to provide them ways to release themselves from the debt that consumes their lives. If we as a church want to build better congregations, giving congregations, better marriages, stronger relationships then lets figure out a way to kick debt to the curb. This may be the most counter-cultural thing we preach and we need to stop ignoring it. People will not like talking about it and it will make people extremely uncomfortable but the truth is our congregation's focus is not on God, it is on their bills. I think Jesus has some stuff to say about this too. So go and PREACH IT!

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