My take on Student Loans

Denny Burk just posted about the slavery of student loan debt. He links to some good analysis and posts on the topic. Long and short from my point of view: Student loans are a form of bondage and a hindrance to ministry. My own personal journey through student loan debt has not been as painful as some, but it has taught me two valuable lessons nonetheless. First, let's be honest and admit that ministry just doesn't pay a lot. As a consequence ministry professionals must be very careful about to avoid debt because we won't have a big salary to pay it off. Fortunately for me I accumulated only a little more than $8000 of debt towards the end of my doctoral program. How far have a I gotten in paying this off? I completed my Ph.D. eight years ago. I have worked full-time at DTS since then. I have only paid 50% of that debt off. This is due to a lot of factors, of course, but the size of my salary is certainly an important one. I'm not complaining about it; it's just a fact of life ministry professionals have to face. We don't earn a ton, so taking on debt is a bigger problem for us than it would be for a doctor, lawyer, MBA, etc.

Second, people who graduate from DTS with lots of student loan debt are hindered in the ministry opportunities they can accept. I've seen this up close and personal. Students are not free to follow the Lord's leading wherever it goes because they have to consider how they are going to pay off their student loans. Ministry placement becomes secondary to debt reduction, and in the end this does not honor the Lord. A graduate should be free to go wherever the Lord leads, not restricted in what ministry they can accept because they have too many bills to pay and have to focus too carefully on the bottom line.

For those who are considering student loans or who are in the midst of paying them off, there is hope. Two great ministries that help people manage money more carefully are Dave Ramsey and Crown Financial. I would encourage you to read their materials to learn a biblical approach for managing money and specific, mechanical steps to take along the way. My wife and I took Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University class at our church a few years ago, and it has revolutionized the way we handle money. (For those who are interested, we are on baby step 2 with not much further to go.) I encourage you to check them out as a means to honor the Lord with your money as it relates to seminary training.