Influence

 the shape of leadership

Back to School — without the Debt

How church leaders can help students avoid financial disaster

Josiah Kennealy on August 24, 2017

Over the past four years, I have met with many college students, young couples and young adults who are drowning in debt and struggling financially because of student loans.

I recently completed my master’s degree — graduating debt-free — and focused my capstone project on this topic. My colleagues and I surveyed 850 college students from more than 200 different colleges and universities in over 40 states. We published the findings in the book Debtless.

Not surprisingly, the results showed that college debt is a huge problem. We found that over 39 percent of current college students have no idea how much they owe in student loans. Based on our research, current students have taken on an average of $26,659 in debt — and haven’t graduated yet! Nearly 40 percent of students surveyed said no one informed them about alternatives to student loans.

We can equip students toward success by teaching about financial freedom.

I want to encourage this generation and their church leaders because I don’t want debt to hold back young adults from reaching their dreams. There are four things ministry leaders can do to help students.

1. Talk about money. The Bible talks a lot about money, and it clearly and consistently communicates that less debt is better than more debt. We should, too — in our sermons as well as our small groups. We must address the topic of money, not just in relation to tithing, but also as it relates to biblical financial stewardship.

Scripture is our guide in this. Jesus himself talked about money. In Matthew 6:21, He said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Money conversations relate to more than just finances. Our resources affect our hearts, dreams, passions and desires. Debt can kill dreams. We can equip students toward success by teaching about financial freedom.

One of the powerful principles in the book of Proverbs is: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). The less debt you have, the more personal freedom you can experience. Can you imagine what you could do without debt holding you back?

Encourage and challenge students who don’t yet have debt to remain debt-free.

Perhaps you, your staff, your volunteer leaders or your students are struggling with debt. Stop the bleeding. It’s not too late to stop taking on more debt. There is hope.

2. Encourage work. I’ve heard it said like this: “The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately.” Working part-time while I was in college allowed me to pay my tuition.

To reach your dreams — whether they are financial, spiritual or ministry-related — you must work hard!

It’s in your best interest not to pay interest. You will either pay less now or more later. Avoiding the interest trap requires discipline, intentionality and sacrifice.

Author Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else now, so later you can live and give like no one else.”

I have never met anyone who wishes they hadn’t paid off their car, credit cards, student loans or house sooner. But wow, I sure have met a lot of fine folks who wish they had those items paid off!

3. Model budgeting. One layer deeper than just working a job and earning money is budgeting and living on less than you are making.

Remind students to include giving in their budgets. The more they practice generosity, the more it becomes a habit. This generation cares deeply about social justice and humanitarian causes, but many young people can’t give because of debt.

Can you imagine the difference a generation of Christians who are financially free can make in this world? When debt isn’t holding back students, they can regularly give and support ministries and missionaries.

An equally important habit to start now is saving for the future. Saving is like giving toward your own personal future.

Some financial advisors and wealth managers recommend saving anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of income for short- or long-term goals. It’s easy to make purchases today by taking on more debt, but it’s better to wait and save up the cash.

4. Teach them to live on the rest. When it comes to budgeting, students know better than anyone what their own monthly expenses are: housing, tuition, groceries, transportation, travel, etc. A big part of financial stewardship is recognizing that God provides for every need.

One of our responsibilities in return is living within our means. There are so many tools, like budgeting forms, apps and even notebooks and journals that can help guide you and your students along the journey toward debt-free living.

As ministry leaders, we have a unique opportunity to help students make wise and God-honoring financial decisions while they are in college. We can coach them toward financial health and stability for a lifetime of following Jesus as faithful stewards.

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