It’s impossible to estimate the kind of good the church could do for the world if every believer was financially healthy and spiritually mature in the area of generosity.
The problem is, the church is hurting in this area–badly. According to USA Today,
The average American household carries $137,063 in debt, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest numbers.
Yet the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the median household income was just $59,039 last year, suggesting that many Americans are living beyond their means.
I believe we, as church leaders, often underestimate the amount of financial pressure most families feel because we want to trust that people would be open about poor financial management. But the fact is, people are private about finances.
And pastors, we’re not immune. Many pastors have a hard time teaching about money because of the personal guilt they feel about their own financial problems.
Debt is a problem we can’t ignore any longer. But how do we get out from under it?
We’ve got to commit to these eight steps and help the people in our congregations do the same.
1. Commit to becoming debt-free now.
Pastor, this is the most difficult step of all, but it’s also the most important. You’ve got to make a commitment to do this, and you’ve got to lead your congregation to do so as well. It’s absolutely crucial.
Paying off debt is something God blesses. The Bible says in Psalm 37:21, “The wicked borrow and do not repay” (NIV). God does not bless the wicked. It’s not moral to stiff somebody out of debt. God says if you have a debt, you are to pay it off.
Nobody just drifts out of debt. You’ve got to be intentional and start with a commitment. It isn’t easy. It takes discipline. It takes perseverance. But it’s also the right thing to do.
2. Start paying God and yourself first.
If you want to get out of debt, you’ve got to start tithing 10 percent (paying God) and saving 10 percent (paying yourself).
People in debt will balk at this. They don’t understand how tithing and saving will help get them out of debt. But if you wait until you pay off all your bills, you will never save and you will never tithe.
When we’re in debt, we need God’s help. That means we need to do it God’s way. The fact is, whatever area we want God to bless, we have to put him first in.
3. List all you own, owe, and earn.
You’ve got to keep good records. You need to know where your money has gone, where it’s going, and where it’s coming from. The Bible says in Proverbs 24:3, “A house is built by wisdom and becomes strong through good sense” (NLT). You’re wise when you know where your money is going.
People say money talks. It doesn’t talk! It just walks away quietly. Then you get to the end of the month and ask, “Where did my money go?” If you’ve ever asked yourself that question, you don’t have a budget and you need one. A budget is telling your money where you want it to go rather than wondering where it went.
4. Have a sale.
You need to get rid of some of your stuff. You need to convert some of the “stuff” around your house to cash. Look around your house. Even if it’s paid off, you may be better off selling it. Why? You’re paying to maintain it.
Nothing should be off the table. If you’ve got a car, ask yourself about the purpose of the car. If it’s transportation, there are a lot of ways you can get from here to there. Is there a cheaper way to do so? Be radical.
5. Set up a repayment plan.
The Bible says in Proverbs 21:5, “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity” (NLT). You’ll need someone objective to help you do this. At Saddleback Church, we provide trained financial counselors to help people in financial crisis.
You don’t have to be a big church to provide these financial counselors. Just find some folks in your church who love people and aren’t scared by numbers. If the person has gotten out of debt themselves, that’s even better.
6. Add no new debt.
Cut out debt cold turkey. Stop going into debt right now. Cut up your credit cards. Don’t get another loan. The number one reason people go in debt is that they can’t live on what they make. Decide today that you will. To do that, you’ve got to be content with what you have. It’s the only long-term antidote to debt.
7. Share the plan with your creditors.
Let the people you owe know that things are changing. Make a list of those you owe. Call each one of them and say, “I don’t want to file bankruptcy. It’s not good for you. It’s not good for me. I can’t pay you $100 a month. I just don’t have it. But I could pay you $25 a month. I want to pay off my debts. Can you help me with this?”
God will give you favor with people when you determine to do the right thing. Most creditors will allow you to do what you need to do to keep paying the debt.
8. Stick to it.
Getting out of debt isn’t easy. It takes discipline, effort, and sacrifice. But you can do it. You’ve just got to stick to the plan. These principles work, but you must work them.
The Bible says in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not get tired of doing what is right, for after a while we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t get discouraged and give up” (TLB).
You’ll be tempted to give up. That’s when you need to keep going and stick to the plan. That’s also when you need fellow believers to cheer you on.
God is interested in every detail of your life–including your financial life. He wants you to pay off your debt, and he’ll help you do it. You just have to ask.