Why Aspiring Ministers Should Avoid Student Loan Debt

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In 2012, 69% of new college graduates had taken on student loans to cover their education cost. The average debt was double the amount of graduates 20 years ago. Pew Research reported that even among students of high-income families, the percent of students using loans to finance their education had significantly increased.

It is unfortunate that student loan debt is so common. It is weight that slows the launch of many new careers. And it is no different with aspiring ministers. Those who feel called to ministry should carefully consider potential consequences of taking on a significant debt load to cover their education. If you are an aspiring minister, here are some reasons to avoid student loan debt:

1. You will be more tempted to base vocational decisions on money.

Even without debt payments, you will be tempted to seek employment with certain ministries because you know that they can pay you more than other ministries. With student loan debt, this temptation will increase. You may find yourself in a position where you are turning down an opportunity to work with a ministry that meets your heart’s desire and, instead, work for a ministry that you can afford.

2. You may have to work additional jobs.

Bi-vocational ministry is often a necessity and is used by God in tremendous ways. However, it is unfortunate when a minister must consider outside work, not because the context demands it, but because of a debt load.

3. You may have to delay ministry employment.

For some, student debt even precludes bi-vocational ministry. The debt is too large, and the payments are too high. You may find yourself serving a ministry, but only outside your regular work hours. Your regular work hours are dedicated to a job that allows you to pay down your debt.

4. The weight of the debt will impact your family life.

Your family will feel the tension created by debt. There is financial strain and emotional strain. The latter is less discussed. When you are unable to pursue your calling due to debt, you will find yourself in moments of frustration. And when you are frustrated or stressed, your family will feel it as well.

5. Supposed financial “quick fixes” will be considered.

As frustration and stress increases, you will be tempted to look for “quick fixes.” Be careful. There are many bad ideas out there. There are no “quick fixes’ with debt. Repayment always takes sacrifice. Pursuing an easy way out will only put you in greater financial turmoil.

6. You may never fulfill your sense of calling.

There will be some aspiring ministers that decide to postpone the pursuit of their calling and never return to that chase. After spending several years in another line of work, they convince themselves that it is too late for them. They push aside their calling and continue on a different career path, never knowing what could have been.

If you are an aspiring minister, carefully consider student loan debt. On the front end, it is easy to attain. On the back end, repayment may take longer than you anticipated and create a greater burden than you ever expected. If you must take out a loan, create a plan to pay it off quickly. Your future ministerial career will thank you.

How to Avoid Student Loan Debt

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13 thoughts on “Why Aspiring Ministers Should Avoid Student Loan Debt

  1. I feel as though this is a obvious concept. The real question is what actions can be taken to avoid debt when it comes to education. It seems necessary to accrue some level of debt and with rising education costs that level becomes more and more everyday.

    • That is a great question, Nate, and you are correct about the rising cost of education. I hope to have a post up with some suggestions. Do you have any of your own suggestions that should be considered for the post?

      • Maybe I am a pessimist, but I don’t see a lot as it seems student debt is almost a necessary evil at this point. Parents helping their children save for college would likely provide the most impact but I also struggle from a learning perspective with parents paying for all of their child’s education. Students can always try to work and pay for some of their education out of pocket. The reality is that money can hardly put a dent in the type of education costs required when pursuing a ministry degree. Go to Moody and only have living expenses to pay for seems the most viable option.

        I hope I am wrong and you have some ideas in that next post. The education landscape is really taking a shape, that as Tony alluded to, includes a mountain of debt unless your family is even more wealthy than the rest of the United States or you were successful enough in High School to obtain the top scholarships. It seems if churches want Ministers with degrees they will need to accept ministers with student debt or accept ministers without degrees. And I don’t think I advocate for the latter as the norm.

        • Nate,

          My wife and I went to a bible college that used Moody as a model and did away with tuition fees. There were enough fees (not including housing) that we still needed financial aid. Between fees, housing, and having a beautiful baby girl towards the end of our studies, we still accumulated some debt.

          Note we were married before we went, and this actually helped us financially.

          It was much better than paying 15k+ a semester like some of my friends did for their Bible B.A.s but you still have the problem of Churches desiring seminary trained pastors.

  2. This advice is great. I’ve watched too many of my friends from similar backgrounds crushed and washed out of ministry because they didn’t follow it.

    But what is the alternative? Don’t go to school? Get your MDiv over a 10-20 year period? Accept that God prefers to call folk from a more monied background?

    My pastors have always tended to say “Just go to school, God will provide somehow.”

    They would never give that kind of advice to the kid who says he feels called to teach Art History at a University. Rather, they’d say something like “Your crazy if you think you can spend that much money to learn to do a Job that pays so little. Your family will suffer for your fantasy.”

    • Thank you, Tony. I share your concerns. I hope to have a post up with some suggestions over the next few days. What suggestions would you give to someone in this situation?

      • I wish I could go back and tell 22 year old me to skip bible college in favor of a trade school or small public college. I currently do web development for a state convention, and I can’t help but think that my current work would have been better served by more technical studies.

        I loved my time at bible college (and was advised that it was the way to go), but it is very difficult to finance seminary (without much debt) on the salaries available to someone with a bible college degree. My B.A. in Preaching hasn’t been super valuable in the job market.

        I feel very, very blessed to get to do the work that I am doing, but at this point I don’t really know how to finance seminary apart from the 10-year, one-class-at-a-time plan.

        For my part, I’m leading my family, serving my local church, and trying not to worry about the whens and hows of seminary and pastoral ministry.

        Although I suppose I could start a Ponzi Scheme.

  3. My question is, how can a Christian College call themselves Christian and still accept federal student loans?

    When they did that, I believe it became more about the money than the education.

  4. John MacArthur recently answered a tweet that asked “How can a young man best prepare for ministry or missions without using debt?” by saying “Have a rich uncle, or marry up.” That’s essentially the truth. In most cases, the “rich uncle” is mom and pop. If they’re not paying the tuition directly for the student, they’re helping him out with insurance, cell phone bills, housing, gas money, etc. so that he can pay his school bills.

    My wife and I got married before we started school and were given no assistance from our parents. Outside of school bills there was still rent, groceries, gas, and everything else to pay for week in and week out. She had scholarships and did not have to borrow money for her four years of school. I did two years of community college without paying a dime but still had to borrow to graduate from the Bible College I went to (three additional years). And we worked our tails off — both working jobs while simultaneously doing an internship.

    Without help from somewhere (parents/government/otherwise), it’s impossible to graduate debt-free without being on the one-class-a-semester plan.