Noted Christian financial expert, Dave Ramsey said, “Debt is so ingrained into our culture that most Americans can’t even envision a car without a payment, a house without a mortgage, a student without a loan and credit without a card. We’ve been sold debt with such repetition and with such fervor that most folks can’t conceive of what it would be like to have NO payments.” 1
Randy Alcorn said, “We drive our bank-financed cars, running on credit card gas, to open a department-store charge account so we can fill our savings and loan-funded homes with installment-purchased furniture. We’re living a lie and hocking the future to finance it.” 2
DO WE HAVE A PROBLEM WITH DEBT?
Lee Eisenberg, in his book THE NUMBER (which came out ten years ago) quoted an article from the NEW YORK TIMES which said, “An American declares bankruptcy every fifteen seconds.” 3 That was TEN YEARS AGO. We can only hope that number has gone down. Common sense would suggest otherwise.
The careless, cavalier attitude many people and organizations, including churches, have toward debt should concern us all. But, in too many cases, it doesn’t. Here’s why it should:
These are the latest statistics (4.21.16) on DEBT in the United States:
- Today’s federal debt is about $19,294,755,405,000. (That’s $19 TRILLION!)
- The amount is the gross outstanding federal debt issued by the United States Department of the Treasury since 1970.
- But, it DOESN’T INCLUDE state and local debt. (Which is estimated to be another $1.17 TRILLION by the end of the year.)
- AND, it DOESN’T INCLUDE so-called “agency debt.” (Which is estimated to be another $8.4 TRILLION by the end of the year.)
- AND, it DOESN’T INCLUDE the so-called unfunded liabilities of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.
- Federal debt per person is about $59,132.
- At the end of FY (fiscal year) 2016 the total government debt in the United States, including federal, state, and local, is expected to be $22.4 TRILLION! 4
WHEN IT COMES TO THE TYPICAL AMERICAN HOUSEHOLD, THINGS AREN’T MUCH DIFFERENT.
Check out these statistics from Q4 2015:5
Total owed by average U.S. household carrying this type of debt
Total debt owed by U.S. consumers
Any type of
WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
- We need to do what the Bible says. The Bible doesn’t prohibit debt, but it does discourage it. “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). “Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer harm, but he who hates striking hands in pledge is secure” (Proverbs 11:15). “Be not one of those who give pledges, who put up security for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from under you?” (Proverbs 22:26-27)
- Any debt we incur should be short-term since the longest term of debt in the Bible was 7 years and the future is so uncertain. “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the Lord’s release has been proclaimed” (Deuteronomy 15:1-2). “You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:14-15).
- If we go into debt for anything, we need to have a plan to pay it off. “The wicked borrows but does not pay back” (Psalm 37:21). “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’” (Luke 14:28-30).
- The goal should be to get completely debt free. “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:6).
YOU CAN BE DEBT FREE!
Anyone can get debt free. But it takes time, tenacity, tremendous discipline and sacrifice. Our family has been debt free since November 15, 2001. Our church has been completely debt free since November 9, 2008. Actually, our church was debt free back in 2000, but we had run out of room and cars were driving off our parking lot every service. Our leaders asked our people if they would allow us to borrow the funds to relocate from our old location on Bowen Road, so we could move to our now 150-acre campus on Highway 360. We promised our people if they would allow us to go into short-term debt, leveraging our already debt-free campus in Arlington to build a new one here, we would never borrow money again. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
We moved to our new campus in July 2004. We burned the mortgage in November of 2008 and changed our by-laws so we couldn’t borrow money again, unless it was for the survival of our ministry and, only then, with the unanimous support of all of our leaders and at least a 95% affirmative vote of our congregation.
Why did we do that? We wanted to keep our promise to our people and wanted them to know how serious we were. We also knew we wanted to do everything in the future without debt. Which is exactly what we have done since.
Has it hindered our ministry? Not borrowing money? Not going into debt? Not at all. We built a 30-acre sports complex with a huge gymnasium/auditorium, six soccer fields, three football fields, four U.S. Open style tennis courts and the largest sand pit volley ball court in our area. All with lights, too! We built an outdoor amphitheater which will accommodate 8,000+ people, and a large covered pavillion, along with restroom facilities. We also built a 75,000 sq. ft. children’s building, valued at over $20 million and had the cash on hand before we broke ground. We are currently raising funds for a new, 75,000 sq. ft. youth building, and are approaching $7 million on deposit, towards our goal of $15 million. Once again, we won’t break ground until we have the funds.
To paraphrase Dave Ramsey, debt is so ingrained into our culture we can’t even imagine life without it. But the truth is, life gets better once you’re completely debt free.
... and you can take that to the bank!
© 2016. Barry L. Cameron
[Pastor Cameron was one of the founding members of The Solomon Foundation, the fastest growing Christian financial institution in U.S. history. The Solomon Foundation makes loans to churches to help them get to the next step and encourages churches to follow all of the above and pay off their loan as quickly as possible. The Solomon Foundation is debt free.]
1 Mary Hunt. Live your life for half the price. DPL Press. 2005. pg. 169
2 Randy Alcorn. Money, Possessions and Eternity. TYNDALE. 2003. pg. 314
3 Lee Eisenberg. The Number. FREE PRESS. 2006. pgs. 38-46.
4 Source: Statistics taken from: http://www.usgovernmentdebt.us
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Today, more than 8,000 people call Crossroads their church home. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.