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Debt can keep you from realizing your dreams

I spoke at a Christian college’s chapel in the fall and challenged the students to consider missions.  The students there were like many – they understood the problems of poverty and injustice that exist around the world and they want to go help. They dream great dreams – some dream abo…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I spoke at a Christian college’s chapel in the fall and challenged the students to consider missions.  The students there were like many – they understood the problems of poverty and injustice that exist around the world and they want to go help. They dream great dreams – some dream about starting orphanages in Africa, others dream about helping young Thai women get out of the sex trade. And when I challenged them, a good number responded. 


But afterwards one of the leaders explained why the response wasn’t greater – it’s the problem of debt.  The average student debt level there might be about $30,000 when they graduate.  So as they begin to take steps to put their dreams in motion, they run smack dab into the brick wall of debt.

One of the biggest problems that missionary candidates encounter is the huge debt load they are carrying. School loans, credit card debt, and loans against cars or homes all feel like a backpack full of rocks on the shoulders of missionary candidates. You can’t blame them for wanting to take the pack off before going to the field.


Consumers piled up more than $2.2 trillion in purchases and cash advances on major credit cards in 2007. It’s become a habit for them to spend more than they have. The overall credit card debt grew by 315 percent from 1989 to 2006, and fewer people are paying them on time.


OK, if you’re a young person wrestling with the issue of financing your college education, this is going to be a tough issue.  If you don’t have benefactors or scholarships, student debt of some kind may be inevitable.  At the same time, where are the voices in our Christian world saying that young people don’t have to default to large debt loads?  Where are the voices encouraging young people whose hearts are focused on building the kingdom of God around the world to be counter-culture? 


Debt can keep us from realizing our dreams.  Consider that it may be better to not strap yourself to large student loans in the first place. And consider staying away from credit cards until you’ve got a steady job and have learned to budget.

Comments (10)

  • I’d be the first to ay that’s so true. As a doctor, I came out of med school owing about 125K in just school loans. You add in home, cars, paying for other daily expenses when you don’t make much in residency, you can easily come out of residency owing near 200K. Then you move, get a job, have to get established in a home, plus, since I wasn’t really living the Christian life, I was more than willing to try to keep up with the status, and quickly te debt piles up. Sadly, since I’ve had a change of heart, I see how hard this affects God’s ability to use me. I’ve always loved to give, but can’t give as I’d like because of debt. I can’t go back and change that, but I can try to do better in the future.

  • This is another rut in our thinking. Why is college education an automatic for so many? We’re watching grads come out with crushing debt and unable to get a job to pay for it; they’re working jobs they could have done BEFORE going to college. Not to mention how many go spiritually unprepared for the hostile-to-Christianity battlefield in the universities. If a college education is necessary for what God has called someone to do, He’ll make a way. And I can’t believe His way is strapping debt. What could be better than to go after God’s heart for the world, let Him direct you in His custom made training as you discover your place in this era and in this world?

  • I’ll echo Brian’s comment on Dave Ramsey – we’ve been working his program for about 8 years, even teaching it at our church. At 34/35 we are completely out of debt, including our house. It has freed us up in so many ways. My husband was able to walk away from a job when he felt the Lord calling him to do so. Now he is going to work full time for a In Touch Missions International and we will have to raise our own support. Not having any debt will make that a whole lot easier. It has also taught us to trust in God in a whole new way. We are adopting two orphans from Ethiopia and committed to doing it debt free. God has brought in nearly all of the $28,000 we need and it’s so cool to watch.

  • Yep, debt is a brutal thing. I know it wasn’t God’s plan for me to get stuck in such a situation, but I know it’s brought me to a place I wouldn’t have come to otherwise. It’s a stupid trap of life, but thankfully He’ll still work through it.

  • Julie! How cool! I don’t know you, but we too did Dave Ramsey, are debt free except for house, have 3-6 months expenses, and are going to be able to pay cash for our adoption of 1-2 boys from Ethiopia! So many similaritieshow cool, thought I’d share. I’d recommend CAFE Kids yahoo group if you aren’t on it already.
    Julie in Kansas

  • “Owe no man anything accept love..” Romans 13:8. What more do you need? The Father convicted us of our $40,000 of debt and delivered us in 6 months! “The borrow becomes the lenders slave” Prov 13:8. If we choose any kind of debt we bring on another master. That’s a problem since we can’t serve 2 masters. God is to be our ONLY master. Plus, taking on debt is too dependent on your own strength, your own timing and even the economy. God owns a cattle on a thousand hills. If He actually wants you to own a house, go to school, adopt a child, get a car, He’ll provide. He did for Paul. He did for George Muller. He did for Julie and He has for me.

  • tara bruce (WR JULY 2008)

    Luckily Josh and I don’t have any school debt at all. I could not imagine if we did. Just having a house to sell to go on the World Race seems hard enough, but having debt on top of that would be such a hard burden to bear, especially when it interrupts God’s call on your life.

  • As a college counselor in a high school, I do talk about his with students – particularly those wanting to go into ministry. There are good options out there other than expensive colleges.
    The other practical thing that I’ve done (and would encourage others to do) is to let graduates live with me – rent free and with no utility costs – so that they can pay down their student loans. I’m at a stage of life where it’s possible. It’s taken different forms. At one point we had an apartment above our garage and a newly married couple lived there for 2 years and were very disciplined about paying off student loans with the goal of going into ministry – all we asked was that they use $100 per month to help out someone else. Another time, we let someone live there who was in ministry and couldn’t afford to continue without a break in expenses somewhere. Even now that I don’t have a separate apartment to offer, I still have a basement bedroom and living area that suits a single person well.

  • I agree with Kathy’s comment – Why is college education an automatic for so many? Let’s narrow the focus a little more. Why is a college education a requirement to go into ministry? I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be going to college who want to get into the ministry, but why can’t we be raising them up in the local church?

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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