“I can’t begin to tell you how much my student loans are killing me.”
“I have to leave my church position because I don’t make enough to pay my student loan bill.”
“I’d love to get more ministry training, but I can’t because I haven’t gotten close to paying off my first degree.”
What if your church could change a significant challenge for many pastors and staff members who serve your congregation and show how much you appreciate what they do?
Why don’t you invest in your pastor?
Bless them by paying their student loans!
No. I’m not feeling the Bern. But student loans are killing our pastors and staff more than you know.
Employers around the US are discovering that to attract the best talent and keep that talent working for the good of the company, student loan repayment programs can be a huge draw. CNN Money did a great article on how companies like PwC will give students up to $1,000 a year for up to 6 years of employment. Others give lump sum payoffs based on tenure. Even states like Kansas know the value of this by offering Rural Opportunity Zones.
You may be thinking, “My company doesn’t offer that benefit” or “I think they should have to work it off themselves.” You might be correct, but let’s do some simple math:
- The standard requirement for most pastoral positions is a Master’s of Divinity. Many students take 3-4 years to complete a degree that ranges from 81-90 credit hours. This degree along typically costs a student in excess of $35,000 to serve effectively in the local church.
- Before a student ever gets to that point, they have to finish their undergraduate degree. Increasingly, students who manage their accounts well are leaving with in excess of $25,000 in student loan debt from college.
- Assuming your future pastor is married, his wife may also be carrying student loans.
- This doesn’t count any doctoral debt.
- If your church runs around 250 people, your pastor may be making around $60,000 based on Lifeway compensation studies. In other words, a large portion of his salary is consumed by the costs of the degree that the church required him to attain in order to serve the church.
By the standards most search committees set for their pastor searches, a young pastor in his 20s or 30s may be carrying $30,000-$60,000 in student loans as they come to your church. This burden is distracting in the least and financially cataclysmic for others.
A Recommendation for Churches:
Here’s my recommendation for churches to invest in the best candidates knowing that such an arrangement benefits your congregation:
- Create an educational benefit for your staff. Whoever is serving as your pastor should have the opportunity to pursue ongoing education so that he can lead more effectively in a changing world. Maybe this means working towards a doctorate or towards their M.Div. If they are on your payroll, offer this as a benefit! I suggest a minimum of $2,000 per year for this. Given the rates for online education, this should allow your staff member should be able to take at least one class a semester.
- Continuing education for pastors pays off in increased capability in leadership, missions engagement and preaching/teaching!
- Ask your staff what they currently owe on their student loans and get involved.
- Create a graduated scale that helps pay additional principle on their note. If your staff member borrowed, he should pay it back. Be a blessing by reducing the principle. That way the debt is being satisfied through a debt snowball approach. Example:
- Year One - $1200
- Year Two - $2400
- Year Three - $2400
- Year Four - $2400
- Year Five - $3600
- Do not accomplish this by simply increasing his paycheck. Create a way to pay on his note directly. Ask for a payment coupon.
- Stay accountable that their regular payments are being made. You can be the change agent for your pastor's future!
- There are tax consequences for this. Consult your church’s accountant for how to best deal with this benefit.
Help your pastor or staff member understand the beauty of debt-free living! You can make a difference in the life of the pastor who invests so deeply in your life and your community!
 Our tuition for residential students at MBTS who are members of Southern Baptist Churches is less than $20,000 total cost thanks to the generosity of the members of SBC churches contributing to the Cooperative Program! http://www.mbts.edu/news-resources/current-students/tuition-and-fees/ Programs at elite Evangelical schools like Trinity Evangelical Divinity School are in excess of $61,000 for program’s total tuition cost. http://divinity.tiu.edu/admissions-financial-aid/tuition-fees/ Neither of these dollar amounts account for books, program fees or living costs.
 According to the Institute for College Access and Success, 7 in 10 seniors (69%) who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges in 2014 had student loan debt, with an average of $28,950 per borrower. http://ticas.org/posd/map-state-data-2015