NASHVILLE (BP) — For Dave Ramsey, pastors have a special place in his heart.
This summer at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, the CEO of Ramsey Solutions and author of “Financial Peace University” (FPU) spoke to pastors and other Baptist leaders about stewardship and what the Bible teaches about debt. He offered FPU — a 12-week financial planning program — for free to pastors who attended the SBC meeting and offered the accompanying leader guides at a discounted rate. This fall, more than 15 state conventions are featuring the program at their annual meetings.
In his Nashville-area radio studio, Ramsey sat down with Baptist Press to talk about helping pastors and their congregations navigate the daily financial challenges they face.
“I’ve always had this incredible love of pastors,” Ramsey told BP. Ramsey describes most of them as “underappreciated” and “underpaid.” He said many pastors “could take that same skill set in the marketplace in most cases and make more money.”
Ramsey acknowledges his advice can sometimes generate criticism and its share of “hate mail.” He said one piece of advice not everyone agrees with is when he urges pastors to stop preaching about tithing to “broke people.”
“Unless,” he explained in his interview with BP, “you’ve done two sermons on … debt — one on getting out of debt and one on getting on a budget.”
“That’s the ratio for me instead of just tithe, tithe, tithe,” he said. Without those initial sermons on debt and setting a budget, he said, the reaction to a sermon about tithing is often “yeah right, I’ve got a light bill. That’s a great spiritual concept. Maybe someday I’ll get around to that.'”
Ramsey’s straightforward financial advice to pastors and their members seems to resonate well with them and others.
More than 4.5 million people have participated in FPU, according to the ministry’s latest stats. And Ramsey has more than 13 million weekly radio and digital listeners to The Dave Ramsey Show. And he has a million followers on Twitter.
And pastors of churches both big and small seem to enjoy leading their congregations through Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.
Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, which began using FPU in 2005, gifted the training to participating members of the congregation. More than 6,000 people from Cross Church have participated, the church reported.
Pastor Ronnie Floyd, and former SBC president, said it’s well worth the investment for the congregation’s “personal and family future.”
“Christians and non-Christians face the same grim reality: The leading cause of divorce in marriage is financial trouble,” he said in an email interview. “Therefore, we believe as the church we must do all we can to equip our people and the people in our region on how to deal with their financial struggles.”
Ashley Clayton, vice president for Cooperative Program and stewardship with the SBC Executive Committee, says the SBC’s partnership with Ramsey Solutions is gaining traction. He noted he meets regularly with the Ramsey team and is seeing interest grow among state conventions.
“These state conventions are offering FPU at a discounted rate to help their churches get started,” Clayton said. And he’s “seeing more and more churches of all sizes embrace the course to help their people become financially healthy.”
The average family, he said, “pays off $5,300 in debt, saves $2,700 during their nine-week Financial Peace University experience, which allows them to become more generous.”
“Many churches are also seeing visitors from outside of their church attend Financial Peace University, creating an opportunity for evangelism,” he noted.
Clayton also highlighted a strategic partnership with the North American Mission Board and Ramsey Solutions that will offer FPU to all of their church planters to “equip them to enter ministry in a better financial position.” More than 200 church planters have utilized the course so far this year, he said.
Getting out of debt, Ramsey emphasized, is the key to giving. “Because if you’re out of debt and on a budget and you love Jesus, I think tithing is a natural thing that occurs.”
It’s then no longer “a beg,” he told BP. “It’s not ‘I’m trying to get blood out of a rock.'”
In addition to helping churches, Ramsey said he wants to reach those who aren’t involved in church. Ramsey said he gets especially excited when his practical tips on handling money and debt help pastors lead someone to following Christ. Ramsey, who is grateful with how pastors have impacted his life, noted, “You can’t beat that. That’s about as good as it gets.
“I came from the outside world, not the church world,” he said. “I didn’t grow up in church.
“And so I want the financial peace classes to be an attraction to someone like I was — a reason for them to come over to the church to go to class to get out of debt but, oh by the way, Jesus is there.”
Ramsey dismissed any rumors about retirement — at least for now.
“I’m not fading out … we’re building what’s going to happen when I’m not here and we have to build this whole stable of racehorses to carry this place, the personalities — the Chris Hogans, the Racheal Cruzes [his daughter], the [Anthony] ONeals, the Ken Colemans, the Christy Wrights — these kind of people that are world class media, and authors and thought leaders.”
“I didn’t really get smaller. I didn’t fade out. They’re just eclipsing me is what is happening.”
BELOW: Watch Baptist Press’ interview with Dave Ramsey.