SAN ANTONIO (BP)–The average American spends $1.20 for every $1 earned.
Debt is a problem of staggering proportions for people in the United States -– both inside the church and out, said Howard Dayton, CEO of Crown Financial Ministries. And, like many problems, it presents churches with both an opportunity and a responsibility to minister.
Speaking during a June 11 breakout session of the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference, Dayton pointed out that household debt in America grew by $1.2 trillion in 2006 — a one-year increase that exceeded the total amount of household debt just 30 years earlier.
“How long can we keep spending more than we make?” Dayton asked.
The breakout session addressed “It’s a New Day,” a joint initiative of Crown Financial Ministries and the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (www.sbc.net/newday). The effort equips churches to help their members get out of debt and find freedom to pursue the ministries and purposes for which God has called them.
“Many families and individuals live in bondage to debt,” said Ashley Clayton, the Executive Committee’s associate vice president for stewardship. “And unfortunately, the situations inside the church are not much different than they are outside the church. If you are looking for a way to build a bridge to your community, there is not a better way than this area of finances. If you hang out a shingle that says, ‘Get out of debt here,’ they will line up around your building.”
While many churches have helped their members understand what the Bible teaches about giving to God through the tithe, they have not taught them what the Bible says about managing the other 90 percent of their money, Dayton said.
Scripture actually says a lot about managing money, Dayton said. Money and possessions are the focus of 2,350 verses in the Bible and 15 percent of Jesus’ own teaching. Proverbs 22:7 warns that “the borrower becomes the lender’s slave,” and Jesus promised that the Christian who skillfully manages the money God gives him will experience a new depth of joy in his relationship with the Lord (Matthew 25:21).
To help churches meet the need of freedom from debt, Clayton said the It’s a New Day initiative has created a four-week curriculum series that provides sermon helps, age-appropriate Bible studies and other resources, available free of charge at sbc.net/newday/convention. An in-depth conference for pastors has been scheduled for Oct. 11-12 in San Antonio.
The program offers a road map to financial freedom that charts seven “destinations” or financial goals that moves people out of debt, into financial stability and toward a degree of security that gives them freedom to focus more on ministry than on earning a living.
Participants track their spending habits and then prioritize their use of money to reach a series of financial goals. The strategy initially focuses on key issues like misuse of credit cards and uneconomical automobile purchases to guide people into a financial position where they have freedom to use their resources to glorify God.
“We want to see people get freed up from the bondage to debt so they can be more stable financially together and can focus on eternally significant things,” Dayton said. “It’s really a lordship issue. Do I recognize Christ as the owner of everything I have and what can I do to help fund God’s work around the world?”
In churches where the program has been implemented, family debt goes down, personal savings goes up and giving to the church increases by 69.5 percent, Dayton said.