The audience listens intently as the speaker schools them on getting rid of credit card debt.
“Debt is a sickness and credit cards are an easy way to get sick,” he says. I sit, taking notes. It’s not a personal finance seminar, although in many ways it sounds like one. No. This is a Sunday church service. The lecturer turned personal finance coach is senior pastor of a Central Texas church. Around the room, Bibles are open.
To some, it may appear to be an unlikely venue to talk about getting out of mountainous credit card debt, but two big screens in the front of the room show hypothetical breakdowns of a repayment plan for getting out of — and staying out of — debt.
“The Bible is full of wisdom from God to lead us to financial freedom,” the pastor says. He reveals that in his former profession he managed portfolios worth nearly $50 million as a financial advisor. Now, he feels, personal financial management is so important to his church members’ lives that he set up a series of four Sunday sermons around the topic in November 2007. Patching up bad credit and fixing financial woes that cause family stress, marriage trouble and depression may be just as important as saving souls.
Ministering to the financially trouble has in fact grown across the country over the past decade — perhaps tracking the growth of mounting credit debt among families. Faith-based credit counseling services are emerging in many cities and a new wave of pastors is seeing the light. Why not preach sermons that speak to the real-world financial crises faced by growing numbers of parishioners?
The focus of one of the Sunday talks at the Texas church highlights Proverbs: 22:7’s warning that “The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is servant to the lender.”
“Maybe it shouldn’t be like that, but that’s how it is,” the pastor says. “The borrower becomes a slave to the lender.”
How does one become enslaved by revolving credit card debt? “If you make the commitment to pay the minimum every month, they will never stop loaning you money. They’ll just keep sending you money,” he says.
The idea that credit cards enslave their cardholders is a stark contrast JP Morgan Chase’s Freedom credit card. You’ve probably seen the commercial, maybe sang along to the jingle: “Free to do what I want — any old time.” The pastor’s first thought when he saw the ad: ” ‘Now that’s wrong that they would name it that.’ That’s not freedom.”
The sermon goes on to outline the “snowball” payment plan championed by personal finance guru Dave Ramsey. Instead of paying off the credit card and other personal debt carrying the highest interest rates first (the conventional wisdom), he advises people to pay off the smallest balance first. Why?
“You gain momentum,” the pastor says. “Once the first debt is gone, do not alter the payments. Put it all on the next to lowest payment amount.”
He cites the experience of a family with $76,000 in credit card debt. They were able to pay it off in four years with the snowball payment plan.
The best way to stay out of this kind of trouble — the pastor says — is to pray about it and read what the scriptures say about financial management. “Start your own debt snowball. I don’t care if you $25, $250, $2,500 or $250,000. But Lord help you if you owe $250,000.”
It’s possible that spiritual motivation to reduce credit card debt may accomplish for some what the secular world of debt management has not: quashing the buy now, pay later culture.
See related: “Managing and getting rid of debt“, “Snowballing method video“