Personal Debt and Mission
In 1996, the Evangelical Missiological Society published a little volume entitled Missiology and the Social Sciences. There are some valuable essays in this book, including Andreas Kostenberger’s “Economics and Mission.” Kostenberger looks at several aspects of this topic, including the effect of personal debt on the missionary calling of the church. It negatively affects both missionary recruitment and deployment. It affects missionaries or potential missionaries in a personal way. It burdens missionary families currently on the field, but it can also prevent missionaries from being sent out in the first place. Personal debt amongst members can also affect the ability of churches to support missionaries. Says Kostenberger, “…excessive debt presents a major barrier impeding people’s ability to serve God and to do his work, including mission” (111).
Kostenberger mentions some statistics. He speaks of record credit card debts. In 1995, it was an average of $3900 per American household; a 47% increase in 1994-95. Last week, I saw more up to date statistics. In Canada, the average non-mortage consumer debt is now over $27,000 per household. My wife and I occasionally watch a show, “Till Debt Do Us Part.” The show involves a financial counsellor helping out families in financial crisis. If we go by the show, there are Canadian families out there with less than that average, but also with far more. There is no reason to believe that things are any different in our churches. Christians too are burdened with thousands of dollars of consumer debt. Many are just making the minimum payments from month to month. Meanwhile, the spiral continues downward. At exorbitant rates of interest, it cannot but.
This does have a significant impact on our ability to send and support missionaries. If just the interest charged were to be used instead to support missionaries at home and in other countries, we could be accomplishing far more for the advance of the gospel. I recently returned from Brazil again. The Reformed churches and missionaries there are pleading for more manpower. What holds us back? Sometimes it comes down to a lack of vision. But there is also the question of dollars. Supporting missionaries, whether indigenous or North American, is going to cost a lot of money and mission boards are always reluctant to increase their budgets, especially in significant ways.
That brings me to the point I want to raise. Individuals will read this blog post, individuals who have personal responsibility for their finances and those of their families. If you are in over your head with consumer debt, your situation does not just affect you. It also affects our ability as churches to send out and support missionaries so that the gospel can advance in this world. Your debt problem affects far more than just you. As Christians, we need to get our money in order, not just for ourselves personally, for our own financial peace, but for the sake of the gospel. We could do far more in terms of mission if more of us realize that personal debt cripples and hampers not only us personally, but also the ability of the church to accomplish its God-given mission. When we are free of personal debt, we are also free to give all the more generously to the greatest cause on this earth: the cause of the Son of God.
So what to do? I always want to be as concrete as possible. I realize there are different ways to find help with getting your finances in order. One that I often recommend is Dave Ramsey and his Financial Peace University. Dave is a Christian, and sometimes this is evident, and other times not. Frankly, I wish he were more consistent as a Christian. Nevertheless, a lot of the practical advice that he has to offer is sound and effective. One of his oft-repeated sayings is, “Live simply, so that others may simply live.” This is good advice, and we could apply it to mission too: “Live simply, so that others may simply live eternally in Jesus Christ.”