One Trillion Dollars! U.S. student loans have reached a new high at the same time the economic prospects are reaching a new low for graduates. This isn’t just bad news for the students, their families, and future children – it is a serious problem for the church. Our students who are increasingly graduating with more and more debt will shape the future of the church. It seems that this issue needs to be treated as a justice issue across the country and as a genuine concern for our future risk-taking church leaders.  Here are five reasons school debt is threatening the future of the church.

  1. School Debt is Vocational Slavery. When you have a student loan payment of 300 dollars a month a bunch of jobs are off the table. It shouldn’t be a surprise that working for and with ‘the least of these’ are rarely financially lucrative. For example, if you just finished law school and gotta start payments you don’t get to advocate for immigrants or work for environmental justice, you gotta pay the bills.
  2. School Debt Kills Tithing. I know the math is obvious BUT if you are writing a big check every month for your student loans until you are 45 years old that is a bunch of money that previous generations had available to give to the church and its ministries. When fewer and fewer people have money available to give to a church certain people and their needs get priority and internally focused expenditures get priority over externally focused spending.
  3. School Debt Tames Prophets. You can have a conviction, a calling, and a platform but if you don’t have economic security for you and your family you can stay quiet, vague, and distracted from your convictions. In this past year I have received over 20 emails from ministers who said “I wish I was in a situation financially where I could say and work towards X.” X = some social justice issue God says we should care about. What is their main burden? Student loans and health care.
  4. School Debt Destroys Community. If you have to get a job that supports your family and your loans then you are more likely to have your check dictate where you move, when you work, and how long you work. This extra financial burden has led many of my friends to move away from their family and faith communities and take a job they hate at hours that eliminate growing new relationships in a new town. As a church this type of relational oppression is problematic and shouldn’t be accepted as part of the ‘game.’  The saddest part about this is our students are already indentured to the system before they are aware of what they are choosing.
  5. Student Debt Squelches Ecclesial Entrepreneurship. What stops a gifted and called minister from taking the risk and planting a new missional community? Purchasing her own health insurance and having to write student loan checks. When taking the risk of starting a community that connects and serves the generations most impacted by student debt it doesn’t help the church for both the planters and the congregants to be riddled with exorbitant student loans. If you are deciding between a risky entrepreneurial move and jumping through the hoops of your denominational superstructure for a benefit secure job it’s easy to see how student debt could turn the tide away from ecclesial entrepreneurship.