Since continuing education has been such a meaningful part of my life journey, I’m passionate about increasing the educational opportunities for our Fellowship on a larger scale. A key point I emphasize with those who also value ongoing academic growth is to have the right perspective on the financial aspects of education.
If you’re going to reap the benefits of a graduate education, you need to take the long view with your finances. Too often, people start into ministry having accrued massive college and seminary debt, and they paint themselves into a financial corner. But no matter what your situation, it is critical to live within your means.
Learning on the Go
My wife Jewel and I make it a goal both to live within our means and to be generous with the resources God provides. This is not to suggest that going into debt is never appropriate. It can be done responsibly. I took on what seemed a responsible debt to finance my college and seminary education, and even though it required years of financial discipline for Jewel and me to pay off those debts, it was worth the effort.
If you begin living beyond your means—trying to keep up with the Joneses—it won’t be long before you are forced to give up on goals you might have achieved with a little economy. One of my funniest experiences helped me learn that lesson before my financial mistakes could cause lasting damage.
When I was campus pastor at Evangel College, I accepted the pastorate in California, and at the time, Jewel and I drove a little Renault. For some reason, I thought, I can’t go pastor a church in Newport Beach driving a puny Renault. So I started looking in the newspaper and saw an ad for a four-door, 1965 Cadillac Brougham—pretty sweet! On display in the used-car showroom, the red and black luxury sedan looked brand-new. The seats looked as though they had never even been sat on. It was gorgeous!
I’ve got to have that, I thought. Newport Beach is one of the wealthiest communities in America, and I’ve got to have a Cadillac. So what did I do? I took out a bank loan and bought the Cadillac, of course.
On our way to California, we discovered it burned almost as much oil as it did gas. It began to eat us alive financially. To make matters worse, when we got to Newport Beach, one of the church deacons who owned an auto repair shop told me that when he and his wife heard we drove an old Renault they had decided to give us a beautiful Mercury they no longer needed. But when they saw us driving that Cadillac they decided we didn’t need their Mercury.
I had gone into debt for a stupid reason: to get a car I didn’t need. But that was a good lesson. I determined I would never again try to keep up with the Joneses. I’ve never had a luxury car since. I still buy only used cars, and I get along quite well in my four-year-old Buick.
If you maximize your learning opportunities while minimizing your expenses, you’ll do your ministry a double favor.
- Is there a continuing education dream gnawing at you that you’ve ignored because it doesn’t seem to fit into your current ministry? It may be God prompting you toward something which will be of great benefit later to you and those you serve. Pray about whether you should take action on the idea.
- Are you afraid to pursue further education because you don’t know how to pay for it even though you believe your education- al goals are pleasing to God? Perhaps there are ways to fund your study—through the church, a personal donor, or personal sacrifice—but “you have not because you ask not.”
- Is there something you need to do to get your financial house in order so you can pursue further education? Put together a plan for getting yourself where you need to be financially so you can do what God wants you to do.