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Good morning, and welcome back to our Sense of Community Series on Debt in the Ozarks. I’m Jennifer Davidson.
Today, we’re looking at one religious perspective on debt in our area. Southwest Missouri has been identified by the Patchwork Nation project as the Evangelical Epicenter of the country. So, we headed over to one of the largest churches in Springfield, Second Baptist Church, for our next interview.
“There is no place where it says in the Bible, ‘Thou shalt not borrow.’ But every place that owing money, indebtedness, is mentioned, there is a warning: danger ahead, be very careful,” says Rich Miller, the Minister of Stewardship and Financial Development at Second Baptist.
He was a banker for nearly 30 years before joining the team of ministers here. Miller does a lot of things at the church, including working on the church budget.
“But one aspect [is], we do provide one-on-one, free, confidential counseling to members—coaching, as to building a budget, putting together a debt-reduction plan,” Miller said.
The church also offers financial classes, like the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace classes. And a lot of people who attend those classes aren’t members of the church.
Miller says that the church itself has borrowed money at times.
“Our church might not be here at 3111 East Battlefield today if we had not borrowed money to build this church in phases,” Miller said.
For example, Second Baptist Church took out a loan to construct its original building on Battlefield, then its Worship Center, then space for Sunday School and its youth group.
But church leaders knew they were ministering to their members that they could be doing so much more if they weren’t paying off interest to secular institutions. And they themselves took that sermon to heart.
“And so, the church also started talking about what we could do both inside and outside the walls with that large amount of cash flow that we had been paying on debt,” Miller said.
It was seven years after that third phase was completed that the debt was paid off … and by that point, Miller says the church had been in debt for over 30 years. Now, it’s able to start new churches across the region and across the country.
So, what does the actual Bible say about debt? Again, minister Rich Miller.
“In Proverbs 22:7, the borrower is ‘servant’ or ‘slave’ to the lender. Anytime debt is mentioned in the Bible, it’s ‘be careful.’ It does say ‘Do not cosign.’ It says ‘Do not make yourself as surety on a loan.’ So, I think that would imply we really shouldn’t borrow without a solid way to repay,” Miller said.
Miller says he owns many books on lending, spending and debt, but the best book ever written on finances, he says, is Proverbs in the Bible.
One practice taught by most churches is tithing, or giving ten percent of one’s earnings in the offering plate. I ask Miller how he works that into his financial counseling, especially if a person is really struggling.
“On the spending plan, I believe giving should be the very first thing on there. Now, if you have debt, though, it’s pretty hard to save. Of course, we teach saving the emergency fund, because if something goes wrong and you don’t have an emergency fund, people are tempted to hit a credit card. But giving, I believe should be the first thing on the spending plan. Now, if people just aren’t giving now and don’t have any way that they can see they can give because they’re in so much debt, I would teach give something to start with. I believe people should be tithing – God gives us 100 percent, and I believe we should give at least 10 percent back to him – but if you’re not giving it all now, start with something,” Miller said.
In his counseling, Miller reminds people that debt itself is actually a symptom – the underlying problem, he says, is overspending. And that, he says, comes from a lack of being content.
“People just aren’t content. The more you have, the more you want. And, you know, I love the verse that ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it.’ You never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul. I think contentedness is the key to spending less than you earn," said Miller.
Join us this afternoon at 4:30 as our Sense of Community series on Debt in the Ozarks wraps up. We’ll be looking at the historical perspectives of debt in the Ozarks, and how they may have shaped our region today.
I’m Jennifer Davidson.