In light of our recent posts on college debt, two things are very clear:

    1. We need to learn how to shepherd/lead each other on how to get out of debt.
    2. We need to learn how to shepherd/lead each other on how to avoid debt in the first place.

As believers, we have a responsibility to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), but how far does this truly go? Should we actually carry one another’s financial burden? Should we actually consider helping members of the body of Christ in order to alleviate their debt load? Or is the debt load they carry just their own responsibility and a consequence of their decision-making?

The Church today needs to desperately consider how to shepherd people out of student debt. But, just as important, if not more so, is the responsibility the Church has today to shepherd people through the process of going into student debt. Too many young people in the churches throughout America are being left to navigate the waters of financing higher education on their own. The same students who only qualify for a $500-$1,000 credit card limit are able to qualify for tens of thousands in student loans. And they are doing so without much instruction.

Unfortunately, there is a less than cautious approach to considering a college/university. All too often an attitude of entitlement is exposed through the process of choosing a school. Rather than carefully weighing the cost, students make decisions based upon desire and hope instead of wisdom. Sometimes students and parents need to be told that certain schools are simply not a good fit financially.

Student debt is also having a tremendous impact upon God’s church. A friend of mine recently took a survey of roughly 25 people from his home church. Of the 25 there were 10 or 11 couples and a few single people with an average age in the early 30s. This group combined had over $470, 000 in student loan debt. It is daunting to consider how much student debt has been accumulated in churches throughout the country and then reflect on how all of those resources could be used.

In addition to debt affecting local churches, student debt is also having a global impact. The primary reason mission agencies are now turning away applicants is because of student debt. One such missions agency just rescinded their Bible requirement. When asked why they did this, the agency simply stated that they got tired of requiring a certain number of units in Bible knowing that those units were often contributing to the debt load of the applicants. It just seemed to be a more viable option to drop a Bible requirement and try to provide training for missionaries while on the field, through the mission.

Should the church continue to turn a blind eye to this issue? Or even worse, should the church continue to unwittingly encourage this? Or should the church actively engage the issue and actually shepherd people through all aspects of student debt?

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Spencer MacCuish

Spencer MacCuish served on staff (summers) at Hume Lake Christian Camps from 1991-98. During that time (1995-99), he also worked in the public school system where he taught English / History and coached volleyball. While teaching, he also served in the College Ministry at Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita. In 1999, he left teaching to lead the High School Ministry at the same church. He shepherded this ministry for three years before coming to Cornerstone. He has been serving at Eternity since 2003.

8 COMMENTS

  1. This really hits home as I have been putting off grad school (let alone a PhD program) because of what it costs for Theological and Biblical studies . This article seems focused on mimistry minded degree programs. But wouldn’t a cheaper solution be to encourage our churches to teach what students now need to go to college to learn? Wouldn’t that be the more economic solution? I think this article is beating around the real problem : we are a body that does not nourish itself with much depth or wisdom.

  2. Amanda is correct. The church should be providing solid biblical teaching which would make most formal Bible training unneeded. There has been an over abundance of Christian education for far too long, while the church allows the unsaved to run our culture. Now, like every other part of our economy, we have too many “professional Christians” with Bible school degrees that have been dependent on an old system of raising support from those who do participate in the economy, and as the economy falls, those charity-based organizations falls also. How is the economy goning to absorb these “professional Christians” with Bible school degrees? Time for the church to wake up and start encouraging their young people to participate and LEAD in the economy, rather than always seeing Bible school as the “spiritual” and perceived “better” path to pursue. Those who had the most impact in the early church were NOT trained in biblical “higher education.” Acts 4:13

  3. Brian,
    You bring up some great points I would encourage you to visit
    http://www.saet-online.org/theological-education-debate-wrap-up-and-my-own-02/05/
    and take a look at the debate posted there. I actually argue for the very thing you are suggesting.

    The only bit of critique I could offer (and even that is a stretch, because I really do agree with you) would be this:

    College education is a sort of cultural currency and as such is needed/expected in US society. To your point these degrees historically could have been earned at any University. The problem we are now facing is that the cost of University is so high that the average student completing their program of study is nearly $30,000 in debt. So, I am suggesting that the Church needs to step in and alleviate this injustice. I am by no means advocating professionalized christians, to the contrary, I am arguing for an education that would allow people to be contributing members of society. I would just like to see that education done at an affordable cost.

  4. Spencer,

    But are you even addressing Amanda’s point? Should not Biblical education be part of the ministry of a local church, and is not much of what is taught in Christian schools able to be taught within the church?

    As an employer and business owner, I must disagree with this statement: “College education is a sort of cultural currency and as such is needed/expected in US society.” When I look to hire people, I do NOT look first at their college education or lack thereof. We look for experience, and evidence of the intangibles that are so crucial in the market place, and that are NOT taught in college, such as the ability to receive instruction, the ability to get along with others, reliability, integrity, etc. These things are much more valuable to employers today, because they are so **difficult** to find. Academic knowledge can be learned much more easily on the job. Give me a humble teachable person with the gifts God has granted them, and that person will excel no matter what.

    There are some professions/areas that require “higher education”, but a blanket statement that it is expected that everyone needs to have this to succeed or be productive is just not true. College education has in large part lost its value, and by no means should any young person go into debt to purchase a college degree, ever. I encourage you to get Peter Schiff’s latest book, The Real Crash: America’s Coming Bankruptcy, and then read chapter 8, “Fixing Higher Ed: Time to Drop Out of College?” I just had my 18 year old home-schooled high school graduating daughter read it and outline it, and EVERY highschool graduate should do the same!!

    I’ll check out the link. Thanks.

  5. Brian,
    I absolutely love the way you are thinking through this. While there may be a degree of nuanced difference here and there I agree with you. I am not sure how familiar you are with Eternity Bible College but we are a church based school, we just happen to be an institution who is maintaining compliance with an accrediting body.

    Regarding your comments about being a business owner & how you hire etc. I really appreciate that. Over the past 2 years, we have been cultivating relationships with local business leaders in an attempt to bring back an apprenticeship model, because as you have stated most of what needs to be learned can be learned on the job (granted some professions need more specialized training but those are the exceptions). As one business leader stated, if a student could intern/apprentice with me for 2 or 3 years while they are attending Eternity, they would finish with a degree (which like it or not does carry with it some degree of cultural equity) and be far more marketable than if they would have come out of a traditional education model. He went on to state how they would be more networked within the industry, have real work experience, have a portfolio of work etc.

    Some of the difficulties we have run into however are a lack of business leaders who actually are committed to training up the next generation of Christian business leaders. As a school who is focused on equipping people in the Church for kingdom work, it is not enough to simply teach students a profession. Discipleship needs to happen in the workplace, we need to train up the next generation of Christian business leaders with a robust theology of work, so that people may see that work is not simply a means to generate revenue but actually a means of demonstrating the gospel and thus transforming communities. In our endeavor to partner at this level with local businesses we have found, by their own admission, that there are few business leaders who are thinking transformationally about their business. But they are starting to which is exciting.

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful input.

  6. Thanks for your reply Spencer. In your two responses, I am not sure you have answered the original question posed by Amanda though:

    “But wouldn’t a cheaper solution be to encourage our churches to teach what students now need to go to college to learn?”

    Where is the biblical mandate or example of college education for the purpose of learning the scriptures? The mandate seems to be for fathers to train up their children in the scriptures, and by way of example for Godly leaders in the churches to provide instruction. So unless these college students are new believers who have never benefited from instruction in their homes or churches, I echo Amanda’s question as to whether college biblical education is really providing (at a great cost) what should be supplied in the context of homes and churches?

    Your comments about working with businesses is interesting, and raises further questions, but I guess that is another topic for another time.

    Blessings!

  7. Brian/Amanda,

    To answer your question directly, yes I think the church should play the primary role in training up people & certainly providing biblical training. I would encourage you to look at what I am arguing for here: http://www.saet-online.org/theological-education-belongs-in-the-church-spencer-maccuish/05/ I am essentially arguing for church based training centers, because, as you have suggested I actually think that the church is the primary place for discipleship & training. Which is one of the reasons Eternity Bible College is structured the way it is. We are a church based college. Local pastor’s/church leaders play a primary role in the educational process.

    So in short the answer to the question is yes, the church should play a primary role in teaching/training. But I would not stop there, I also think the church should play a primary role in creating an alternative to the injustice that is is higher education (among many other injustices the church ought to stand against).

    If you ever had some time to discuss the vocational side of things I would appreciate that, can you email me directly at Smaccuish@eternitybiblecollege.com

  8. Dave Ramsey is already tackling issue. He not only has a financial class for adults in churches teaching debt avoidance and getting out of debt, but also has a class specifically tailored for high school students and even college students.
    He has many other resources like articles and pod casts on the subject. He’s your go to guy on this!