Help is available for church workers in debt

While two-thirds of LCMS church workers would speak to a financial professional if their debts were affecting their ministries, less than a third know that such services are available.

Such awareness — identified in the Lutheran Church Extension Fund study of worker indebtedness — is one of the worker debt issues that is on the agenda of the Economic Vitality Action Team (EVAT) of representatives from colleges and seminaries, Concordia Plan Services, Lutheran Church Extension Fund, and the LCMS Commission on Ministerial Growth and Support. 

The team is attempting to approach worker indebtedness through the church “system,” according to Rev. David Muench, executive director of CMGS.  “There’s no one black hat, but the current condition of indebtedness is the result of actions and interactions within the system.  If we begin toward resolution in one place, the impact will ripple throughout the system,” he said.

To start the ripple, the team has proposed that seminaries require a basic financial literacy class for any student who receives financial aid.

A proposal to encourage the Concordia universities to follow suit is not far behind.  However, the larger challenge is to build service networks and help church workers know what is available.    

Among such services are seminars on financial planning and retirement planning, offered since 2000 by Concordia Plan Services.  Eustolio Gomez, CPS director of education, offers seminars at church worker conferences and other venues. 

Gomez says financial planning goes beyond “not getting paid enough.”  He says, “The real answer is in learning how to deal with expenses.”  Muench observes that people tend to keep their debt a secret, which affects their desire to get help.  “Shame is an important part of the problem,” he added.

LCEF emphasizes confidentiality since it began offering debt consolidation loans in early 2000, according to LCEF President Merle Freitag.  “We are aware of embarrassment and the fear that careers may be in jeopardy because others think a worker can’t manage funds,” he says.  He adds that LCEF works with Concordia Plan Services to provide referrals to financial counseling.

Muench comments, “We have recruited church workers with the observation that the money issues will take care of themselves.  This approach can be harmful if it is not balanced with basic principles of financial literacy.”

Ministry does involve certain levels of sacrifice, he adds, but as congregations cut wages or pay low salaries to balance their budgets, a worker’s decision “to sacrifice” can become a penalty.

For more information, including worksheets to help assess financial health, visit these Web sites: (click on “Education”); (click on Ministerial Growth and Support under “Ministries”); and (home loans, debt consolidation loans, and home equity loans).

Posted Dec. 28, 2006

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