Defined by Debt

“Seventy-five thousand dollars.” The words rolled easily off his tongue, landing on my desk with a thud. “My wife and I have $75,000 dollars in student loan debt.” This young man now realized that while the very call of God rested on his life, he was now defined by debt. Every decision he would make in life must consider this debt. As we manage financial aid at Southwestern, I wish I could tell you this was an anomaly. However, this is the norm.

This must stop.

The disastrous result of student debt in theological training has recently caught the attention of several. (See: David Wilezol: A Theology of Student Debt; Christianity Today: End Missionary Debt; and the Wall Street Journal: College by the Numbers).

Those who train for the ministry are called to lead a generation addicted to consumerism to embrace the counter cultural message of Christ, who was building toward a kingdom to come. Whatever else the coming generation of pastors does, it must convince people not to live for money in this life, but to invest in the next. Which leads us to a question. How can ministers of the Gospel call a generation to turn from being consumed with money when their own existence is beholden to financial institutions?

Some student debt might be necessary. However, the issue is not what is necessary, but what is now normal. According to David Wilezol, “In 2011, over one-third of graduates receiving their master of divinity degree from the nation’s seminaries had student loan debt over $30,000. About 20 percent had over $50,000!” We have taken the luxury of debt and become enslaved by it. We are sending out a generation of pastors defined by debt.

For those preparing for the ministry, should it be normal practice to walk across the stage, to fulfill their calling, knowing the major part of their early ministry must be spent managing debt? Seminary graduates with tremendous debt face enormous challenges:

  • They may not be appointed to the foreign mission field by the International Mission Board.
  • They will consider multiple family incomes for purely financial reasons.
  • They might choose a “position” rather than a calling.
  • They might leave the ministry all together.

Toward the end of curbing student debt, I’m thrilled to announce that Southwestern Seminary is offering incoming students in Fall 2015 the opportunity to significantly curb the cost of their education. We’ll do this by absorbing the cost of one year of education for both M.Div students and College at Southwestern students. This means one year of school: free. One year of the college and one year of the M.Div will be paid for qualified students.

Click here to apply for the scholarship and learn more details.

The call is too high to be enslaved to debt.


  • I totally agree. After college, I was determined not to go into debt for Seminary. It took me twice as long, required a lot of sacrifice from both my wife and I, and increased our faith in many situations; however in the end, we were able to leave without any further student debt from my studies at SWBTS. Just an encouragement to those in Seminary, it can be done.

  • Josh Elliff says:

    I will echo Jonathan! I’m graduating in December with my MDiv and no additional debt. I did it by the grace of God, balancing work and school, and making some sacrifices in order to honor God in this area.
    It’s not easy. It was hard on my wife and I, but it can be done. It feels amazing to be graduating in this situation.

    Praising God today for godly men who challenged my lazy materialistic heart and encouraged me towards a better way of living. By God’s grace and for His glory, it’s a lesson I hope to keep applying.

  • Jeremy says:

    I’m graduating soon from SWBTS with my MDIV and zero student debt. It means it took me longer than 3 years to graduate, but I believe it’s better to go to school slower, and pay in cash.

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