New program to help ease financial debt

More than ever, churches need leaders who are faithful and resourceful in money management. Congregations need pastors who can steer church budgets with an eye toward long-term sustainability, and pastors may find that congregants need help navigating their personal financial issues.

But often in the process of becoming Christian leaders, seminary students find their own financial burdens include education debts and other ongoing budget stressors. Last spring Austin Seminary received a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to create a program to address the economic challenges facing students. The grant enables the Seminary to build capacities to monitor student debt, counsel students about debt, and address the economic welfare of future ministers.

Austin Seminary launched Ministers Facing Money (MFM), a new program administered by the Reverend Carrie Graham. Twelve students—six juniors, three middlers, and three seniors—were selected to undertake a personal, professional, and theological exploration of money in a shared, community

setting. The Cohort explores wise budgeting through and beyond seminary, helping students make a plan for a healthy financial future in ministry. Students gather regularly with the goals of:
• developing the capacity to speak about stewardship within a congregation
• sharpening pastoral skills in counseling congregants with financial woes, and
• discovering informational tools for personal money management.

In addition to the opportunities for Cohort members, MFM offers all Austin Seminary students:
• quarterly workshops on relevant financial topics
• 4th week, a variety of ways to engage in individual and community activities that reduce spending
• financial mentors and role models to help them make sustainable financial plans, and
• the opportunity to participate in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University

“This grant gives the Seminary a focus and tools to become a place where students’ financial health is part of their preparation for ministry, and where institutional structures and practices support that goal,” says Melissa Wiginton, vice president for Education Beyond the Walls. “MFM is a critical part of raising consciousness and changing habits.”

Photograph of by Brad Chaffee