College Ministry: 3 Tips for Helping Students Find Financial Freedom

“The Bible talks a lot about money, and it consistently communicates that less debt is better than more debt. We should, too.”

Over the past four years, I have met with countless college students, young couples and young adults who are drowning in debt and struggling financially due to student loans.

This year, I completed my master’s degree and focused my capstone project on this topic … and graduated debt-free. The Debtless team surveyed 850 current college students from over 200 different colleges and universities in over 40 states. Scholastic debt is a huge problem. We compiled these findings into the book Debtless.

We found that over 39 percent of current college students have no idea how much they have taken out in student loans. Based on our research, current students have taken on an average of $26,659 and haven’t graduated yet! The range of responses was anywhere from $0 to as much as $280,000 for an individual. Nearly 40 percent of students surveyed said that they were not informed about any alternatives to student loans.

My whole heart in writing Debtless and this article as well is to encourage this generation and their leaders. The goal isn’t about money and simply becoming wealthy—I just don’t want debt to hold the young adults in your church back from reaching their dreams! May you help them find financial freedom so they can pursue every passion, vision and endeavor they have in their hearts.

Here are three keys that can help minimize student loans and help you personally as a college ministry leader, in addition to the students you pastor and lead.

1. Talk about money.

The Bible talks a lot about money, and it clearly and consistently communicates that less debt is better than more debt. We should, too—in our sermons, in our small groups … and not just about tithing, but also all about biblical financial stewardship.

Scripture is our guide in this. Jesus talked more about money than any other singular topic, and he said: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).

Talking about money means more than just talking about finances. It means talking about our hearts, our dreams, our passions and our desires. Debt is a killer of those dreams—and we know our young people love to dream big. Let’s help equip them toward success through teaching about financial freedom.

One of the powerful principles in the book of Proverbs is: “The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is slave to the lender” (Prov. 22:7). That’s the whole idea of debtless. The less debt you have, the better. Can you imagine what you could do without debt holding you back?

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You may have students who don’t have student loans or any type of debt yet. Encourage and challenge them to continue on this path of debt-free living!

No doubt, many of you or your staff or leaders or your students are weighed down by the burden of debt. Stop the bleeding. It’s not too late to stop taking on more debt. There is hope. Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University is an excellent resource to help you get out of debt as fast as possible and stay out of debt.

2. Encourage work.

No false advertisements here! There are 10 tips to help students minimize debt in Debtless. The one that made the biggest difference in my life was working part-time while I was in college. This afforded me the money to pay my tuition.

I’ve heard it said like this: “The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately.” In order to reach your dreams—financial, spiritual or ministry-related—you have to work hard!

It’s in your best interest not to pay interest. You will either pay less now or more later. This requires discipline, intentionality and sacrifice.

It’s unpopular. Dave Ramsey, who is a personal financial expert, says: “Live like no one else now, so later you can live and give like no one else.” I have not met anyone who wishes they hadn’t paid off their car, their credit cards, their student loans or their house sooner. But wow, I sure have met a lot of fine folks who wish they had those items paid off!

3. Model budgeting.

One layer deeper than just working a job and earning money is budgeting that income and living on less than you are making. Here are some budgeting tips you can teach your students:

a. Plan to give some money away. Am I talking about giving? Yes! Generously? Absolutely! I know that the last thing you’d expect to hear me say as a person who’s writing about taking on less debt in college is to give some money away. I would rather see you give away money you do have than spend money you don’t have.

Habits start today. You need to form, develop and train your giving muscles while you are young. The more you practice generosity, the more it becomes a habit. We are living in a world today where our generation is the most moved by social justice and humanitarian causes, but so many people have created a situation where they can’t give because of debt.

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Can you imagine the type of difference a generation of people who are financially free can make in this world? When debt isn’t holding you back, you can give and support ministries and missionaries on a monthly basis, and so much more.

b. Save for the future. Equally important to giving and generosity is saving for the future. One way I like to look at saving is it is giving toward your own personal future.

Some of the financial advisors and wealth managers I have spoken with recommend for individuals to save anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of their income for short- or long-term goals.

Do you have something in mind that you’d really like? A new Apple Watch? A different vehicle? Even a home or a bigger purchase? While you could enjoy those things today through taking on more debt, the better way to make those purchases is to save up cash.

3. Live on the rest. When it comes to budgeting, you know better than anyone what your own monthly expenses are: housing, tuition, groceries, transportation, travel, etc. A big part of financial stewardship is recognizing that God provides for our every need.

One of our responsibilities in return is living within our means. There are so many tools like budgeting forms, apps and even notebooks and journals that can help guide you and your students along the journey towards being debtless.

As college and young adult ministry leaders, we have a unique opportunity to help students make wise and God-honoring financial decisions while they are in college.

They have such an advantage in that they are young. Youth has resilience. Young people don’t have to wait until they are old like Scrooge was. They don’t have to wait to have their life flash before their eyes and with the pain and sting of regret in order to make some adjustments. Our role is that we can coach them towards financial health and stability for a lifetime of following Jesus as faithful stewards.

Josiah Kennealy is the young adults pastor at Cedar Valley Church in Bloomington, Minnesota. He’s passionate about helping young people find Jesus, grow in their faith, become debtless and pursue their God-given dreams. Order his book Debtless on