The Bible does not give a direct command regarding whether a local church can take on debt. However, whenever debt is mentioned in Scripture, it is mentioned with warnings regarding the negative consequences involved. As a result, it should be a church's goal to refrain from debt as much as possible to avoid the limitations and problems it could bring.
Is it okay for a church to go into debt?
Many principles related to whether a church should go into debt are the same as those related to individuals. One reason to avoid debt is that it gives control to the lending institution. Proverbs 22:7 states, "The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender." For a church, this includes control of property as well as an interest rate on loans that requires giving a portion of church donations directly to the lender.
A second reason to avoid debt is to use funding to serve critical needs. Most churches borrow money for property and buildings. However, other more important needs often exist among the church family or community. These are important priorities to God and should be considered before taking on debt (Matthew 25:35-40).
A third reason to avoid debt is to free more money to use toward fulfillment of the Great Commission. A building or property can serve a way to make disciples, yet many people around the world have yet to hear the gospel a single time.
A fourth reason to avoid debt is to allow room for God to divinely provide funding. Philippians 4:19 teaches, "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Matthew 7:7 says, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you."
A final reason to consider is the stress that debt can place on the people within a church. High levels of debt can lead to an unhealthy focus on money or on efforts to increase attendance to cover existing expenses.
Debt is not necessarily always bad or wrong, but should be carefully considered prior to any decision. If God desires a large-scale project to take place, He will also help provide a way for it to occur. While this may include a loan for a portion of a project, there should also be additional ways in which God works to offer direction toward new church construction projects through the giving of those in the church.
Debt may offer a quick solution for the short term, but can end badly if not managed well. A team of wise counselors, united in prayer and planning, can help work toward solutions that avoid heavy dependence upon loans that could hurt the church or its outreach.
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