SPRINGFIELD, MO. Four years ago Kris and Jacqueline Wolford made a New Year’s resolution — get out of debt.
This year, they are completely debt-free — not even a house payment — and they want to help other people learn how to do the same.
“Having no debt takes so much of the worry out of your life,” says Kris Wolford.
Wolford will lead a 13-week Financial Peace University course at his church, Christ Episcopal, in February. It will be among dozens of similar classes offered this year in churches around Springfield.
The program is biblically based, says Wolford, but it is primarily a financial program. “People who aren’t religious can still go through the program and not feel intimidated,” he says.
With an economy that has been in free fall for the past year, programs such as Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University have grown. Springfield would typically host a dozen or so financial programs in area churches each year, but last year that number multiplied to more than 40. And at least 12 area churches have scheduled classes to start this month.
Jenny Lourwood will attend a class at New Life Church on Jan. 13. Lourwood, her husband, 8-year-old daughter and mother live together in a house with a mortgage. They also have a car payment. But previous debt forced them to sell a house to pay it off.
Today’s economy is a reminder of that time, she says. “It’s always in the back of your mind — What if I lose my job?”
Dwight Amstutz will be facilitator at the New Life class. At 36 years old, the married father of three is only $40,000 away from being debt free. “It’s a blessing to hear their stories of how things have changed,” he says.
Combining biblical and financial principles is a natural, says Amstutz, who offers the class to his employees. “The cool thing about this program is that you can be a nonbeliever and feel fine about the program,” he says.
Scripture plays a role in each class. “...The borrower is slave to the lender,” Proverbs 22:7 declares.
Dave Dorey, who leads Financial Peace University classes at First Baptist Church of Battlefield, believes that the principles are universal and are as easily embraced by those who are involved in religion and those who are not.
Dorey will offer a class outside the church walls this month — at Wilson’s Creek School. “A lot of people won’t set foot in a church,” he says. “I thought it would be kind of neat to get some of the unchurched crowd.”
Dorey also defends Ramsey’s $100 fee for the class — all of which goes to Ramsey. Dorey gets no pay for his work, which he calls a ministry. “This is America, and there’s nothing wrong with making a living,” he says.
One scholar says that Ramsey’s and other Bible-based financial courses miss the real message of Jesus. Ben Witherington, author of “Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis” and professor of New Testament for doctoral studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, says that the teachings of Jesus, as well as the Old Testament, do not easily fit into theories of capitalism or even socialism, yet those teachings are anachronistically overlaid onto a Western free market economy.
“Dave Ramsey is not following Christian principles,” Witherington says. For example, Ramsey does not pay the facilitators or the churches. “(The Bible says) a workman is worthy of his hire. There are profound theological and ethical problems.”