DALLAS (BP) -- Personal finance speaker and author Dave Ramsey, addressing the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 12, urged pastors to lead people out of debt by teaching them what the Bible says about money.
"When you stand up in front of your congregation, you're looking at a large number of people who do not have the ability to handle their money," Ramsey, CEO of Ramsey Solutions and author of "Financial Peace University," told messengers.
Two percent of Americans are millionaires, Ramsey said, 10 percent are living debt-free, 70 percent are living paycheck to paycheck, 16 percent are coming into bankruptcy, going out of bankruptcy or are currently in bankruptcy, and 2 percent are in dire poverty.
"Quit preaching tithe lessons to broke people," Ramsey said. "Let's teach them how to get on a budget.... The natural byproduct of a Jesus lover when they have money is giving."
To facilitate that, Ramsey offered Financial Peace University to pastors at the SBC for free, saying, "We want you to go through the class as our gift to say thank you for who you are and how you serve the Kingdom of God."
Additionally, he offered FPU leader guides to pastors at a discounted rate. Normally the guides cost $279, but the price has been lowered for pastors at the annual meeting to $99. The SBC Executive Committee offered a further discount of $20 for the first 1,000 pastors to sign up.
The power of story
Ramsey said the prevalence of smartphones and other media in the culture today has caused people to have extremely short attention spans, but something that still has power is a story.
"The Bible says our testimonies have power," Ramsey said. "You can tell people your story.... People today will argue with a fencepost, but it is difficult for people to argue with you about your story. As my old pastor used to say, a man with an experience is not at the mercy of a man with an opinion."
Pastors need to be careful, he said, that they are not the hero in someone else's story but the guide. People often tell him that he changed their life, but Ramsey points out that he only showed them how, and ultimately the person who took the financial advice and changed is the hero.
Ramsey shared with messengers his personal testimony, saying he didn't know Jesus when he was young.
"I started buying and selling real estate, and I got rich. By the time I was 26 years old, I had $4 million worth of real estate," Ramsey said, adding he was spurred toward Jesus by a Christian businessman.
"... But then I had done stupid stuff with money.... I borrowed too much money, and the bank got sold to another bank ... and they called my notes. We spent the next two and a half years of our life losing everything we owned.
"I met Jesus on the way up. I got to know Him on the way down. With a brand-new baby and a toddler and a marriage hanging on by a thread, we finally hit bottom at 28 years old. We were bankrupt," Ramsey said. "I remember standing in the shower with it so hot I could barely stand it, and I would stand there and cry because I didn't know what to do. I was so scared I couldn't breathe."
Ramsey surrendered everything he had -- and didn't have -- to Jesus and started handling money God's way.
"I had a degree in finance with all these letters and licenses after my name, but there I sat broke. So I didn't really want to use that plan anymore."
He discovered finance authors Larry Burkett, Ron Blue and Howard Dayton and started reading about biblical finance.
"When the Word of God intersects your life, it changes the trajectory of your life permanently," Ramsey said.
God kept blessing, and what started with Ramsey in a "bad suit with an overhead projector" teaching a small class called Financial Peace University has grown so that 50,000 churches have taught the class.
"It blows my mind that God can speak to a donkey, number one, but, number two, that He does replace what the locusts have taken. He does have a plan for my life. I still get choked up when I think about it," Ramsey said.