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Transformational Leadership Debt Assistance
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Transformational Leadership Debt Assistance Turns Two and Celebrates Big Success for Small Churches

By Toni Montgomery

The average seminary student finds themselves with about $44,000 in student debt by the time they graduate. On the other side of the coin, the biggest need for these graduates lies not in the large churches, but in the small and emerging churches, the ones with budgets that don’t always allow for full-time pastors. Indeed, many of these pastoral candidates have a preference for serving these small and emerging congregations.  So how do we reconcile the obligations of the young graduate carrying education debt with the budget constraints of the congregations that need them the most? 

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Financial Aid for Service office has been working hard with national staff responding to the 1,001 initiative and transformational leadership goals to develop financial tools to help students of all kinds within the church.  Transformational Leadership Debt Assistance (TLDA) was developed precisely with these future church leaders in mind.

In order to qualify for TLDA, applicants must be a MDiv graduate and PC(USA) teaching elder and must be serving a PC(USA) congregation with 150 members or less or a new emerging worshiping community.  The call must be a part-time installed position or a full or part-time temporary position.  The award ranges from $3000 to $5000.

TLDA is essentially still a loan. The amount borrowed is paid directly to the borrower’s student loan servicer toward the principal balance of their education loans. After 18 months of service in the qualifying position, the TLDA loan is forgiven and the candidate may apply again. It’s renewable up to three times, up to a maximum benefit of $15,000.

The TLDA loan is actually worth more than the face value, because it is paid on the principal of the borrower’s loans, so it not only repays that amount, but also any future interest the borrower would have paid on the original loan.

TLDA was conceived three years ago and has been up and running for two. A total of $163,000 has been spent and the first group of participants achieved forgiveness early this year.  Bryan says 40 pastors have been served by the program, impacting 45 churches and worshiping communities.  She also notes that this program, with its criteria fitting part-time positions, is an ideal fit for bi-vocational pastors. Three of those served work in positions related to education in addition to their ministry rolls.  

TLDA and the other programs offered by the Financial Aid for Service office and Board of Pensions make it possible for people with a passion and calling to ministry to see that dream become reality in spite of the financial challenges they face. Bryan says there are 30 TLDA awards remaining for 2013. Information and applications can be found here.