I'm writing this because of concerns I have about Living Word Christian Center in Minneapolis. I have questions about accountability and abuse in the areas of leadership and finances.
The Living Word Christian Center is lead by Pastor Mac and his wife Lynn (and others). It should be noted that before starting this church, neither had any education or experience in the ministry. Neither are ordained by any denomination. At the same time, Mac is a very effective speaker and many people are inspired by his talks.
I believe a church should not be run for the monetary benefit of a few people. Of course the staff should be paid and should not be expected to live in poverty. However, the church is not a business whose primary goal is the personal enrichment of the leader and his family.
It seems that the church loaned money to Mac (almost $2 million) for him to purchase a plane (for himself), then forgave him much of that loan. Then, apparently, he leased it back to the church, and the church paid him more in plane rental per month than he was paying the church for the original loan. Also, the church paid Pastor Mac for storage of this AND ANOTHER plane (which is a STUNT plane) in his hanger, and paid other expenses for these planes.
] "CREW Files Second Complaint Against LWCC"
] "LWCC May Have Been Paying for Pastor's Stunt Plane"
I question whether leasing and maintaining a minister's private plane is a necessary or wise expense for a church. Yes, Pastor Mac travels on church business sometimes, to conferences and such, but we live in a major metropolitan area with plenty of commercial air service. Is leasing a private plane really the best use of church funds? Even if it is a legitimate expense, the whole scheme has turned into a profit-making venture for the Hammonds, in my opinion. That to me is an abuse of their position as leaders of the church. After this came to light, the church/Mac put the plane up for sale.
] "Dealing With Less Prosperity, Mac Hammond's Church Cuts Back"
This is complicated by the fact that Mac Hammond preaches a "prosperity gospel"--that God wants us to be "winners." While he preaches that there are some spiritual and other aspects of being a "winner," the emphasis is on the financial. He says God wants us to be wealthy. So if he owns a Porsche and a Lexus (which he did and might still) or wears nice suits, or his wife buys nice clothes, or if the church bought him a home for $250,000 in 1990, or he has two homes in Florida, (at least one of which the church helped him buy) then these are signs that he's blessed by God and "Walking the Winner's Way." These perks are things that he or the church staff have admitted to.
I agree that God does not require us to be poor. I just worry that the spiritual emphasis in this church is being used to justify the Hammonds' personal enrichment instead of for the benefit of God and the community. If a person wants to become rich, that's fine, but do it through your own private business and not through a tax-exempt, not-for-profit organization under the guise of serving the Lord.
If there were more democracy and openness in the selection of the church leadership, all of this might not be so troubling. There has been a 7-member board. Mac and Lynn serve on the board, as did the son of Kenneth Copeland, who is Mac's close friend and colleague. I don't know how the board members are chosen. In his Sunday talk about the IRS investigation on 2/11/07, Mac told the congregation that the board is an "independent entity" that "doesn't answer to me" and they establish the compensation. He didn't mention the fact that he, his wife and his close friend's son sit on the board. He didn't clarify whether these close people participate in setting the compensation. He didn't clarify how the side deals are made--the loans and the plane leasing and so forth. I wish he had been more thorough in sharing the facts. He said he was very well compensated, and said his compensation was within the norm for similar churches, yet wouldn't disclose what is salary was.
] Sunday Talk at LWCC Feb. '07 by M. Hammond
The IRS sent notice that it wished to investigate the church finances because of reports of apparent impropriety with all of these dealings for Pastor Mac's benefit. The church argued that the notice was improper because it didn't come from a high enough person in the IRS. The issue went to court and the Minnesota District Court dismissed the case on 1-30-09. This dismissal didn't say that the church did nothing wrong, and it didn't say that the IRS has no right to investigate (those questions were not raised). The dismissal was based on the IRS not following correct procedure in beginning the investigation. So the questions raised by the initial notice have not yet been answered.
] U.S. v. Living Word Memorandum Opinion and Order 01-30-09
I have some other questions, like the relationship of Mac Hammond Ministries to the LWCC itself. Is that a separate organization from the church? Is it a non-profit entity? A for-profit entity? Why aren't these clearly explained? Are proceeds from Mac Hammond Ministries considered part of his LWCC compensation package, or are they an entirely separate matter? Is their a board of directors for the Mac Hammond Ministry and if so, how are the members selected? Also--Mac claims that he and his wife have been the biggest contributors over the life of LWCC. This might be true, but should we be expected to just take that as gospel without more information?
In the 2/11/07 talk (You Tube link above) Pastor Mac said, "I would almost welcome an IRS audit...I've labored for 25 years to dot every legal I and cross every legal T, and if they came and did an audit, I would like to know if there's something we're doing wrong. I want to change it, man, because I want to comply with the law." I don't think he meant, "Bring it on, IRS," in an "I dare you" way, but I think he was saying that he has nothing to fear.
Unfortunately, this whole thing is reminding me of those scams where people give and give to support a mission, but it turns out that little of the money is going to the mission, and much more is going to support the lavish lifestyle of a self-proclaimed preacher. I feel very sad.
I would welcome more information or comments from anyone familiar with LWCC.