Get Rich with God

Pastor Mac Hammond's suburban megachurch preaches heavenly financial rewards in the here and now — if you've got the faith to give till it hurts

At this, Pastor Lynne brightens again. She knows she's not supposed to speculate about the Rapture, she confesses, but she can't help but think the dream was sent to her as a signal it's coming much sooner than she imagined. "The rabbis say it will happen on one of the 7s," she explains. Previously, she had barely dared hope that meant 2021, but this dream was so vivid that now she thinks it might be 2014 or even 2007.

The crowd gasps, and Pastor Lynne changes the subject. "It's time to talk about obedience," she says, "and that means the offering." As ushers circulate, she wades back into the crowd, laying on hands. People throughout the auditorium join hands, and as the people she touches collapse, whole rows of worshippers are pulled to the ground, laughing hysterically.

The band starts up again: "Drunk, drunk, drunk, drunk on the new wine." The lyrics refer to the biblical story about the first Pentecost, when passers-by mistook worshippers' supernaturally charged euphoria for drunkenness. But it actually sounds like a drinking song, and repeats itself for 20 minutes or so, the congregation becoming progressively giddier. Two and a half hours after the service started, her buoyant flock finally disperses.

In a video on Living Word's website titled, "Pastor Mac's Airplane Testimony," Hammond describes his lifelong love of flying. Dressed not in one of his immaculate suits but in jeans, a plaid shirt, and a bomber jacket, he talks to the camera while leaning on the wing of a sleek, bullet-shaped plane.

As a young man, flying was everything to Hammond. He was a fighter pilot in the Vietnam War, and later owned an aviation company. "Flying was my god and I needed to come down," he says, stroking the plane's red-and-white wing. "When I gave up flying for the ministry, I thought I would never fly again."

About 10 years later, though, "the day came when he gave flying back to me." Hammond had become a friend of the prosperity gospel's most successful televangelist, Kenneth Copeland, who was also an avid pilot. Hammond's grounded status saddened Copeland, and when Copeland's Fort Worth ministry upgraded its fleet, he offered to give Hammond a small plane in exchange "for $1 a month until the Lord returns."

"Kenneth became the instrument that God used to give flying back to me," Hammond gushes. Living Word later used the equity in that plane to buy a better one, and then a better one after that, so that they could travel to preach at churches throughout the country.

Hammond felt blessed, but he missed the daredevil style of the flying of his Air Force days and began to dream of having a plane he could use for aerobatic flying, specifically the Extra 300L. He was earning upward of $50,000 a year in honoraria for the guest appearances made possible by Copeland's gift, he says, and so he began saving. Within a few years he had realized his dream and purchased the $250,000 beauty that serves as video backdrop for what quickly turns into a parable about giving to God.

Recently the plane's been popping up in his prayers, Hammond continues. He meditated long and hard about it, eventually concluding that God meant for him to donate the plane to Living Word's "Breakthrough to Destiny" capital stewardship campaign, an effort to raise $30 million over and above the church's budget for a substantial addition to the building. "We must give not just from our income stream," he explains, "but from our asset base."

As he climbs into the cockpit, Hammond rhapsodizes that although it's out of his hands, he hopes the Lord prospers him again with a chance to fly a stunt plane. And he hopes Living Word members will be moved to find a way to give from their own asset bases.

The tale speaks volumes about James "Mac" Hammond Jr.'s rise. Hammond was unable to answer questions for this story by press time, but according to the boilerplate bio in Living Word's publications, he earned a BA in English from Virginia Military Institute in 1965. After graduation, he enlisted in the Air Force and trained as a pilot, ultimately flying 198 combat missions in Southeast Asia during two tours of duty.

Back in the United States, Hammond went into aviation, becoming the owner "of a successful air cargo business serving the Midwestern United States." In 1980, a business merger brought the Hammonds to Minneapolis, where they started Living Word in a hotel meeting room in Plymouth. Within a year, membership had grown from 12 to 150 and Living Word began holding services at North Hennepin Community College. Two years later, the swelling congregation moved again, to a rented warehouse in Brooklyn Park. In 1998, the church moved into its current facility, a former mattress factory purchased for $3.5 million and renovated with $12 million from a previous stewardship drive.

But according to a 1995 Twin Cities Reader investigation, the official version omits a few details. Hammond did own a company called Meridian Air Cargo, but the business went bankrupt in 1978, plunging the Hammonds into poverty. Even a decade later, while dealing with the IRS concerning unpaid interest on his taxes, Hammond described his finances as meager, the story reported.

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