Chocolate Cake and Faith Promises: A Recipe for Restoration
By George O. Wood
In 1971, I became pastor at Glad Tidings Assembly of God in Newport Beach, California. The church had just gone through a split. Our small A-frame sanctuary held about 200 people. On a good Sunday, attendance was 65 to 75 adults.
I was 29 with an earned doctorate. My father was a missionary, an evangelist, and a pastor. I was convinced I had the qualifications to turn that church around. But in the first 6 months of my pastorate we lost one-third of the people. It was not a pretty picture.
We needed $400 a week to break even; we were getting about $250 a week. I remember several times going to the electric company with a check the day they were going to shut off the power.
The church also had founded a preschool before I came. The ostensible reason was to provide income. Unfortunately, the church was sinking $1,000 a month into keeping the preschool afloat. It was just a mess.
When I describe these challenges to young pastors today, I can anticipate their idea of a solution — radical budget trimming, perhaps a financial overhaul with an understanding bank. It almost invariably comes as a surprise when I describe the solution we discovered — targeted increased financial outlay. And the object lesson that best illustrates that solution is equally surprising — chocolate cake.
More on the cake later.
Six months into our crisis I asked the deacons to begin meeting with me at a restaurant on Saturday mornings at 6. We would eat breakfast, pray, and then decide which bills to pay. This went on 4 weeks until the third Saturday in August of 1971.
Most pastors know that August is one of the down months in a church’s finances. Tithes go on vacation with the people. We were hitting bottom. As we were discussing which bills to pay, one of the deacons made an observation: “You know, Pastor, since you’ve been here we’ve not paid a single missionary commitment.”
At that time the church had $257 a month in missionary commitments to a group of missionaries at $5 to $10 a month. I was from a missionary family, but I had decided that our church needed the money more than these missionaries. At times, the offering was barely enough to cover my paycheck. My wife and I were selling some of our furniture to supplement our income.
“I think we should take Sunday’s offering and pay at least 2 months’ missionary commitments,” the deacon said.
That was $514. It would take several weeks’ offerings to cover that. Nevertheless, we all agreed and prayed the Lord would supply. After the prayer, the deacon who made the suggestion said to me, “Now, you understood that the bills that will not be paid include your salary.”
“That’s okay,” I heard myself saying. We had two children, and we were living hand-to-mouth.
On Sunday morning I asked the ushers to receive the offering. At the evening service, a smaller crowd gave an offering. After the evening altar service two deacons counted the money. When they came to me, their faces were beaming. The church had given more than $1,300.
In that church’s 25-year history, they had only given a bigger offering once. And that, too, was a missions offering.
I was praying in my office the next day and I felt the Lord say, I’m not interested in building this church on your personality. I’m interested in building it on Mine. Put my Kingdom first, and I’ll take care of you.
It was amazing — the church began to grow.
Giving and Growing
Over the following months we were faithfully paying our bills and making our $257 a month missions pledges. In September, I began preaching through the Book of Leviticus. Some people might wonder how a pastor can grow a church while preaching from Leviticus. Our church, however, grew from 100 to 300. It was an unbelievable time.
While I was preparing a sermon on the Levitical sin offering dealing with the sins of omission, I felt the Lord say, George, what have you neglected to do? I realized while we were making our missions commitment of $257 a month, we were not making any effort to grow in our missions support. The Lord was telling me to have a missions convention.
I called six itinerating missionary families and invited them to our convention. All of them had the date open. We held our convention in late October 1971.
I told our congregation we would set a goal of $12,000 in faith promises. Then I felt the Lord say to me, Believe Me for $30,000. I had no idea how I would generate that kind of commitment.
Attendance was 100 in our first service and 200 in our second service. I scheduled a Friday night banquet, Saturday night service, Sunday morning service, and a concluding Sunday night service.
About 100 people came to the banquet. I thought that was good. Saturday night was a disaster. We had 15 people leading the service — six missionary couples, a guest speaker, my wife, and me. Twelve people were in the congregation. I was mortified.
I had already told the missionaries that I believed God would supply $30,000 in pledges. These missionaries were receiving $5 or $10 in monthly support from our church, so this sounded good to them. Now in the middle of our convention with 12 people in the audience, I had more missionaries than people to support them.
As I tried to work up the energy to lead a hymn the Holy Spirit began saying, George, remember the storm at sea? Why did Jesus rebuke the disciples during the storm? Because they had no faith. Did I put $30,000 in your mind, or did you imagine that?
I was arguing with the Lord internally while I was singing. I think, Lord, that came from You.
Well, if it came from Me, then stop the song service and tell everyone that tomorrow you will have $30,000 in faith promises.
After the last verse, I stopped the music and said, “I’m going to do something a little unusual. I felt the Lord talking to me while we were singing this song, and I believe the Lord has $30,000 for us to pledge.”
I could almost feel the missionaries sliding down in the pews, asking themselves why they had come.
The 100 people who attended the first Sunday service pledged $18,000 in faith promises. I did not report their pledges to the people attending the second service. After taking faith promises in the second service, the total for the convention was a little more than $30,000.
That Sunday night I invited all the missionaries to our home and announced that the board had pledged each of them $100 a month. John Stetz from South Korea asked, “Brother Wood, did you mean $100 a year?”
I said, “No, $100 a month.”
He began to cry — it was the miracle they needed.
By 1981, the church had grown to 600, and we were preparing to build a new sanctuary. We had raised about $1 million, but we would need to carry a $2 million loan. Interest at the time was in the double digits.
“We’ve got a lot of bills,” I told the board. “We’re stepping out of a $1,200 monthly mortgage into a $30,000 monthly mortgage. I’m recommending that we hold all the budgets for this year and the next, including missions.”
I was not suggesting that we reduce our pledges. I was just calling for a moratorium on any increases.
“Pastor,” the board said, “that’s not how we’ve operated.”
A sense of faith came into that board meeting. Over the next year our missions budget grew from $50,000 to $100,000 a year. This increase occurred during our building program, during our capital campaign, and while we were in transition and meeting in temporary quarters.
By the time our building was completed and we had been in it 2 years, we were approaching $500,000 a year in missions giving. By the end of my 17 years at the church, we had gone from $257 a month to $45,000 a month in missions giving.
Chocolate Cake and Faith Promises
So, where does chocolate cake fit into a church’s missions giving? During my last missions convention as pastor, I talked about faith promises in terms of a three-layer chocolate cake.
The first layer of the cake represents disposable income. It is what you put on the dresser at night. If your wife takes it, it is not the end of the world; it is what you use to buy a newspaper, a Coke, or coffee at Starbucks. Does your faith promise include disposable income? The Assemblies of God as a Fellowship gives a huge amount of money to missions. But when you break it down per capita, it is about 25 cents a day per person. This means many people are not making their disposable income available.
The second layer of the cake represents sacrifice. I learned about sacrifice from my parents. My mother, a missionary to China at age 26, lived a simple life. In her retirement, while living on Social Security, she bought her clothes from Goodwill. “I can buy a good dress for $2 that has only been worn a few times,” she would say, “and I then have money to give to missions.”
Sacrificial giving asks: Am I willing to alter my lifestyle to advance the gospel? Are Americans willing to live on less, drive a less-expensive car, wear less-expensive clothes, buy things on sale, and alter their lifestyle to advance the gospel?
The third layer of chocolate cake represents faith. That is the kind of giving motivated by a prayer: “God, I don’t know where this is coming from, but if You enable me over the next 12 months, I’ll give it.”
When I shared that illustration, Doug, Beth, and their four children were in the service. They had all come to Christ that year. Their eldest child was Becky, age 13. By this time we had about 2,000 people in attendance, so I had not even met them until the Sunday after faith promises when Beth came to me dragging Becky with her.
“Pastor,” Beth said, “you’ve got to hear this story.”
The family had never been to a missions convention. Doug was the wage earner, Beth, a stay-at-home mom. The children did not have jobs, and did not get allowances. But when I suggested that everyone make a faith promise, Beth noticed that Becky had pledged $5 a month.
“Pastor,” Beth told me, “I almost stopped her because Becky never sees $5 a month.”
But Becky dropped the $5 faith promise in the basket as it went by. That Tuesday Becky was at the beach with her friends. She was walking along, not intending to go into the water, when she saw something in the surf — a piece of paper or something. She felt an inner prompting to go into the water and get it.
I don’t want to get wet, she told herself.
The second time, Go in and pick it up.
No, I don’t want to get wet.
The third time she finally went in. When she picked up the paper, it was a $5 bill. Her first month’s faith promise came floating in on a wave.
From the time Jesus told Peter to pull a coin from a fish’s mouth, there has probably never been a faith promise filled that way. I jokingly tell people, “Don’t make a faith promise and then head for the ocean.”
Over the next 11 months, the Lord gave Becky babysitting jobs. She made her faith promise. She got out on the edge of faith, and God met her. That is what a faith promise is all about.
Pastors need to release their people to exercise their faith. Faith is like a muscle. If you do not exercise it, it will never grow. In 17 years of pastoring, our church never had a surplus. When I left, we were spending $45,000 a week in ministry. Yet, at any given time, we might have $1,000 or $2,000 in the bank. God met us so many times when we had a need. The Holy Spirit continually encouraged us then — and still speaks to my heart today — not to wait for the money to do something for the Kingdom.
George O. Wood, D.Th.P., is general superintendent of the General Council of the Assemblies of God, Springfield, Missouri