Destiny Church's self-proclaimed Bishop, Brian Tamaki, said he feels uncomfortable with members of his parish giving him gifts but the rules were written by the church's elders.
Bishop Tamaki appeared on RadioLive today and was questioned on the gifts.
"We don't expect it. We feel very uncomfortable with even a small gift," he said.
He was also asked if people were allowed to question him and other leaders of his church.
"I am accountable, we have a board of National Elders which I am accountable to," Bishop Tamaki said.
But he said there are some "non-negotiables" when people joined up. Just what those are, Bishop Tamaki was not asked but said it was like a company's vision statement and could not be changed.
"If you join the church, you're joining us, we're not joining you," Bishop Tamaki said.
He said there was no peer pressure if people did not want to donate but the church did have running costs and tithing was in the bible.
"There is no way I put pressure on anyone," Bishop Tamaki said.
He was also questioned about his lavish lifestyle and million dollar home.
"So what? I've never been on the benefit and I worked hard.
"It was never in my mind or heart that this vocation is the vocation you take to make money, in fact I was warned off by my relatives," Bishop Tamaki said.
He said he had been ready to take a vow of poverty but that was not what God wanted.
The vast majority of the 20 or so callers to the station spoke in support of the Bishop and at one point co-host John Tamahere said to his colleague Willie Jackson: "Willie, he's starting to win me over here".
Bishop Tamaki's guest spot on Radio Live comes as controversy surrounds the Destiny Church's Brisbane branch.
The beleaguered church was putting on a brave face yesterday as a new preacher arrived to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Pastor Andrew Stock.
But his replacement, Phil Kingi, was vague about the church's future in the city, or its ability to woo back followers after almost half left with Pastor Stock on Sunday.
"We are excited about building the church. It will be great," he told Campbell Live yesterday.
"Things will unfold later on."
Spokesman Richard Lewis said Destiny was "committed to the ongoing success of the Brisbane church" and was pleased with the strong support of local members.
"We believe our church will appeal to Kiwis and particularly Maori who are well numbered in Brisbane. The new pastors carry the Destiny vision strongly and have the experience to move this church forward so we are very excited about the future."
Pastors Phil and Patty Kingi - of Te Arawa and Ngati Tuwharetoa descent respectively - have been involved in the Destiny leadership for about 10 years. Senior church leaders - including Bishop Brian Tamaki - could not be contacted yesterday.
The practice of tithing, or donating a percentage of one's income to the church, has brought bad publicity to Destiny, but the custom is common in many New Zealand churches.
A former employee of Destiny Church said Bishop Tamaki was given up to $500,000 every year in donations from Destiny Church members, on top of a six-figure salary.
However, donations given to other churches are usually voluntary and used for church initiatives, property maintenance and stipends for ministers.
Dr Graham Redding of the Presbyterian Church said many of its 30,000 members donated money, though there was no requirement to do so.
In 2008, its 416 churches received $29 million in offerings.
About 10 per cent of a congregation's income goes towards the church's work throughout the country - including foodbanks, music programmes for children and community gardens.
David Bush, general secretary of the Methodist Church, also said it was not mandatory for its 20,000 members to tithe although many of its congregations were dependent on donations.
He said a significant proportion of donations was spent on stipends for its clergy.
Anthony Wilson, spokesman for the Church of Latter Day Saints, said many of its 100,000 members offered 10 per cent of their earnings to assist the church with its running costs and initiatives.
He said the clergy was entirely voluntary at the congregational level, and senior members of staff worked without receiving any remuneration.
Angela Pyke, communications adviser for the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, said the church's 520,000 members were not required to tithe.
She said monetary gifts were spent on a range of church activities including education, property, clergy and parish maintenance.
- NZ HERALD ONLINE