Exclusive: Exit of right-hand man to become a pastor nearby is seen as a significant blow for Brian Tamaki.
Bishop Brian Tamaki's right-hand man has turned his back on Destiny Church to become a pastor - the latest of several high-profile departures.
Richard Lewis, a former police detective and political candidate, is believed to be starting his own church and will this Sunday start preaching at the Dream Centre, a community facility in Manukau City from which seven other churches operate.
His exit from Destiny's senior ranks is seen by those with knowledge of the church as a significant blow after its long-serving media spokeswoman Janine Cardno left last year.
Paul and Michelle Hubble, who had been with Bishop Tamaki since 1990, also left the church last year.
Mr Lewis said on his website: "It is a response to a heartfelt call and burden, very recently revealed, yet clearly fashioned through time and seasons towards this juncture. The opportunity to be counted amongst the churches of our nation ... is a massive privilege, and one I approach with sincerity and humility."
Mr Lewis did not return Herald requests for comment. Destiny said in a text message: "Richard Lewis has moved on from our employ. For any other comment you will need to contact Richard."
Associate Professor Peter Lineham of Massey University, who was granted access to the inner workings of the church when he wrote the book Destiny: The Life and Times of a Self-Made Apostle, said it appeared Mr Lewis had not worked for Destiny for about three months but the reasons for his departure remain unclear.
Dr Lineham, who specialises in religious history, said Mr Lewis was an "absolutely loyal" servant to the church and Bishop Tamaki, and his departure was "very significant" - the first major Maori defection in Destiny Church's higher echelons.
"I think very few of the church's achievements would have been possible without the firm hand of Richie Lewis behind because Brian [Tamaki] is a dreamer, an inspirational type of person."
Mr Lewis' new church was now going head to head with Destiny. He would likely pick up defectors and people from within the pentecostal church movement but Bishop Tamaki had formidable charisma.
Dr Lineham said Mr Lewis "has solid organising skills and has quite an effective and shrewd appraisal of people but that's an unusual set of skills to build a church with".
Dr Lineham said the development of the Tamakis' City of God at Druces Rd, Wiri, had "clearly been financially constrained" and "the speed of finishing has been exceptionally slow".
The site includes a two-ring boxing gym, a 1600-seat auditorium, a chapel for weddings and funerals, an early childhood centre and a full school offering Cambridge exams.
"There has been heavy pressure put on people from other churches to give their time free of charge."