Saturday, November 7, 2009

Brian Tamaki and Gary Hamel

Brian Tamaki made headlines in NZ recently with his extraordinary accomplishment to get 700 men to swear an oath of loyalty and obedience to him and his lady wife. Now most pastors would be happy merely with 700 people actually turning up to hear them preach every couple of weeks but Brian needs more commitment than that. Now the thing that is interesting is the way that Brian Tamaki already has a very committed congregation that tithe huge amounts of money and have allowed him to establish one of the largest churches and Christian social service providers in Auckland. Admittedly there is a high drop out rate, but there is with all large churches. In terms of church growth and finances he is the most successful pastor in the country. Why should he need MORE? It sadly speaks of an insecurity with the informal relationship that exists between most church leaders and their congregations. He no longer wants to work to bring people with him, he wants to be able to assume their compliance. Only a few church leaders believe they have the power of life and death over their congregations, and certainly as far as evangelical/charismatic churches go most pastors know that they must bring people with them rather than just demand obedience.

Gary Hamel in two excellent posts on his management blog, how to tell if you are a natural leader and the hidden cost of overbearing bosses, unknowingly critiques Brian Tamaki by arguing how organisations need to move away from formal authority (which demands things from the top) towards accountable and decentralised leadership:

In traditional power settings, key decisions have to be approved by one’s superiors, but merely explained to one’s subordinates. This reality often tempts managers to ignore the disquieting views of direct reports, and to content themselves with compliance when they should be seeking genuine commitment. The result: employees who can no longer be bothered to bring troublesome truths to light and are unlikely to go the extra mile.

Now this is cutting edge management theory but it is something those who claim to be Bible readers should have known for a long time (try reading 2 Samuel or Romans 12:1-8 for example!). Formal rigid power structures are simply not appropriate to churches because they disenfranchise the people of God and instead put all the responsibility for discerning the mind of Christ on the "anointed few." Brian Tamaki's excess is unfortunately only an extreme example of a much wider trend among evangelical/charismatic churches to treat the pastor as an some sort of anointed leader CEO instead of demanding that he or she (but lets face it it's mostly he) actually "equips the saints for the work of ministry" (Eph 4:12). The leader that wants to see Christians going the extra mile in their dedication to building the Kingdom of God doesn't need an oath of obedience, they need to edify, involve, and empower all the members of the body of Christ.

But this empowerment of the whole congregation is not just for the sake of the Kingdom and the members, it is also for the sake of the pastor. The pastor who places themselves above reproach or criticism is surely heading for disaster. Tamaki complains that in forming this "covenant" he has done nothing wrong... "I didn't steal or sleep with the church secretary," he says. The problem is he has created the exact environment for himself where he is most likely to do such things. Surrounded by people who wont dream of criticising or warning him if his behaviour becomes risky or questionable it is surely only a matter of time before some scandal ensues. Power corrupts. If Brian really is a "man of God" then he will be seeking to make sure he is not corrupted by the power he has as the leader of such a large church. The only way to do that is to surround yourself with people who will disagree and criticise you and keep you honest (and yes Brian if you are reading this, I do volunteer to help!). 700 men sworn to stand up when you enter the room and silence those who criticise you wont help one bit, sorry.

Let me know what you think :-)

PS. For another perspective on leadership see Simon Walker's trilogy on leadership, the undefended leader, reviewed by Paul Windsor here, here, and here! I'm yet to get hold of the books, but after the enthusiastic endorsement of Paul and others I think I need to.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. As you know, I'm a big fan of Gary Hamel already, and I'm also a big fan of the New Testament.

    Clearly, the NT speaks time and time again of these 'decentralised power structures' - though not in such terms.

    "In Christ there is no slave or free..."


  2. Nice work, Jonathan. I particularly agree with the comment on the importance of having people around you who feel free to disagree with you. It is so important to be able to be corrected.

  3. Thanks D&J and Ryan. and Ryan, welcome to the blog!

  4. Where was Tamaki trained and what qualification did he obtain?