Phil Pringle, City Harvest Church’s beloved advisory pastor, shared his goals, workout secrets and his heart for the church in this interview with City News in January this year.
Why do you look younger every time we see you?
Shorter hair! (laughs) My daughter cuts my hair mostly. She’s a hairdresser.
Do you go for any treatments?
No! (laughs) I work out an hour a day, six days a week. Sometimes it’s more than an hour. At the gym, I do a spin class for one hour, then I do at least half an hour of weights, and I call them prime exercises: pushups, chin-ups, squats, all of that. Just so long as I’m stiff. Gotta be stiff in some area of my body all the time, otherwise I’m not working out properly. I walk every morning for an hour as well, just in prayer. But I don’t consider that a workout.
You spoke to CHC about the “unshakeable church” in 2014. What are your personal goals for this year?
I kinda don’t do resolutions and goals. I know I tell everybody else to. (smiles) I live by sort of a set of general principles: To write one book a year. To maintain my weight. To reduce debt. To improve all relationships.
In terms of church goals, we’re aiming to have 10 campuses around the city—we’re starting 3 on Feb 23. Our aim is to have 20 campuses all up in the city of Sydney of our church. We’ll start about another 100 churches around the world this year. We aim to fill the entertainment center for Presence—12,000 seats. Just for our church to keep growing and be healthy.
Are there new C3 churches around the world?
In Australia we just started one in Noosa a while ago — that’s already up to about 150 people. We combined one in New Zealand, in Christchurch. It has about 700 to 800 people.
We’re just starting one in Cronulla in Sydney on 23 Feb. We started one in Brooklyn with George Kelsey, it’s going very well. We started one in Silicon Valley with a young guy named Malcolm—that’s going very well. There’ll be a whole lot in Africa that I don’t know about—that’s our fastest growing region.
About 10 churches joined us in the UK in the last six months. They’re really great churches. They’d been coming to our conferences, and they like our style and what we’re doing. They weren’t enjoying where they were, didn’t want to stay independent, became part of what we’re doing. It’s great.
At your last service here, you said “2014 adds up to 7”.
Did I get it right?
(laughs) Yes! Are numbers significant?
I think numbers are significant but I don’t think they have magical properties. So I would stop short of numerology. Some people think incantations with numbers are going to make a difference. I don’t subscribe to that. But I do think that numbers are very significant throughout Scripture. The study of numbers in Scripture is astonishing. God works in time—7 days. I think you gotta stop short of becoming superstitious. So if your birthday falls on Friday the 13th … I don’t think you should think that’s a problem.
What has God spoken to you about this year?
What He’s saying to me may not be what He’s saying to everybody. In terms of church growth, I feel He is wanting a more organic approach to worship and fellowship in church life. So we’ve started some more services in our church that are quite small services. One is a chapel service, only goes for one hour, it’s got no drums. It’s quite calm, it’s got a harp and acoustic guitars. And we’re trying to reach seniors but we’re finding all kinds of people are coming too. It’s packed out, absolutely jammed. The hall can take 200 people, but it’s jammed. We do another one on Saturday night—it’s become popular for young families.
I would think that the whole marketplace initiative and the arts being engaged will become increasingly more so. I also think that opposition will increase. I don’t think the Internet attacks and haters are going to lessen, they’ll increase, but I think that they’ll become passé. People will realize that these are people who are not well and are better to be ignored. But they definitely have had an influence on a lot of people. It makes pastors fight for their purpose and their people when they realize that there are voices out there that are trying to steal their people and influence their minds and hurt what they’re doing, what God’s called us to do.
One of the reasons I spoke on that (at CHC’s service) is so that it will firm up this church. So that people aren’t destabilized by material they read. God’s people are like sheep: the same trust and belief that gets them saved can be taken advantage of by the devil to destabilize them.
All I’m trying to be is a stabilizing influence. So that saints don’t get knocked around. Once they start moving from one church to another, it becomes a pattern, and in a few years they go to no church at all.
How do you help those who are reading the papers, going on the Internet? What about the mainstream papers? Should they read that?
I think you’ve got to make your mind up that it doesn’t affect you. If it affects you, then don’t read it. A child can’t eat steak, so if he can’t chew through the meat, [he shouldn’t] eat it. I don’t read stuff. I used to, but it affected me so badly—and I’m a strong Christian—but because it was about me and my family, and they were all lies. And you’ve got no way of counteracting them.
It’s a criminal act to assassinate someone’s character and not be accountable, to be anonymous. So we’re living with a nameless, faceless, spineless group of people who don’t even have the courage or conviction to identity themselves, while we’re up here—you see my face, you know my name, you have all the numbers to use. The idea these Internet haters have that “I’m protecting myself and my family”—what from? If you’re doing the right thing you have nothing to fear. I know we’re doing the right thing.
What can we do to help those who can be shaken by what they read?
Bring them to church. Let them feel the love and acceptance. Experience trumps information every time. And you know the sad thing about that is that there are false religions that have capitalized on that and given people a great experience. And people who have never been loved or welcomed or accepted find love and acceptance, and they will swallow anything to be accepted. It’s not enough to be sincere and believe. Once you get the three together—sincerity, belief and truth—you’ll have a really solid Christian.
And I honestly believe it’s your connection with Christ that’s the most enduring reality. Because most of my contemporaries are not around anymore—I know two from when I was born again who are still following Christ who are still growing today. That’s out of hundreds and hundreds of people.
So as time passes you realize it’s a long road, and to keep walking takes a lot of invisible forces from God on your life. If you are praying and keeping a relationship with Christ alive, He’ll keep you. There’s a verse that says “Keep yourself in the love of God” and immediately following that it says “Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling”. So if you keep yourself in God, He’ll keep you from falling. (Jude 1:21, 24-25)
I would say I have seen more miracles in what God disallows and doesn’t let happen, tragedies that didn’t transpire, than I have where things happened. Man, those times when things could have happened. That was God.
You can’t comment on the trial but have you been keeping abreast of what’s happening?
I read a blog by a woman—Sanses. She was very positive towards the church. I thought she did a really good job. I thought it’s so simple, like man-on-the-street talk. She’s going like, “What am I missing here? The church invested $25m, and now it’s got it all back with interest. Church didn’t lose any money, what am I missing? Why are these people in court?” I probably was doing a search for something when I found it. I thought well, this is good news.
I found one, my daughter did, called C3 Chookwatch. It’s great, it’s for us (C3). I don’t know who he is. His site is called C3 Churchwatch Watch [C3 Churchwatch is an anti-C3 Church website]. “I’m watching the watchers.” He has gone through and cited all these events that C3 Churchwatch has mentioned. Like when (C3 church leader) Mark Kelsey got up and said “Any woman that wants to get another woman to the woman’s conference, buy them a ticket, this woman will come along and get revived”, you know, it’s just nice. On C3 Churchwatch, it says “C3 now believes you can buy revival”. Chookwatch is going “Honestly, if you believe that’s what Mark Kelsey was trying to say, you honestly are very sick.” That’s what I mean, these people are not well. What weird thing would make you say that’s what that means?
Churchwatch has a comparison between Phil Pringle and Jim Jones. “Jim Jones: Lots of people. Phil Pringle: Lots of people.” (snickers) I’m going like, you have got to be kidding me!
But like you say, they affect people. So I tell them, don’t read the stuff, not going to help you.
What about mainstream press?
I think it’s worth knowing what the mainstream press is saying—I certainly stay abreast of it. I think it’s great you’ve got City News, putting out their unabashed version—they still do a pretty good job.
What about TV interviews? You have done a few.
Pretty much I say no to them all now, because it’s a very boring agenda. Unless I really have to. If I really feel like I’ve got to. They usually come and say “Look we’ve got all these accusations, you should come and make a defense for yourself”. I go, “Everyone will have forgotten about this in two days’ time.”
That’s the trouble with the Internet: it’s there all the time. But with television, it’s gone pretty much in a few days.
For television, they’ve generally got an agenda. It’s fairly predictable. They want to create conflict because there’s no news without conflict. So my idea is just to be like Nehemiah and say “No, I can’t come down from this great work. Come to the plain of Ono.” Have you read that? It’s a hilarious name. (chuckles)
You talked about breakthrough and victory for CHC. What do you think that’s going to be?
I can’t comment on the trial. But what I would like to think the victory would be a dropping of the case. All charges dropped, like they were against Sun. So it can happen—it’s happened for her. (The Commissioner of Charities lifted his suspension of Sun Ho from her executive position in CHC in May 2013.)
But I’m not the court, I’m not the judge. I said to our church recently, I believe as Christians we should not abandon our friends in times of crisis. That’s our job. That’s why we are involved—Pastor Kong and Sun are our friends, not only them but this whole church. I’ve been involved in this church since it began, I’m not about to walk away because you guys are facing some challenges.
But that means I take hundreds of other churches, thousands of other people with me where I go. So I have to be mindful of that as well. If I put myself in a predicament, then they’ll have to defend that predicament in their locale. Over in Africa, up in Europe, they’ll be saying, “What’s Phil Pringle doing involved in this?” So I have to let them know that we will let the courts of Singapore decide the rights and wrongs, that’s not our job to be the judges.
Even though I have no reason to believe there is intentional wrongdoing. Or any kind of wrong activity. I would not be involved if I knew there was intentional wrong because association and engagement is tacit endorsement, basically. And that’s where I’ve had to clarify the line and say, “Look I can’t say I know everything, but I do know that what we’re meant to do as Christians is lay down our lives for one another and love each other, that’s what I’m doing. I don’t care what it takes.”
There’s not a lot of ways I can be a Christian. I’m a preacher, I’m a minister. I sometimes think I should go down and give blankets to the homeless and buy pizza for every homeless person, get a little vanload of people. The Lord says to me, look you’ve got a church full of people who can do that. What you can do is something they can’t do: you can help ministers who are under attack and in trouble.
So I’ve done that each year. I’ve reached out to ministers who are in trouble. And some of the times, we’re successful. We’re seeing some restored. It’s not normally this kind of situation. That’s me being a Christian in my world, you know what I mean?
You told the congregation about how you dug deep when you sought the truth as a young Christian. How do we get people to “dig deep”?
We should have a quest for truth. Truth is too important to say, “Well, I’ll deal with that later after I watch TV.” I mean, honestly, this is about eternity. It’s all pretty serious. I just want people to make it, I want them to make it to the finish line. If they get tossed about by every wind and doctrine, they may not make it. So I think you’ve got to have a personal love for the truth. In the Bible it says in the last days, man will not be lovers of the truth. To be a lover of truth is to want to know Christ.
As leaders how do we help them?
It’s a good question: you’ve got to whet people’s appetite. I think if you can get a person to study one subject for half an hour in the Bible. If you sit with them and teach them how to study, and they start to read it and meditate upon it, they start to have an experience. The Bible is an experience. And once they have that experience, they’ll start to pant for the word of God. Not just to read it for inspiration, but to read it for understanding and knowledge.
I’ve been asking myself a similar question. How do you get people to do things they don’t want to do? Reason is because I’m a pretty willing, eager, involved person. So when people ask me to do something, I say sure, I’ll get involved. But there are a couple of things recently people have been asking me, and I didn’t really want to do them, but I did them. But I had excuses, I didn’t have a lot of energy, I didn’t last long. I got out of the whole thing pretty quick. I went away thinking, what could they have done to make me want to be there and to really get into it?
The first thing I thought about was responsibility. If they’d said, “Why don’t you carry all the fishing gear?” (because one of the things was to do with fishing. I’m not really into fishing at all.) You’re not enjoying it, you leave early, you make excuses, and it doesn’t work anyway, you don’t catch anything, ‘cause you’re not into it. So I went away thinking, there’s a lot of people like that that I’m leading. They’re doing it because I’m asking them to, they’re not into it.
So how do you do that? If someone had said, “You drive the boat” or “You are responsible for carrying all the gear”, instead of doing the tag-along thing, they give you a responsibility, then you get involved and you’ve got something to do. I think if they were to do it with you, you know, then it becomes obligating to one another.
If you’re standing at the back of the boat and you’ve only got one fishing rod, and he says, “Okay, you put it in” and he really gets involved with you (makes motion of holding fishing rod), then bzzzzz (mimicks line moving), “You got that? Now we’re going to pull gently, reeling him in.” You then get the feeling of catching a fish and you think “Wow, this is good.” But when you’re sitting in the back and they’re all talking among themselves ignoring you, you think, “I so want to get off this boat.”
So, I think we’ve got to figure out how we get people’s hearts, not just their obedience.
You called the church to make Jesus the chief cornerstone. Does that mean there are churches that don’t make Him the chief cornerstone?
Churches are built around a variety of things. Sometimes it’s in the name of the church—“we’re the church of this and this”—and because they’ve defined themselves so clearly, it actually defines that Jesus is not. But sometimes that would be true. I think churches are better to be less clearly defined by doctrine or by anything else other than Christ. And only Jesus knows if He is the center of a church. But if He is the center, then the branches will be bearing fruit.
Final question: If you could have breakfast with a hero of faith from the Bible, who would it be and why?
David. I’d like to know how he saw God like he did under Old Testament conditions. Because he’s the only one who really has that New Testament revelation of God. He gets right into an intimate personal relationship with God. I identify with David in a lot of ways: his creativity, his musicianship, his writing, the warrior thing, the leadership thing, the discipling thing, the youthful thing.