City News sat Pastor Phil Pringle down for a conversation about his sermon, his ministry, his children, the post-Covid church and why you should subscribe to his YouTube channel now.
City News: Hello Pastor Phil! It’s been four years since we saw you! You look so good!
Phil Pringle: I know. I just can’t help it. (laughs)
You preached a deeper message at CHC than you usually do. Why did you pick this message for us?
I’ve tried to form a message mostly out of what I’m feeling the Lord is putting on my heart for this church. Sometimes I realise afterwards why it’s relevant, rather than before. I have a prophetic leaning that makes me want to only preach things that “land” in a context—I think preaching without a context is irrelevant. Paul said, “I don’t beat the air.” I don’t look busy and achieve nothing, which a lot of people do. They look very busy: their wheels are spinning, but not they’re not moving anywhere. A boxer who’s just boxing the air is not landing punches. So, I want to make sure that what I speak has context. And I think that a message like this (“Given”) has context for every individual. If they can see failure as part of the process of God, then it helps them travel through the failure a lot better. It’s a pastoral message that cares for people. Then, also, I think CHC would be able to identify, “Wow, looked like our vision died, and it took a long time to get through [the decade of the trial].” But I would say, now is the time when that seed is going to sprout and achieve so much more than it did before.
How does the concept of being a “given” person apply to our church?
I believe it’s the principle of God. You had a church in your hand that God had given you and He asked for it back. He did. I believe scripture—I’ve never seen that principle not work. Whatever God has given me and I’ve given it back to Him, and it dies. It goes out of your hand. You’ve lost control, you lose hope about it, you lose faith that it’s going to work. The whole thing just goes. That’s what death is: if it didn’t die to you, then it’s not dead. When it goes out of your faith, out of your hope, it’s gone. Then it’s in the hands of God to raise it up again.
A lot has been happening with you. In 2021, you stepped out of pastoring your own church?
Yeah, I stopped leading my own church in Sydney. It was planned maybe four years before. Because I said, when I turn 70, I’m going to turn the church over. I knew who it was but we went through a due process of elimination of options. We had three options, but I really was gunning for just the one I thought would be, and that was Alex Lee, who’s a 32-year-old, brilliant young guy. I didn’t want to give it to a 45-year-old—that’s not like new generation. I want a new generation, a fresh life to get in there and make it work.
That’s extremely courageous. What has it been like?
For the church, I only know a couple of people who took advantage of the change to make a change themselves. Basically, everybody stayed on board, which is great. But I spent a year transitioning to him. I said to the church, “It’ll be like this. I’ll slowly let go, and he’ll slowly take on.” I was away from church for about 25 weeks in the year anyway, but I was in all the meetings and board meetings and staff meetings. I would let him take it [services] all. I think a pivotal moment was at our Vision Builders gala, where I let him project the vision as much as I did, while I was there. Because I didn’t want to project a vision that he had to pick up—I wanted him to own it. So it was almost seamless. I don’t think any people noticed that there was a huge change.
How are your kids? I saw on Instagram that Joe (Joseph) is going to start a church!
Yes, he’s starting a church in Orange County, California in January. He’s already started interest nights, but he will probably get underway in January. The way kids start churches these days is very different to the way I did (laughs). I just started it—“Hey, we’re starting a church next week!” But they take six months. Joe’s church will be a C3 independent church. There’s another church starting in America, by a guy called Filmore (Bouldes). They’re contemporaries and they’ll be talking to each other. Filmore had a first interest night with about 150 people, which is very good.
How do you feel about that, as a father and also as a pastor? We’ve seen Joe since he was a teenager!
I’m very proud, extremely proud of my kid. He’s doing really well. Him and (older son) Daniel have both written a lot of great worship songs and produced a lot of music that’s glorified God. Daniel’s 48. He’s opening up a new cafe. He has been, besides writing music, running cafes—it’s called Red Window Coffee. We haven’t forced any of our kids into the idea that they’ve got to be in the ministry, so I’m not sure they aspire to that. But I want them to feel that they’re fulfilling the call that suits their lives.
What about (firstborn) Rebekah?
Rebekah is 50—she is still hairdressing. She was working for me for about eight years then decided she would prefer to be settled in hairdressing. She got two boys; they’re 18 and 16. All our kids have had interesting journeys.
What has it been like for you and Pastor Chris since you stepped out?
It’s been wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. People have asked me, did I grieve? I don’t think I have at all because emotionally, we extricated ourselves over a period of time. It wasn’t a sudden, dramatic, traumatic event. It was gradual, and I think that helps. Plus, we made sure that the authority structure, the job description and the finances were all settled, and everybody was in agreement. So that there was no drama around the areas where there are the most drama during a transition. We have a lot of buildings that were built there in Sydney, which are valued well over AUD60 million or 70 million, and the school buildings which must be worth twice that. Leaving all that, I never felt it was mine anyway, so it wasn’t like a grief over that the thing that I did.
The grief I had was that I had no pulpit. I was preaching at other people’s pulpits. They say, “It’s your pulpit at the conference” but in terms of on a weekly, steady basis, I didn’t have a platform. So I started investing heavily into social media. I’m on about seven platforms, and I’m producing about 30 [content pieces] a week and we’re uploading two to three shots a day. So, I’m able to keep saying stuff that I feel needs to be said. I kind of feel like I’m satisfying that part of me that needs a platform to voice out—we’re still in very early days of that. Unfortunately—I don’t know if it’s unfortunate or whatever—I got hacked on my biggest account, which was Instagram, where I had two million views on one video and so that I think that caught the attention of the wrong crowd. We’ll get it back very soon.
Did you start another account?
Yes: @psphilpringle. So you can follow “him” till we bounce you back! And subscribe! Don’t just view—subscribe! Follow! And go to YouTube and hit subscribe! That helps me out just a little because we viewed it. People say, “You did a good job!”. We say, “Great! Hit subscribe!” (laughs)
What’s your favourite social media platform?
Instagram. It was certainly growing flat out. But all the people that are sort of mentoring me in social media, are saying “YouTube, that’s the one you need to crack.” So I’m giving that my best shot. But they said it takes longer [than Instagram]—it might take a year, you’ve got to feed that algorithm, make sure it recognises: “We can trust this guy. He’s going to put up content every day, you know, and he’s been doing it for three months. And it’s always pretty good. And he’s getting a fair few views and a lot of subscribers.” So if you throw something up consistently every day, they think, “Oh, he’s a content creator we can trust.” So the algorithm—the beast—says, “Let’s push this guy out.” Boom. They start giving you some fuel. You get mileage. Yeah, I’m excited. Because I’ve never preached to two million people. The sky’s the limit. If we can all help all the preachers who are good preachers to do the business, I think we’ll be fine.
During your sermon, you talked about the effects of Covid on the church, which includes people not coming back to church. How should we address this?
Well, the church has to come together to be the church, you know. Are you going to watch the Rapture online? (laughs) There is a dynamic-ness about being physically present with other people that cannot be replaced with attending service online. Paul said, “I long to see that I may impart to you” (Rom 1:11). He couldn’t do it “online”. He couldn’t do it from the prison through the letter to the people. He had to be there for the impartation to take place. Plus, church is a lot more than just about the singing and the preaching. We think that’s what it’s all about, but it’s not so. The things you cannot do is you can’t hang around with people before church, hang around with people after church and worship together. That’s what church is more than anything. If you go to a church and ask people, “Why do you keep coming here?”, very, very few of them will say it’s for the preaching. I was always disappointed! (laughs) Preaching didn’t even figure with some of them. They’d say “Oh, the community, I’ve got friends here, I love the presence of God and the feeling of worshipping together.” So, if we think that that preaching segment is enough, we’ve got a bloated opinion of ourselves. People ache to be together. That’s why everybody lives in cities. And I move out of the country to the city—people want to be in community. And isolation is so unhealthy for people.
But you would think that after Covid and all that isolation, they would come…
What it is is that people learn new habits. They learn new patterns. And because of the scandals that we’ve had in the Church recently, there’s a lot of justification for them being cynical about coming back. (Mimicks) “I don’t know about the big church, the mega church, celebrity pastors, celebrity preachers, blah, blah, blah.” The devil will give people any reason to not go to church. You know, as soon as people don’t turn up, something’s gone wrong. At pastors’ conferences, if a pastor keeps not turning up, something’s wrong. I know that in a connect group, when certain members stop turning up and start making excuses, something’s not right with them.
We’re glad to be back in the church, and we’re glad we could have you back with us! What did you miss about us?
I missed Pastor Kong and Sun. I missed them so much. I missed the congregation, and the team here. I love them so much. It’s been a long time since we all caught up, so it was just lovely to see them all.
Your church is one of the most hospitable and efficient churches I’ve ever been to. Your serving spirit here should be caught in every other church in the world. You’re just so snappy, so good at what you do—nothing is left to chance, it’s great. And I think, like last night your pastor said to me, “Wow, awesome altar call!” because we saw lot of people come to Jesus. But I said, “Well, they wouldn’t have come unless someone brought them to church.” You have an awesome bringing-friends culture.
I think it’s awesome to see the church in such good heart and moving forward. Not everybody could make it through what Pastor Kong has been through, or this church. It’s a tough church.
What do you think of all the Pentecostal theology we’re going through as a church?
I think it’s great. There’s a hunger for it in the younger minds. I think as long as we’re not talking about experiences but not having the experience, which, unfortunately, has become the manner of a lot of theological colleges. They talk about healing, but nobody gets healed. They talk about God’s great works—I’d rather have them and talk about them. But if you can do both, then I think you’re in a good place.