Interview: Phil Pringle

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John Finkelde: Hey, welcome to the Member’s Hub. I’m here with Pastor Phil Pringle. Founder of the C3 Church Movement, Senior Pastor of C3 Oxford Falls that he planted with his wife Chris well over 30 years ago, it’s getting towards 40 years now. A multi campus, multi extension service. They run 31 weekly services in their church. They also have the C3 College training leaders for leadership and ministry, Oxford Falls Grammar School, the author of at least 13 books (that’s the ones I could count anyway), and an artist. Welcome Phil!

Phil Pringle: Hey, good to be here John. Wonderful! Thanks for having me

John Finkelde: Great to have you here.  I’ve admired for 30 plus years that I’ve known you, your leadership. What sort of couple of leaders have inspired you in leadership?

Phil Pringle: Apart from Jesus obviously, you are talking about earthly leaders..

John Finkelde: Yeah, we’ll leave Jesus up there on the pedestal above all others!

Phil Pringle: At various stages I’ve had different ministries and different leaders influence me and the reason I make the difference is because most great leaders in the kingdom have come out of an effective spiritual ministry. And then there are leaders secularly that have also had an impact on me. Obviously their leadership is not based on a Jesus centred spiritual ministry, as far as I know. Winston Churchill, I’ve read several biographies of his, I’ve found him to be a big influence. I found John Wesley to be a great influence through reading the books about him. I’d say in terms of books, guys reaching out to me through that zone – Smith Wigglesworth’s ministry had a great impact on me.

In terms of people that I’ve known who have had an enlarging, inspiring impact on me – one would be Dr Yonggi Cho of South Korea who ran a church of around about 800,000 people for around 30 years so that sort of leadership is worth listening to and watching.

I also was inspired, I guess strategically, by Andrew Evans, the leader of the Assemblies of God, which is now the ACC in Australia. He took that movement from 100 churches to 1000 churches over a period of 20 years and his form of leadership was also influenced by Yonggi Cho actually but I gleaned from him quite a lot. That’s more in these recent years.

In my early stages of life I’d say that Peter Morrow was a great influence on me in terms of how to be a leader and a spiritual person at the same time.

So those are the guys, and then obviously my own Pastor, Pastor Dennis Barton who lead me to Christ and oversaw the early stages of my life by releasing me into ministry, I would say he influenced me.

John Finkelde: A couple of great Australian and New Zealand leaders there – Andrew Evans and Peter Morrow just outstanding men in leadership and in the spirit as well.

If I could restrict you to three words to describe the feel of your leadership, what three words would you choose?

Phil Pringle: I’d say visionary, decisive and fun.

John Finkelde: Well we’ve had a few meals together over the years where I have seen that fun element pop out!

Phil Pringle: Yeah, and I think the whole work environment should be fun. I feel that the leader is responsible to create that environmental atmosphere and if it’s not fun to work where you are, you’re going to lose your best people.

John Finkelde: Yep, totally. I think it has to have the lightness to it in the space of all the heavy things you have to do.

As a leader you make decisions every single day. Some are small, some are large. If you had to make a call to say “the best leadership decision I ever made”, what would you say was the best leadership decision. So I’m really going to leadership environment when you’ve had to make a call in a certain area. What would be that decision?

Phil Pringle: Oh man, just limiting it to one is very challenging! So therefore I would say that my best leadership decision is to do what Jesus tells me!

John Finkelde: Fantastic, that’s a great answer.

Phil Pringle: I’ll do what He tells me. I’ve found that it takes courage to do that. I’ve known what to do many times but having the strength to do that is where it’s difficult and sometimes those decisions are removing a person and that’s challenging but they end up being one of the best decisions you’ve ever made – for their sake and yours.

I would say that would be one of the best decisions I’ve made when I’ve had to let go of a relationship, a friendship and say “I cannot be engaged in this anymore”.

In terms of the simple answer to what you’re asking it would be the selection of key personnel at crucial moments. Mark Kelsey, Simon McIntyre, Greg French – some of the great soldiers who have fought with us over the years and walked with us, they have turned out to be great decisions. You don’t realise you’re making great decisions at the time but as the years roll by you realise “thank you Lord for helping me make a great decision”.

And I guess if I was to limit it to another area of strategy I would say that getting the building up in Sydney was a big decision, a very hard decision, it was a contested decision. It took 8 years to work it out and make it happen but we stuck with that decision and eventually got a campus here that has stood up so very well over the years in terms of training ministers, hosting conferences, obviously having many many services and just being a hub of resource for many many ministries and people.

John Finkelde: Some great decisions there in terms of personnel and facilities that are crucial. You mentioned of the hard decisions, finding the courage and strength to do what even the Lord asks you to do or to make the call. Where do you find that strength and courage when you have to make a difficult decision.

Phil Pringle: Probably doing it with others and I feel sometimes like it’s a bit of a cop out but I will discuss with others what I plan to do and if I can get a good consensus that everybody is into it then I’ve got enough courage to go ahead. If I’ve heard very clearly from God I get quite ruthless, is one word I guess, single minded would be a better word. I just say well I’m going to do this because God has told me to and let the chips fall however they will, I know that I’ve got to do this thing.

And then the enforcement of a standard, I’ve never been great as a police man so my best decisions there are to let other people do that! It’s inevitable though, you’ve got to do it yourself and hold people to an account. That takes courage and I think when I’m in that mood, which isn’t all the time, I’m not the kind of person who goes around like a police man holding people to account all day long – I don’t think that’s a good leadership posture, but occasionally (like maybe once every three months) there’s a situation that I definitely need to address and it’s going to be addressed in no other way than a confrontation I know because the person is not prepared to hear what needs to be said.

Once I’m in that mode, I confront everything. Once I’ve pulled the hammer out I confront everything that needs confronting and get it all done in about a day. Make all those phone calls and whatever else and then put the hammer away and get on with the joy of leadership!

John Finkelde: Yeah, they’re tough calls to make when you have to make those calls but if you don’t make them then there’s this vacuum in which anything and everything arises which is unhealthy.

Phil Pringle: Totally. And I think mixing grace and truth is a constant pursuit. To synthesize those two is a lifelong pursuit.

John Finkelde: When you came to Christ in Christchurch, New Zealand. You were I think in your late teens. You were a hippie from a hippie background, an artist and obviously you weren’t leading a movement back then or leading a church. Over the years you’ve obviously increased your capacity as a leader as your church has grown, as the movement has grown. When we joined the movement I think there was about 60 churches, now there’s 450 plus churches on our way to 1000 by 2020. 

What have you done to increase your capacity as a leader? Jesus has obviously called you to lead. What have you done to shift levels of your life, or shift ceilings?

Phil Pringle: I’m not sure if I’ve actually done much at all in that I think Jesus has done probably most of it and I’ve never enjoyed one iota of His processes of increasing capacity. James says “count it all joy when encounter various trials because this will increase your patience, which is basically capacity. Your ability to cope with anything – pressure, negative situations, all kinds of things – over a period of time. So while He lets you live with a situation you’ve asked him to fix, He doesn’t fix it and you’ve gotta keep on living with it for a long period of time. That trial will definitely increase your capacity. You will cope with it and that ability bleeds out into all sorts of other areas so that when 23 problems walk through your door in the morning, instead of imploding or exploding you just cope with it and that’s capacity.

So when people keep bringing negatives to you, keep bringing challenges to you – most of the things that land on my desk are the problems that nobody else can solve and so I’m there with curly issues that are moral dilemmas sometimes, policy dilemmas, huge relational challenges sometimes, financial dilemmas and so becoming decisive and just refusing to second guess the decision – that would be the one thing that I have worked very hard on myself at being able to achieve that. I can take a while to make a decision but once I’ve made it, I refuse to re neg or go back on it.

So that’s like having a door at the front of your mind that you refuse to entertain any second guess options. Just shut the door at the back and the front of your mind. You burn the boats, there’s no going back. You burn the bridges and close the options. You’re now committed, that’s it. And to hold that position is to hold great sanity of thinking, I believe because that’s making up your mind. The capacity to do that I think, it must be a strength from God because I’ve felt that’s almost an impossible thing to do sometimes.

I would say also John that capacity, it comes from knowing your weakness. I know it sounds contrary but I feel, I’ve never felt qualified, I’ve never felt adequate and I’ve never felt prepared for what God is asking me to do and I think that actually helps you to access the power of Christ. Paul said “the glory of my inadequacies that the power of Christ might rest on me”. So that I think assists me when I walk into situations and I say “I don’t know what to do here – I’ve got no idea Lord, I don’t feel up for the job”. Regularly I would say to God “you’ve got the wrong man for the job!”

John Finkelde: I think most people would be surprised to hear that because you present, obviously as a confident leader, you’re very skilful both in personal situations and platform scenarios. So that’s interesting to hear that from your heart, the sense of I don’t feel like I’ve got it all for what the Lord’s called me to do which obviously produces a dependence on Christ but it’s interesting that a leader can hold a public persona while internally can be going “ok Lord, I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing here, help me out!”

Phil Pringle: The funny thing is I will even preach that message and they say “you’re so confident”. But I think that’s where the confidence is, it’s Him. I would give Him the credit for the boldness. I think when you’re filled with the Holy Spirit your full of boldness and when you’re not, then you’re not!

John Finkelde: If you had young leader, a 25 year old leader, even a 25 year old Phil Pringle. If you could say to the 25 year old Phil Pringle, Phil work on this area. This will help you as the years roll on, in your leadership. What would you tell them to work on?

Phil Pringle: Well I’d say that if you look after the basics then everything else will look after itself. The basics are make sure you read the Bible, make sure you pray every day, make sure you keep clean as a believer and if you’re married, give attention to your marriage.

If I was to look back I would probably think the prayer thing, the Bible thing are fine but it’s easier to take your marriage for granted. I’ve been married now for nearly 47 years. It would only be in recent years that we’ve started doing morning devotions together where we will pray and read the Bible and I just never felt inclined towards that. You know you’d always hear these kind of corny Christian statements “those who pray together, stay together” and I know people who did that and didn’t.

I think you’ve got to find your own groove but certainly we would have found there were times when communication was getting a little sparse and so a devotional time I think, if I had gotten that established earlier, it leads into conversations that are more the kind of conversations you should be having rather than conversations about what’s going on on TV or what’s going on in church or what’s going on with the kids. You can actually start to talk about some more spiritual areas in those times.

John Finkelde: That’s awesome! I think that attention to basics is a great word for younger leaders. Look after the major things and everything else will work itself out over time. 

Phil I want to host a dinner party for you. I want to take you to a nice restaurant in Sydney and you get to pick the guest list. I’m going to let you pick four leaders from any era of history. Now we’ll leave Jesus on the pedestal again, he won’t be dining with us tonight but four leaders, those who are dead or living, from any era that you can have at the dinner party to sit with you and Chris. Which four leaders would you pick?

Phil Pringle: That’s an interesting question. I’d pick Churchill, Warren Buffet, Dr Cho and probably Craig Groeschel.

John Finkelde: Why Craig Groeschel? So you’ve got 2 American’s, 1 English man and a Korean. So you’ve got a nice mix of diversity.

Phil Pringle: Craig, because he’s current. He’s got the largest congregation in America right now apparently and he’s got a strategy and a structure that are unique. He’s a really wonderful person and he’s reaching today’s generation and Steven Furtick would claim him as his Pastor so that’s a worthy thought just right there. I listen to his podcast and I like his style.

Warren, because I love reading biography’s and his is one of the best I’ve read. I’ve found everything he was saying was extremely informative. John Wesley I would love to sit down with him and to get basic principles but his lifestyle would be so out of sync with anything today. I think he’s amazing.

Churchill I think has got leadership qualities that I think would be applicable to any era.

Over the years I’ve been blessed to sit at many dinners with many great leaders and it’s always an extremely interesting thing. The most interesting thing about sitting with a group of leaders is the dynamic that happens when they’re together as opposed to the dynamic when they are alone. And I’ve found almost every single one of them are far more retiring when others are in the room. They are very preferential, very honouring, they don’t try to dominate.

Well that’s the good leaders, the guys who are the wannabe’s they always try to dominate and everybody’s got their own opinion in the end, you can see their eyes rolling. But the leaders tend to not come out as in their best form when they’re in a group like that compared to when they have an exclusive dinner with yourself.

John Finkelde: I think really good leaders know when to be quiet and learn from others talking, I think! In a group like that I’d be wanting to hang around the side just recording and listening.

Phil Pringle: I mean if you have dinner with Dr Cho, he won’t say anything until the end. These days anyway until near the end. Once he starts talking you need to stop talking, don’t even interrupt him because he’ll stop and he’ll just go. He’s that age and he doesn’t try to lift his voice or anything but I’ve seen people try to create a conversation with him and he’s like in another world and so it’s better if you just let him talk rather than interrupt him with questions.

And I find, I get the feeling sometimes and people are in the conversation because they want to tell me what they think. So I’m not up for telling them what I’m really thinking. If people want to hear they need to be in a very open and teachable position. And I’m not talking about the fellowship, with peers. I’m talking about somebody who could be like a mentee in that situation.

John Finkelde: Yeah I think there’s gold in what you’re saying for people engaging with leaders of another level if you like, of a higher capacity or of bigger responsibilities, however you want to frame that. There’s real gold there on learning how to engage with a leader in a way that suits the leader that you’re trying to engage with rather than suits you. Learn to be a listener and make space and that’s where the gold comes out in those sort of scenarios when the leader just starts talking and telling stories and asking questions, that’s where you want it to go. Fantastic Phil, great insights for us.

You travel around an awful lot. Which is fantastic, you get around to a lot of churches, see a lot of different scenarios around the globe. Are there any trends you’re noticing amongst churches? You’ve been a church leader for 40 plus years. Any trends you’re seeing as we move well into the 21st century?

Phil Pringle: I think the multi-site trend is extremely obvious. All growing churches in the world pretty much 90% of them are multi-site. I think the large congregations will remain but not in such a large proliferation. I think there will still be a lot of large congregations but not nearly as many as were in the 80’s and the 90’s. I think there will be a great proliferation of smaller congregations, like between 100 and 250.

I think that demands a new kind of personality of leader and that for us, that’s the kind of leader who’s not a preacher basically, doesn’t want to preach. Who will lead a meeting and pastor the people and we are going to be present by screen or by a visiting preacher within our church and those preachers are not leaders and the leaders are not preachers. So it becomes ministries and leaders working together and I would like to think we could start hundreds of these location services around Sydney.

If you’ve got an average of 200 people in each that’s a decent size congregation and then about 5 campuses or hubs, resource hubs, location services and those locations all have 3000 – 5000 people you’re starting to really infiltrate the community.

It’s a combination of practical and spiritual. People want to connect, they want to belong and they want a community. Those are at the heart of people and that may be because they spend a lot of time in traffic, I don’t think people like traffic on Sunday’s and I don’t think they want to have to line up to check children in, to get coffee and all that’s happening so to remove to pain of having to wait and wasting time I think that’s just a very practical reason why these communities are going to spring up.

But the feeling of community, belonging and connection and then the expression of ministry. You find simply that people who fell asleep in church are coming alive because they are able to be engaged and volunteer and minister and do all kinds of things that they weren’t doing before.

John Finkelde: That’s a very encouraging trend and I love your focus there on the 100 – 250, that’s a very encouraging trend for pastors even of smaller or medium sized churches as well, what people are hankering for is also available in so many different locations around cities today. 

And I think it also releases more people into places of leadership and ministry so I think that’s a really healthy trend.

Phil Pringle: It’s a new kind of animal to look after because it’s got a lot more moving parts therefore it’s going to cost more, for more facilities, new screens, speakers and all those kinds of things but this is called stepping out and I think, I’m not sure if there’s a sovereignty in size, but there’s certainly a sovereignty in our capacity and if a Pastor can grow a church to 250 but then he straining to get it up to 300 – 350 and he’s proven he can do it to 250 so he can grow sideways instead of growing up ways. A tree only grows so tall and then it’s got to go sideways basically through putting seeds out and starting again. I think that’s how we view the multi-site thing. All that’s needed is a bit of ego management so that the Pastor’s not feeling like he’s inferior because he’s got congregations of 250. I think we’ve got to remove any stigma from Pastor’s who may feel discouraged because of that and let them know hey guys, you’re doing brilliantly, you’re exercising your gift.

John Finkelde: Totally!

You’ve authored 13 books. What got you into writing books? Was Faith your first book that you published?

Phil Pringle: It was. Faith was my first book that I published and I found myself a quarter of my life would be influenced by books. I’ve had spiritual experiences reading books. God would bring a book into my hand and it’s like the hand of the author comes out lays on my head and I get imparted to through the book and so I feel it’s part of the ministry of any called person to write down their thoughts.

Imagine if Paul had never written his thoughts down, if Mark or John had never written their communications down and I think of all the things that last – I think podcasts will come and fade, albums will fade, all kinds of things will fade. The only two things that will remain, writings (I mean a lot of hits have remained but not many) but certainly books from way back. The gospels all these things have survived and they are writings and I think that there’s an enduring character about writings.

Almost as powerful as paintings John Finkelde, almost as powerful! Paintings are another thing that do survive and have a silent statement to the entire world. Michelangelo sistine chapel still sends a message out every day in Italian restaurants.

John Finkelde: I will put a link to your art in the notes from today and to your books as well!

Phil Pringle: The total is 17 books I’ve written.

John Finkelde: 17 is it! I went through and tried to count them all and got to 13 so I missed a few. 17, my goodness! And not finished yet I know that, you’ve got plenty more left.

Phil Pringle: My goal is actually now every year to put out a book. These are books I write, they’re not collections of sermons that ghost writers bundle up together. I personally get involved in writing and I’ve found that the art of writing is re writing so I generally end up re writing about five times and my work of writing is elimination because I’ve always got a bit too much. My sermons and everything – some sermons I get up and I’ve got 40 pages!

John Finkelde: I’m a great believer in the power of the ugly draft.

Phil Pringle: Yes, yes!

John Finkelde: What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

Phil Pringle: Prayer by Tim Keller. Just finished that a month ago. Before that the biography of John and Charles Wesley. I can’t remember the author right now but that’s the best biography on Charles Wesley I’ve read. Very inspiring.

John Finkelde: Well Phil it’s been fantastic having you here in the members hub and I know our members are going to get so much gold out of this interview so thanks so much for joining us today.

Phil Pringle: Thanks John. Always a pleasure to talk with you my good friend and of any of the leaders in the world today you certainly are one of the guys who’s doing incredible work amongst churches, growing healthy churches.

Everywhere I go I hear people talking about how valuable John Finkelde’s consultancy has been to their church, to their leaders, to their teams. So congratulations, you’ve struck out on a whole new menu and you’re doing brilliantly, absolutely brilliantly.

John Finkelde: Thank you.

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