David Jones is the senior minister at Ann St Presbyterian, Brisbane.  As well as being a former moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, he's also been a pastor and planter in London, Wales, Hobart and is now working at revitalising the ministry of Ann St Presbyterian which sits in the heart of Brisbane. He caught up with Derek Hanna to reflect on what he’s learnt and how he’s going about it.

Can you give us a bit of an overview of Ann St?

Ann St Presbyterian sits right in the centre of Brisbane. The building has existed since 1871 in different forms, and the congregation was established in 1857. So it’s got a lot of history, and has a number of Trusts associated with, and is in a really strategic and visible place in Brisbane. So all these things provide both challenge and opportunity.

How have you gone about helping people capture that vision?

Well, it’s in lots of little ways, but the two main ones have been through Kingdom Centred Prayer and Gospel Centred Preaching.

So, for Kingdom Centred Prayer in the vein of Acts 4, I want us to be gathering together to pray, expecting God to act. In other places where I have been I have always tried to prioritise the prayer gathering by making it the hub of church life. This is still a work in process at Ann Street, but I am convinced that this is where vision is caught- at the prayer meeting, when the whole church comes together to seek God`s face. 

And alongside that is Gospel Centred Preaching. Every week, we want to hear clearly together what God is calling us to, and what he wants for this city. That requires hard work in the preparation, of sermons that are faithful to the text and relevant to the culture of our city. We must give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.

So, unlike a church plant, there’s a lot of history and tradition. How did you go about managing the change you thought needed to happen?

Well, the first thing I did was listen, getting to know and understand the church, it’s history and people. There’s often more Gospel vitality than first appears so I wanted to hear about what God had done, what He was doing, to honour and celebrate those things and then to build on those strengths. As an example, for many churches the congregational singing isn’t always that inspiring. But at Ann St it was fantastic, and something to be really thankful for. We have a heritage-listed building in the centre of the city, a space that we can open up to others, invite them in and connect with them. You don’t want to critique too harshly what’s gone before, and you don’t want to commit chronological snobbery.

So the focus wasn’t so much to change (although that would happen) but to understand, celebrate and look for opportunities to build on. So we run ESL classes out of our facilities, the building is open during the week for people to come in and enjoy, we’ve got a ministry to street kids in the city. In fact, part of the Ann St legacy was a trust that ran an Avocado farm up near Bundaberg, and using the profits to employ counsellors to indigenous youth. So we’re going to try and leverage that experience and see if we can translate it into the city. It’s exciting.

You can’t change everything at once, so you prioritise and put your energies in the right places. And what you find as you gather people to pray, and as you preach and put God’s vision before people is that unhelpful things will fall away and become less important, and the Gospel will start to shape how people see what they do.

But I suspect that not everyone has agreed with everything you’ve done though. Any tips for people grappling with this?

I’d say communicate, communicate, communicate. You’ve got to talk to people, and you’ve got to listen to them. You have to manage conflict not by avoiding it, but by talking to those who doubt and engaging the antagonists. You’re not going to win everyone over, and even some of your leadership team may not be convinced, but that should never stop you from communicating to people at every stage how the Gospel should shape what’s happening.

So whereas in church plants you start with a core-team where people build a culture around shared values, and it’s easier to get leaders on the same page: how do you shape a leadership team in a church revitalisation?

You’ve got to show a lot of wisdom in leading, setting the vision of the Gospel before them, and helping them think through what it looks like to be elders, while at the same time having realistic expectations and giving them achievable jobs.

But you’ve often got to think more broadly as well. And that starts with knowing yourself and your own strengths and limitations. I’ve been in ministry for 40 years, and worked in  church plants and  long established churches with much history. So I think I have learned over the years where my strengths are and I know where my limitations are.

So I always try to gather a team around me to make up for my weaknesses and to compliment my strengths. And I invest in them and train them. And I’m accountable to them as they are to me. And there is transparency in that process so that we are working together.

The last thing I’d say is that you want to think about what comes next. For me, I’m not merely thinking about my time at Ann St, but who follows me, and how to keep the church on the trajectory that has been set.

So just to understand: what do you see as your strengths and limitations, and how did you build a team around that?

I think I can get people in the front door through preaching, but I know that if we don’t do something about the side-doors then people will disappear through them.  So we are working hard at developing a network of Gospel communities across the city, serving all three of our congregations. Our aim is to deliver pastoral oversight through these Gospel Communities. But we also want them to be missional communities.

We  are committed to being a multi-site church rather than a mega-church and we’re working hard at building that culture and raising up leaders to that end.

David Jones

Pastor, Ann St Presbyterian