The Ezra Team
The Ezra Team is a group of church leaders meeting regularly throughout 2021 to help lay the foundation for our church's future. The group will offer various forums for conversation and feedback, culminating in a series of recommendations for how we move forward. Below, you'll find each public update that the team has shared along the way. For questions or comments, you can always email pastor Jeremy (email@example.com).
A Joint Update with the Leadership Task Force - 9/15/21 - PDF available here
I want to offer a brief update on the work of the Ezra Team and the Leadership Task Force (LTF). This update is offered in part as a reminder that we need your feedback now to ensure we account for the needs and goals of our entire church before any final decisions are made.
As you may recall, the Ezra team is working to discern a vision for how we can most faithfully and effectively build on the amazing legacy that we’ve inherited. As previously discussed in updates and a town hall, we believe we are called to be a mission minded church and to embrace our location as part of who we want to be. Doing so means at least that we expect 1) to prioritize opportunities to meet and serve people in concrete, tangible ways (like offering food or school supplies); and 2) that the primary reason many people will choose to call this place their church home (and even drive from miles away) is because of the difference we make here in this community.
Also shared in updates and the previous town hall, the Ezra Team recommends simplifying our church leadership structure. That recommendation was received by the Administrative Council, which formed the LTF as a way to study the leadership model offered in the book Mission Possible. This book, written by two United Methodist leaders and following the guidelines of our Book of Discipline, argues that accountability and simplicity are essential for sound and strategic leadership.
Rather than four administrative committees (Finance, SPRC, Trustees, and Ad Council), our church would have one, 9-member "Leadership Board" fulfilling the policy and decision making functions of all 4 committees. Rather than a multitude of separate and unconnected ministry committees and nominated positions, the essential leadership for growing our community (welcoming new people, inspiring generosity and stewardship, finding new ways to serve, etc.) would be organized into 3 Growth Teams (Hospitality, Gifts, and Generosity), plus the board and staff.
On one level, this move would not directly change anything the church is currently doing. It would, however, clarify 1) how each part of our church’s life and mission fits in with the rest; 2) what are the most essential roles and functions that will help us be successful; and 3) who will be responsible for making the decisions that do impact specific ministries, budgets, schedules, etc. Simplifying helps us focus on growing in discipleship and emphasizing the work that means the most.
Finally, simplicity will enable us to make better strategic decisions. The most concrete example can be found in strategic partnerships. We currently have partnerships with Fort Bend Hope (we provide volunteers and space for their vital community support) and with Two Lives Changed (who rents space from us for their Teen Life support group meetings). Simplifying our structure makes it much easier to imagine how such partnerships could be part of an overall strategy to multiply what we can accomplish and stabilize our financial situation.
It is clear at this point in the work of the LTF that our group will bring a recommendation for consideration. A final draft of that proposal will be brought to the October Administrative council meeting (Oct. 12th @ 7:15pm), which is why we’d be grateful for initial feedback or questions now!
A much more extensive report will be shared from the Ezra team in November. However, it is worth stating now that the formation of the LTF will be the only actionable recommendation of the Ezra Team’s work. The remainder of the report will offer thoughts, frameworks, suggestions, and more for our current and future leaders to consider in their respective areas of responsibility. If you have questions, concerns, or other feedback, reach out to me or a team member as listed below.
Pastor Jeremy (on behalf of the LTF and Ezra Teams)
Ezra Team: Elaine Bowman, Ryan Gagnon, Andrew Phillips, Pauline Storey, Linda Albrecht, Clarissa Fuentes, Connie Phillips, and Jennifer Hartmann
LTF: Johnnie Cooper, Leah Pence, Laura Ronspiez, Kath Derry, and Linda Seay
Task Force Update - 7/14/21
This is a quick update to let everyone know that the recommendation from the Ezra team was officially approved by the administrative council last night (see the town hall below for details). In short, a task force was created to explore a potential leadership structure change based on the book Mission Possible. That task force will check in with our various administrative committees in September and report to the October administrative council meeting. If a structure change is approved at that meeting, it would be officially voted upon at a charge conference later this year. We'll also work to share as much information as possible publicly along the way, but questions or concerns are always welcome (firstname.lastname@example.org)!
Our task force members are Johnnie Cooper, Kath Derry, Leah Pence, Linda Seay, and Laura Ronspiez. Please be in prayer for these leaders who will play a huge role in our discernment process as we continue working to lay the foundation for the future of all that God will do through us.
Sunday Worship, July 11th
Sunday's sermon was a blend between a normal sermon and a follow up town hall. Starts about 13:40.
Notes from our 6/27/21 Town Hall
Thank you to everyone who made it out to the town hall meeting to hear more about the Ezra team's work! A few helpful notes and links below, whether or not you were able to make it in person -
The following is a recommendation from the team to the Ad Council for our 7/13/21 Meeting:
The Ezra team recommends the formation of a task force to explore a change to our church leadership structure. The task force will meet regularly to explore the book Mission Possible, a book written by two leaders in the UMC that explores a simplified leadership team. We believe the simplified structure will help us overcome some of our past challenges and best position our church for future success. The task force will bring to the 2021 Charge Conference meeting a specific recommendation for our 2022 leadership structure and, in conversation with the Ezra team and our current Lay Leadership committee, a slate of nominations.
Town Hall - Sunday 6/27/21 @ 11am!
The Ezra Team will host a town hall after worship in order to invite conversation around the work we have done so far and let you know about next steps. Our Food, Family, and Faith sermon series - viewable here and our most recent Ezra team update (found below) provide the context and background for our conversation. We'll also record the town hall so that you can offer any feedback even if you can't be present. Light refreshments provided.
Ezra Team Update - 5/10/21
This is a fairly lengthy update that will summarize what the Ezra Team has been up to and where our work is headed for the remainder of the year. As always, your feedback, questions, or concerns are greatly appreciated! The Ezra Team is working to lay the foundation for the future of what God will do through Rosenberg FUMC. However, we have no authority to make final decisions or alter official church policies and expectations. Any final decisions are in YOUR hands as church members, faithful supporters, and/or leaders. I’ve spent the last 4 weeks focusing in worship on the Food, Family, and Faith framework as a way to think about what the church is doing when it’s doing its best - we meet basic needs, in a way that builds relationships, that reflect God’s love for us. That framework helps name the broad direction in which the Ezra Team intends to go.
Below, I’ll share a more specific and practical list of things we’ll do to start moving in that direction. I’ll also share 3 priorities that will shape how we hope to accomplish our tasks. Again, we aren’t a committee that can make final decisions. We are doing the hard and slow work of discernment to help our whole church family catch a glimpse of our preferred future. Ezra tells the story of God’s people building for the future on the foundation of all that came before. That is our task as well. As our work gets more practical and as we begin to finalize any recommendations that would require official approval or votes, we’ll search for more formal or official ways to get feedback and conversation (perhaps conversations with committees or a town hall style gathering). For now, you can call (512-468-2233) or email (email@example.com) any time to share your thoughts!
Recapping Our Conversations Thus Far:
A Next Step Priorities document was developed last summer in response to the church’s shared recognition that we need to make changes; and it expressed the clear desire of the church leadership to prioritize making a bigger impact in ministry over cutting costs and pulling back (though both are necessary).
The Ezra team was conceived primarily as a way to have the conversations necessary to take steps in that direction.
I shared the Food, Family, and Faith framework as an expression of the most consistent words I’ve heard in conversations about what has made this church so successful and impactful in the past. That framework is a very rough outline of how we can begin to think of the “why” that undergirds our decisions and priorities.
The Food, Family, Faith framework is also the focus of Sunday’s sermons between 4/18 and 5/9, which can be viewed on our church Youtube page.
From our early conversations and in light of the above framework also came a clear sense that we are called to invest in and grow where we are planted as a Missional Hub church (I created the linked pdf. There are hundreds of ways to differentiate types of churches; this was created as a tool to have meaningful conversation around what we are called to do/be).
The team then did some research to get a sense for a) what type of mission and assistance work is already being done and, thereby, b) who potential partner organizations might be in the future, and c) where our unique contributions might fit in.
We then explored initial thoughts and concerns related to the areas of Leadership, Membership, Stewardship, and Partnership (these were the 4 areas identified in the original Ezra Team document in which there are key questions we hope to address).
A few other tools and articles have been discussed along the way to consider how to make change and what alternate ways of doing things might look like. All of this discussion set the context for our work of defining a group “to do” list and the relevant priorities for how we’ll go about doing that work.
The Team’s to do list for the rest of the year:
Clarify Our Why - we’ll work to finalize a mission statement or some other way to name the core sense of what we are called to do and why our church exists. Clarifying our “why” is essential for being able to prioritize, strategize, and make good decisions as a church.
Community Values - we’ll define a clear set of values for how we, as a church and as leaders, do all that we do.
Individual behaviors - we’ll name a set of values/behaviors that clarify who we, as church members and followers of Jesus, are and what growth will look like if we’re successful in doing what we say we’re trying to do.
A pathway for growth - we’ll create a simple pathway with concrete steps to help everyone clarify where they are now and how growth can happen. A sample that I worked on but was never implemented from a previous church can be found here. Another example from a large Methodist church in Houston is here.
Develop an org chart - we’ll seek clarity on who does and/or ought to do what and how we can best structure/coordinate the work of staff, leaders, members, and everyone else.
Develop a facility stewardship model/plan - we’ll put numbers on paper to name what it costs to run our facilities and offer suggestions for what may be best to rent/sell/better use.
Evaluate our policies - the church will need to reconsider all its policies in light of the above mission, values, and priorities. The Ezra Team won’t write policies (we don’t have the authority and likely don’t have the time to make actual changes anyway), but we will take a look at our current policies to start the conversation regarding what kinds of changes might better reflect our mission and values going forward.
Consider implications for worship - we’ll consider what changes might be implied by the rest of our work. Again, we won’t have time to get very detailed, but our worship service(s) have been in need of some direction and clarity for a long time.
Priorities (how the Ezra Team will approach its work) - Each priority and a simple definition will be offered. I’ll also share a couple of historical problems/challenges to which our group is responding and name something constructive that we hope to build/build upon.
Empower and Equip, far more than Authorize and Do
A brief definition - Church programs and leadership aren’t here to provide services and dictate exactly what gets done. We want to instead cast a clear vision and mission, train leaders, facilitate what people are passionate about, identify and talk about a shared sense of purpose, and clear the way for what matters most. There will be and always have to be policies, expectations, and guidelines for what must and what cannot be done (such as how money is spent or who can work with kids); our priority is to ensure these things create clear boundaries for ministry rather than restrict or control it. Everyone who wants to support the work of the church should be able to find a way to do so that fits their gifts and desires; creating an exhaustive task and job list ahead of time or requiring specific approval for every new idea doesn’t create the space or give permission for people to do so.
Challenges we’ve faced - few things sap the passion out of someone more than a complicated approval process, aimlessness, or the feeling that hard work has gone nowhere. Conversely, a centralized, authoritative push in the wrong direction can spark division and conflict (at least the attempt at a second campus is an example of that dynamic in our not too distant past). The more we can set a direction, put necessary rules in place, and equip folks to take it from there, the more likely we are to see impactful, innovative, and life changing events and programs spring up.
The legacy on which we’re building - almost every one of the most impactful and important memories that are shared about this church relate to an event or ministry that grew when someone got an idea, felt passionately about seeing something done, and figured out how to make it happen. We hope to develop policies, structure, and training that facilitate this process and create the space for such ministries/events to flourish and make a difference. We desire to help our members and neighbors find their next step to go deeper rather than think we have all the answers already.
Simplify what must be done so that we can focus on the purpose that gives us life
A brief definition - Administrative or business work like budget and policy setting, maintenance, HR for the staff, etc is necessary and vital work. However, this “business” type work is the kind of work that lays the foundation for the “ministry” work we are actually called to do - feed people, build relationships, worship, study, etc. We need to simplify the foundation work as much as possible to create more time and space for fulfilling our unique purpose. We also need to give people clear guidelines or boundaries for what does and doesn’t need permission so there are far fewer bottlenecks and far more opportunities to put our gifts to use. The goal is not to take jobs away, but to build flexibility into our structure so that we can all better utilize our unique gifts in a way that brings us joy in service of our common purpose.
Challenges we’ve faced - We’ve heard it expressed from multiple dedicated volunteers and church leaders - they desire to serve and lead the work of the church… but just don’t ask them to sit through committee meetings and stare at reports! Having to struggle to fill every open space also leads to people being asked to serve in a capacity that doesn’t match their knowledge, skills, abilities, or desires. Given our limited numbers and the respective roles of “business” and “ministry” work, the more we can simplify the former, the more we’ll be able to dedicate the time, resources, and people needed to be successful in the latter. It’s also very hard to be strategic about decisions that require partial approval from multiple groups.
The legacy on which we’re building - our church is similar to most other organizations in that a handful of dedicated volunteers do a majority of the work, a large group of folks is willing and ready to help with specific things when asked, and there are some who come occasionally but aren’t interested in a larger commitment. Simplifying what must be done helps structure ourselves in a way to embrace that reality and free up more of our dedicated volunteers to do the kind of work where they can see the difference being made rather than simply doing what must be done.
Intentional growth with eyes wide open
A brief definition - Church growth doesn’t happen just because we think it would be a good thing. And when growth happens, it always brings some level of change. To make a significant difference, we have to intentionally focus on processes more than postcards. That means creating structures and teams that guide people in and teach us how to grow rather than simply sending out an invite and assuming people can take it from there. Being fully welcoming also means valuing some else’s experience at least as much as our comfort. Something as simple as reciting the Lord’s Prayer or not knowing if members are required to give financially can feel very uncomfortable for someone who has never been in church before. To intentionally grow, our first instinct can’t be one of defensiveness about what we’re used to. Our first step is to help people find meaning and purpose in what is essential and to figure out what non-essential items we might need to give up.
Challenges we’ve faced - Many of the best events or programs that have happened were not set up in a way to lead to something else. No matter how successful programs were, there wasn’t sustainable growth in other areas of the church. This has played a role in the extent to which even the most successful programs were also viewed as a drain on church resources. It is also true that the demographics of our membership and regular participants at core church events have remained stable even as the demographics of our surrounding neighborhoods have dramatically changed. Failing to connect events to a next step and the challenges of changing demographics have played a significant role in our church’s decreased attendance and financial income over the last decade.
The legacy on which we’re building - the vast majority of our regular attenders and members are here in large part because of the profound sense of welcome and hospitality that they experienced upon arrival. Welcoming a new demographic group or welcoming people who rarely if ever attend church requires some new habits, processes, and language; but that sense of welcome is a way to build on the essential legacy of who we are rather than to do something new. We can’t assume people have a deep knowledge of how church works or what we expect of them; but we can assume that every child of God desires to feel a nonjudgmental sense of hospitality.
Ezra Team Update - 3-25-21
The Ezra team needs your feedback on another survey to help us figure out what it actually takes to make our community run. If you do any type of regular service for the church (from board chair to occasional usher to leading Sunday school to ANYthing else), please fill out this survey by Friday, April 9th! One of our goals is to offer recommendations that will better equip and position our church leaders for success. To do that well, we need to know what is actually being done right now. You can always call or email Jeremy (firstname.lastname@example.org) if that’s easier. Thanks!
Ezra Team Update - 3-3-21
A Request From the Ezra Team:
The Ezra team exists to discern and lay the foundation for the future of what God will do through Rosenberg FUMC. The team won’t be involved in day to day decision making or planning, but is focused on the clear sense that God is calling us to grow where we are planted by investing in the life of our surrounding neighborhoods. Doing so means being a church rooted in God’s mission to respond to the concrete needs and lift up the unseen gifts of our neighbors. Our history in this place as well as our legacy of food, family, and faith puts us in a strong position to make a lasting impact for generations to come. WE NEED YOUR HELP with 2 simple questions:
What organizations or programs in our area are doing the kind of work that excites you and/or that you are currently supporting through donations, volunteering, or otherwise?
What skills or gifts do you have that you’d be willing to use in service of others?
Please respond by clicking here - https://forms.gle/ivnvM4AxFvb5n4y4A - contacting the church office, or speaking with an Ezra Team member.
Ezra Team Update - 2-11-21
The Ezra team was first announced in the Fall of 2020 as a group that will help lay the foundations for all that God will do in our church’s future. This first update offers a few themes and ideas that the group has discussed in its first two meetings. A quick reminder - the work of this group is focused on discernment and offering recommendations. None of what we do represents a final or authoritative decision making body of the church. A fuller description of the team can be found at bit.ly/39ygye4
- Missional church - I shared in the Fall and we’ve continued to discern that our church’s future will center on the real, concrete impact we are invited to have on our neighborhood. We’ve explored a little more about the advantages and challenges of prioritizing that type of work. I shared the Food, Family, and Faith framework that captures a working summary of the conversations I’ve been able to have about the life of the church to this point. While not final by any means, it begins to offer a sense of how we might think of what we are doing and how - bit.ly/3tPnpr6
- Ready, Fire, Aim - This is a framework that I’ve shared before, which primarily emphasises our need to try out new things sooner than later and course correct along the way. We don’t have the time or ability to answer every question before we try something; part of our task will be to embrace the need to experiment, learn, and adjust. You can read more here - bit.ly/2LGlLXu
- What’s Next - Before our next meeting, the team is doing a little research on the organizations and needs that exist in our corner of the world. To better understand with whom we might be able to partner and to understand where our focus might be most effective, it helps to know what is already being done and by whom.
Defining the work of the Ezra team
Ezra tells the story of God’s people as they returned from exile. The exile was a period in which the people were scattered throughout the Babylonian empire and unable to gather and worship God in the temple. That temple had been central to their worship and self understanding, but had been destroyed when the people were scattered. Returning back to Jerusalem after the exile made it possible to begin reimagining the role and purpose of a new temple. The significance of this return and its effect on the future and direction of God’s people is hard to overstate.
Perhaps the most noteworthy theme of the story told in Ezra and continued in Nehemiah is what happens throughout construction of the new temple. In the process of rebuilding, we are confronted by a reality that is as unsettling as it is hopeful. In Ezra 3, that reality come to life:
"And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.”
Rebuilding what we have lost is a statement of God’s enduring faithfulness and steadfast presence. At the same time, the past will always remain in the past. The newness of what God is doing, no matter how great and beautiful and powerful, will never be the same as our memories of the past. Rebuilding is a process - not of going back but of building on the foundation of the past as we find new ways to encounter the presence of God.
The tension between appreciating the gifts of our past and accepting the new thing God will do upon that foundation is one of the most frustrating and life giving processes throughout scripture. That tension arises again when the temple is destroyed once and for all and God’s people have to find new habits and rituals of worship. The tension arises in the teaching of Jesus as he tells people over and over “You have heard it said, but I say unto you…” The tension arises in the early church through fights over the necessity of dietary laws (Acts 10) or circumcision (Galatians), and the meaning of baptism (Acts 8). In every case, the work of God would make no sense without the gifts of the past AND the exact thing that happened in the past is not sufficient to capture the new thing that God is doing now.
We find ourselves at a similar junction as a church. We are incredibly blessed by the gifts and the impact of our ancestors in the faith. Their contributions have made us what and who we are. They have been a light that has kept this church going and made an impact here in Rosenberg and beyond. AND it is no secret that the trends we’ve seen in membership, financial support, and participation require us to consider what new thing God desires to do in and through us now.
It is time for us to form our own Ezra team that will facilitate the work of discernment in order to build on the foundation of our past in a way that will be sustainable and impactful for generations to come. The team will be formed in order to ask key questions about our future priorities and commitments over the course of the next year or so. Much like the story of Ezra, the new thing that will come from our conversation and decisions will both facilitate the work that God continues to do through our community AND it will not be exactly like it was before.
Throughout 2021, the Ezra team will explore one question that is as simple as it is vital - why do we exist? Or to put that in other terms, what is God working to accomplish through the life of our church community? How can we most faithfully follow wherever that path leads? To explore our why, we will examine 4 aspects of church life:
Leadership: What kind of leaders and expectations thereof will help us go where we want to go?
Membership: What do we expect of all our members?
Stewardship: What principles, processes, and/or priorities are needed for us to be good stewards of our facilities, donations, and talents?
Partnership: How do we relate to and where do we prioritize the work of other organizations?
Our Ezra team will help the congregation reflect on these questions and develop practical and concrete decisions, policies, and strategies that the church will have the opportunity to adopt at some point in the process. The goal of this work is not to solve every problem or to make decisions about what can and can’t be done. The goal is to catch a vision for where God is guiding us in this season so that we can begin to chart out the next right steps toward the future that God has in store.
Because of the nature and scope of this work, the Ezra team will host a variety of listening sessions and/or town hall type meetings. As has been the theme for most of 2020, we don’t know what public health or technology will allow, but we will be as flexible and transparent as possible throughout. Depending on the speed and discretion of the team, there may be action items brought before the whole church along the way or the work might result in a variety of recommendations to be considered at the end. Again, this group is not looking to make decisions on behalf of the church - the goal is to facilitate the conversations and decision making that will be necessary for us to most faithfully and effectively follow where God is leading next.
For some, this time of discernment will be fruitful and energizing. For others, it will offer painful reminders of a former glory that will never look and feel quite the same. For all of us, this is an opportunity to imagine and dream about what we hope to see God accomplish through us and through our church community. Change is never easy. Loss inevitably comes with change, no matter how beneficial or necessary that change is. This process is an invitation to let go of our fear about what might happen; and learn to stand on the sure foundation of God’s love and acceptance that will be underneath our feet no matter what lies ahead.