Reboot-04: Blueprint for the Future

From XFamily - Children of God
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Blueprint for the Future

By Peter; The Reboot Series - Part 4 of 20; 27 May 2010

Over the last months, as we’ve prayed about and discussed the changes that are needed in the Family—and which are going into effect now at the reboot—with the Lord’s guidance, we’ve identified several key concepts that are at the heart of the changes we’re making.

These concepts create the framework in which the reboot changes have been made. They are fundamental points that we have aligned the reboot changes with. These are:

The Family’s guiding principles 
This refers to the composite of our core beliefs, core values, and core purpose (the mission). The parameters for membership and our organizational structure will be primarily based on the guiding principles, rather than detailed rules and legislation.
Members’ self-determination. 
An environment that supports discipleship. 

These are the principal concepts that we have built on in making the reboot changes. They are the cornerstones of the environment we are creating for the Family of today and tomorrow. The chief cornerstone, of course, is Jesus1 and His spiritual truths that guide our lives and actions.

As we looked at the changes that we are now introducing, we needed to hold up the various points of change against these cornerstone concepts, and be able to say, “Yes, this syncs up with our guiding principles and allows for them to be implemented. It supports members’ answering the call of discipleship. It provides ample room for members’ self-determination. It allows members to follow the call God gives them in how they engage in the mission.”

In the rest of this document, I will give more detail and explanation on how we are looking at TFI’s guiding principles, members’ self-determination, the calling of discipleship, and the place these elements hold in our new Family.

TFI's Guiding Principles

In our history, especially over the last 15 years, we regulated many spiritual life practices and practical lifestyle requirements. We developed structure and leadership to support these rules, and operated within the framework of our many requirements in all aspects of our lives and service.

We’ve had requirements for living communally, set rules for how members should live communally, what sort of home governance was needed, what united meetings were required, what type of atmosphere members should strive to cultivate in their home, how finances were to be managed, and a host of other regulations, suggestions, and dos and don’ts.

Family members were obligated to fulfill many requirements in order to remain in FD membership in particular, and requirements were also in place for other membership categories. Leadership was responsible to assist and even compel members to apply certain principles in accordance with our rules. All this was based on the premise that if members adhered to those requirements, it would aid them personally, benefit those they lived and worked with, and consequently benefit the mission of the Family overall.

Since we required the Family to adhere to prescribed spiritual and practical requirements, one of leadership’s main tasks has been to guide members in maintaining those rules and requirements. It was one of leadership’s roles to monitor whether members were living up to the requirements, to point it out if members were falling short, and to enact consequences, if necessary. The Word of the day and the membership requirements, outlined in the Charter and other governing documents, were among leadership’s main points of reference when it came to making decisions about how to help members, what to focus on, how matters should be gauged and judged, etc.

In recent years especially, there have been many supports put in place—rules, restrictions, boards, programs, monitoring, shepherds, managers, coaches, criteria, home reviews, etc.—to both encourage and enforce the application of all the principles that were important to us in some way. One of the outcomes—again, an unintended one—of instituting so many rules and consequences for not keeping the rules, is that it put everyone, from home members, to steering councils, to coaches, to RBCs and RSs, in the position of needing to place a lot of focus on whether the rules were being followed. On a personal level, this may not have been the inclination or first choice of members or leaders, and people did their best to be spirit-led, nonetheless. But because of the way our structure was set up, members and leaders had to work within the boundaries that existed.

Because important matters like membership and Family discipleship were connected to whether someone was obeying the rules, this caused our attention and focus to be primarily drawn to the rules. A result of this was that it often seemed that upholding or adhering to the letter of the law (obeying the physical or practical rule) was more important than abiding by the spirit of the law (the principle or reason behind the requirements), because whether someone was adhering to the rules was what was predominantly judged.

A principles-based model

Maria and I have made the decision to no longer have a lengthy list of regulated spiritual life practices or practical lifestyle requirements that members must uphold. This also allows us to make related changes in the structure and operations of our organization.

The philosophy by which the Family operates will change, in order to shift our focus to the mission and to fully empower each Family member to find and fulfill the will of God for their life. This change of philosophy involves moving from a rules-based model to a principles-based model. Here are some examples of what the practical application of this would translate into.

If we lift the requirement of communal living and the related rules, what are the principles on which these rules have been based? There are many, but a few of the main ones are trying to emulate the example of the early Christians; being in unity with fellow believers; giving of our time and resources to assist others, caring for our brethren; placing more importance on the needs of others and the well-being of our community of faith than on personal gains or material possessions; sacrificial love and concern; bearing one another’s burdens, working together to maintain a healthy spiritual standard; working together to fulfill the mission. These principles are as important to us as they ever were.

Spiritual life and time-related requirements can be looked at similarly. FD members were required to have 1.5 hours of Word time daily, or 10.5 hours weekly; there were many elements that members were advised to work into their Word time, both private and united, over a period of time. There were specific suggestions regarding what counted as quality Word time. Now, even though the requirements of taking a specific number of hours or minutes of Word time and intercessory prayer are being lifted, the principles remain and are as important as ever.

Feeding from God’s Word is cleansing and restorative; it enhances our personal development and growth. It builds our relationship with Jesus and helps us to understand more about His nature and teachings. It gives us spiritual strength to follow in His footsteps, to live in His love, and to share that love with others. It gives the Holy Spirit opportunity to fill us, so that we can manifest the fruits of the Spirit. Spending time in prayer makes a difference and brings answers. Uniting with fellow believers around the Word and things of the spirit, edifying one another, can strengthen our faith and spur us on. Giving these things due priority is an important part of having a healthy Christian life and relationship with Jesus. (For more details on the changes related to communal living and the previous spiritual life requirements, see “Lifestyle.”)

We are eliminating many rules, but many of these rules are based on godly principles, and the principles are what we want to retain. We want to look directly to the principles that are important to our organization and faith, and prayerfully apply them as best we can, without mandating that these principles must always be applied in a specific manner. Members will be at liberty to apply these principles as the Lord leads them to.

The beliefs that form TFI’s faith, as well as the values that are particularly important to TFI, are being put forth clearly as such. It will be the responsibility of Family members to apply the beliefs and live the values that are at the heart of our organization, and to exercise themselves in the mission in the manner that is best suited to their circumstances, ministry, professional and personal life. Hence, we are letting go of the abundance of rules that aim to ensure that members do these things, and that they do so in certain ways.

Moving from a rules-based model of operating to a principles-based model is a significant change.

We will still have some rules, but we want to have a minimum of rules, and we want a more open atmosphere in which the spirit of the law can be practiced—in which the beautiful principles that make the Family a place of love and warmth can be applied as the Lord leads each member.

Rather than there being a focus on fulfilling rules and requirements, the focus is on living according to godly principles. Each person should determine how they will strengthen their faith, the standard they will uphold in their personal life and interactions with others, what they will devote to the mission, what they will aim for, what they will do, how they will grow. It will be up to individuals to put their faith into practice. We believe that making the switch from a rules-based model to a principles-based one will create a healthier and happier atmosphere within the Family of the future.

Core beliefs

One of the things we have worked on over the past few months is rearticulating TFI’s statement of faith. This document states the core beliefs of TFI in brief, along with scriptural background for each belief.

Family members should understand and accept that the beliefs put forth in the “Statement of Faith of the Family International” are the fundamental religious doctrines of our community of faith. How such beliefs are to be applied will not be stipulated, nor will we expect that all members must believe or apply every single doctrine.—Although, of course, if someone is going to be part of a faith-based organization, it would follow that the individual personally holds to most of the same beliefs, or feels that learning about that organization’s beliefs is important to their faith and spiritual development, and is willing to align himself accordingly.

As part of changing our philosophy of operating, there will be greater emphasis on individuals grounding their Christian faith, ascertaining what their beliefs are, and then acting accordingly. In the past, there has been somewhat of a “group faith” approach, in that some have felt, “I believe X, because the Family believes X.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach to belief. For people who feel this way, their beliefs and the beliefs the Family holds to clearly are in alignment. Such individuals are convinced of the Family’s beliefs because they understand the doctrines or related Scriptures, and sincerely hold the Family’s beliefs as their own.

But some Family members are less sure of certain aspects of our beliefs; they don’t know if they can say that all the Family’s beliefs are beliefs that they have personally chosen to espouse. In some cases, perhaps they haven’t thought about it much in the past, or they feel they need better understanding from the Bible or other Christian teachings in order to determine what their Christian convictions are. This is understandable. It’s healthy, from time to time, to reaffirm our faith, to ask ourselves why we think or believe a certain way, why we’ve made particular decisions or choices, and what our underlying reasoning or convictions are or have been.

In many Family publications, we haven’t always given enough Bible-based reference and explanation on some of the doctrine and spiritual teachings presented. In other cases, the theological and scriptural basis for teachings was clearly presented, but we didn’t necessarily refer back to it in ongoing publications, and with so much information going your way, it didn’t allow you sufficient time to go back to some of the basic teachings and explanation. In the future, where possible, we aim to include more biblical basis than we have in recent years in the material we publish for the Family, as well as give more structured presentation of doctrine and theology, as needed.

If you find that you’re in the position of needing to reaffirm your faith and beliefs, we encourage you to study our updated statement of faith, search the Scriptures, do other research as needed, and commune with the Lord, so that you can be certain what your beliefs are and know where your faith lies. This is important to do, as the Scriptures tell us.2 We should be certain of our faith and confident in it; that’s something that provides us with stability, guidance, and comfort.

It makes for a stronger faith if individuals are personally certain about the doctrines they believe, well grounded in the biblical background, and practice their faith based on their personal conviction and choices. Some members might still take certain doctrines, beliefs or practices by faith, without fully understanding every angle or nuance. As you know, there are many things that the Lord asks His disciples to take by faith when it comes to our relationship with Him and our spiritual lives, so it’s not as though we always need to understand exactly how or why something works in order to believe it. But the more we can understand the scriptural basis and background for specific beliefs, the better, and the more effective we will also be in sharing our faith with others.

Over the last many months a number of you have been examining your faith and reaffirming your beliefs and convictions. While this can sometimes be a difficult and unsettling process, it’s a crucial part of grounding your beliefs and strengthening your personal convictions. Sorting these things out in your mind and heart between you and the Lord may take some time to work through, and that’s fine. We know that the Lord will “stablish, strengthen, and settle you,”3 as you commune with Him about where your faith lies and how you can continue growing in your faith.

Core values

When asked which was the greatest, most important commandment in the Law, Jesus replied: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”4

Jesus laid out two concise, profound values that should guide our lives. These provide the foundation that everything we do should be built on, the standard by which we should measure our decisions and actions.

As we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, we will do our best to stay close to Him; we will take time in His presence; we will follow His Word.

As we love others and interact with them in the way that they like to be treated, as we try to be conduits of God’s unconditional love for others, then we will be considerate and respectful toward others; we will act with integrity toward them; we will consider their needs and be willing to give of our time and/or possessions to meet their needs; we will demonstrate God’s love and offer salvation to those we come in contact with.

These values as stated by Jesus are solid, enduring, and constant. In all circumstances in which we find ourselves, in all choices we face, we can use these values as a yardstick and base our responses, choices, and actions on them. As followers of Jesus, as individuals, as well as collectively as an organization, these two values should be the guiding light in our lives.

It’s important for TFI, as an organization, to identify and clearly express what values are core to us, and to have an understanding of and commitment to those values throughout our membership. As we eliminate many of our former rules and requirements, we also need to affirm the values that remain—those enduring principles that the rules and requirements were based on—and that will help guide the focus and decisions of the Family, its leadership, and its members.

While we haven’t had one document that officially listed our values, we have been guided by certain shared ideals and values. We have made decisions according to our ideals concerning commitment, discipleship, obedience to the Word, missionary service, etc. We ascribed a higher level of importance to some ideals or values, and that degree of importance was either made clear in our regulations, or through what we promoted in the Word, or demonstrated through our actions and choices, or a combination of these things.

In some ways, our past structure and methods of governance and operations might have led to a bit of a misguided focus on what was core. In other words, because membership hinged on adhering to specific rules and requirements, it may have seemed that the rules and requirements themselves were fundamentally important, when it was primarily the values and principles behind those rules and requirements that were core. (Something to note is that a value is not equivalent to a practice. Values influence thoughts and decisions and shape practices, but they are not the practice itself.)

Again, using living communally as an example, if we ask ourselves, “What is more important to us? Is it how many people live in a house and how many meetings they have each week? Or is it the values of working together to meet common goals, looking out for each other, bearing one another’s burdens, operating in unity?”

Or, if you look at our spiritual requirements, “Is the value exactly how much time one spends reading the Word, or is it having a healthy, vibrant relationship with the Lord?”—we can see that what we really value are the principles and values on which the rules were based, not the rules themselves or the specified applications (which were intended as tools to help us to live those values).

By discontinuing rules and requirements for spiritual life matters, for example, while we are no longer requiring a specific application or practice, we are not changing the fundamental value or belief. We are retaining the value we place on having an active personal relationship with God and growing in faith.

Values are what actions are based on. They are an expression of our faith, our beliefs. Hence it’s important for us, as an organization, to clearly know what values we hold to. And it’s important for members and prospective members to know what TFI’s values are, as this helps you to know if this is an organization that you want to be part of.

Aside from the function that our values will play in providing the Family with guidance, they also express the deep convictions of our organization and the principles that the organization aims to preserve as a constant. Practices and applications might change, but the core beliefs and core values would remain.

Identifying core values is not about listing every good thing that would be nice for an organization to hold to. It’s about recognizing what characterizes the organization in a few points. It’s about reduction—boiling down all the good and possibilities to find the concentrated truth of what powers and steers the organization, what the primary ideals are that the organization bases its decisions on, what is essential to the organization.

In preparing for the reboot, Maria and I have given a lot of thought and private discussion and prayer, as well as discussion with our counselors, to what TFI’s core values are at this important juncture.

We are an organization with a 40-year history and we have some values that have guided and characterized us since our early days. At the same time, we are making some momentous changes. We want to retain the values that we can and must preserve, as well as introduce and express the values that will help to guide us into the future.

For many years, pretty much everything in the Family was top priority. We had a large portfolio of things that we gave high value to. It was a priority to follow God, to witness, to follow Family teachings in raising your family, to have the prescribed amount of Word and prayer time daily, to live communally and build a winning team, to give and receive shepherding, to master the many spiritual weapons, to teach the words of David and win disciples, to adhere to the Charter and fulfill at least 80 percent of the six board criteria, and more.

Because we have legislated so much application, it’s taken some deliberation to work toward determining what the fundamental values are that we truly need to retain. We had initially planned to have a final official document outlining our core values by the reboot. Within the past few months, though, Maria and I have concluded—and the Lord has confirmed—that we should allow more time before finalizing an official document outlining our core values. There are two main reasons.

First, we are at a pivotal moment in our history. We feel it’s best to leave room for the values to develop as we all adjust to the changes that we are making now, before finalizing an official document. Second, since defining our values is so important to all of us, as those values form a significant part of our identity, we felt that having your involvement with this would be indispensable. (Note: We plan to post a survey on this topic in the near future.)

Our core values as an organization have a significant effect on the day-to-day choices and actions of members, because they steer our decisions and deeds, both as individuals and an organization. Since these values are ones that each member will be expected to embrace and uphold, we feel that it’s right that you are involved in the process of determining the final listing and expression of these values.

We want our values to be and express concepts that are sustainable; points that are personally meaningful to all of us, and that resonate with us when we consider why we’re members of the Family, why it matters, what it’s for at the end of the day; something that we can pass on to incoming members; something we are proud to teach our children and youth about; something we can share with the world.

I will list below the working version of the values that undergird our new Family. While some of these values have been very important to us over the years, you will recognize that some are not necessarily what we might have considered “core” to us in the past, but they are some of the foundation values on which the future is being built.

Our core values are rooted in our core beliefs. Jesus’ laws of loving God and loving our neighbor, as expressed in Matthew 22:37–40, are ones that we can apply in an infinite variety of ways. Our values are intended as an expression of some of the applications of these scriptures that we feel are most important and meaningful to the Family, and that will provide us with guidance in decision-making and goal-setting.

As you read this list, keep in mind that it does not express every point that might be of any importance to our organization, just points that we deem essential and fundamental. There are some matters that the Family considers to be very important—such as the value of parents raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, or the value of spouses investing in their marriage. But as points of this nature are primarily matters of personal responsibility and not part of the Family’s mandate as an organization, they are not listed here. Such points are ones that you’d want to include in your personal or family core values. (More on this below.)

This list also does not include beliefs that are important to us or commonly held by us and other Christians, as our fundamental doctrines are expressed in our statement of faith (our core beliefs).

Passion for God
We love God with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. We seek a close personal relationship with Jesus, and to grow in emulating His attributes and living His love.5
Pursuing God’s Spirit
We desire to know and understand the truth of God’s Word, the essence of His divine nature. We value the foundational principles of the written Word, hearing from God, and following His guidance.6
We aim to create an atmosphere in which members can follow Jesus according to the personal call He gives them, and enact their commitment to God’s will for their lives.7
Love for humankind
God’s unconditional love for humanity that knows no boundaries of race, creed, or status, motivates and guides us to help meet the needs of those we come in contact with, whether spiritually or practically.8
The power of one
We value each individual and his or her unique talents, skills, and strengths. We believe that every person can contribute to changing the world by changing one heart at a time.9
A sense of community
We cultivate brotherhood and camaraderie. We seek to develop a spirit of unity, love, and a sense of belonging that provides practical and spiritual support to our members. Together we can do more.10
Spiritual solutions
We apply spiritual principles to everyday challenges to overcome obstacles, resolve conflict, maximize potential, and heal hearts. We seek to share our spiritual wealth and knowledge with others.11
Diversity and innovation
In ministry and mission service, creativity and personal initiative are highly valued. When God guides, and we take action to follow Him, anything is possible.12
Living "as unto Him"
We put our faith into action and reach out to weary and troubled hearts, the disadvantaged, downtrodden, and needy, as unto Jesus.13

In the revised version of the Charter (and in a number of the other reboot documents), you’ll notice that there are mentions of the Family International’s core values, and that our values have prominence in our governing philosophy. The preceding working list expresses the concepts of our core values, although it is not yet the final official document of TFI’s core values. Our core values will develop as time goes on, as we think and pray about them more, and as we hear from you about them. Meanwhile, Maria and I feel that the presentation above lists values that are central to TFI, so please do give them some thought and see how applying them checks out in your life.

As I mentioned earlier, in time we’ll create a document officially listing our core values, which will then be what the Charter clauses on core values officially refer to. Until then, we hope that this working list will give you a good sense of the enduring values that each of us, as TFI members, should strive to embrace and to base our actions on.

In addition to the Family’s shared values, each individual has personal values, or as a couple or family, you might have personal family values. If you haven’t done this already, it’s a good idea to give some thought to what your personal or family core values are—to determine the ideals that fundamentally guide your personal choices, that represent the Christ-life and integrity that you want to demonstrate, and that you feel will lead to your having a full and purposeful life.

If you are a member of TFI, the understanding is that TFI’s shared core values would also be those that you personally embrace; they would form a part of your personal value system. You might also have some personal and family values that, in addition to the Family’s core values, are central to your life.

There are any number of ways to express your personal values and priorities. Some people do it in list form, keeping the points brief. Others write a personal mission statement. Some express what they feel identifies them as a person, the aspects of their life and goals that are most important to them.

Even if you haven’t previously given this serious thought, everybody has values or principles that fundamentally play into their decisions and thought processes, even subconsciously, and that are part of making them who they are, that form the fiber of their character. If you give this some thought and prayer, you’ll probably be able to recognize certain threads in your actions and thinking, points that you continually factor in to your decisions or base your decisions on, and this can help you to identify what values are core to you.

You might also recognize some points that you haven’t given the proper priority to, or factors that need more consideration, and you can adjust accordingly. If you haven’t done this before, then your list of values might be a work in progress; you might redefine it as time passes.

For example, one person might list the following personal core values:

  • My relationship with God is priority.
  • I care and provide for my family to the best of my ability; my family is my responsibility.
  • I try to be a living example of Jesus and His love in my actions and interactions with others.
  • I invest in my eternal future by living in a manner that lays up treasures in Heaven, not only on earth.
  • I respond to all situations with love and integrity.

Maria and I were recently talking about some of the personal values that we felt were important to our lives, and we articulated them this way:

  • Keep a strong connection with God.
  • Do what God shows you to, always.
  • Act in love, to the best of your ability, in every situation.
  • Live as if Jesus is standing next to you.
  • Show and offer Jesus and His love to all you can, whenever you can, however you can.
  • Give to God and others.

If we follow the thinking that the values in Matthew 22:37–40 are at the center of all we say, do, and believe, the basis for our choices—both as an organization and as individuals—then any values springing from those two commandments will be in harmony with each other.

Core purpose

Our core purpose (the mission) is our reason for existence as an organization. It drives our organization and motivates our actions as members. It is our guiding star. The three components of the mission form our core purpose.

The core purpose (mission) of TFI is to:

  • Share the good news of God’s love, truth, and salvation. Translate God’s love into action in a way that brings a touch of the divine to someone’s spirit, and leads people to the discovery of a personal relationship with Jesus.
  • Seek to improve others’ spiritual quality of life. Share God’s Word and truths to enrich others’ lives. Apply spiritual principles so as to help meet others’ needs, whether spiritual or practical.
  • Provide an environment that nurtures faith. Support and assist individuals in growing in their personal relationship with Jesus, and in their efforts to share God’s love and truth with others, according to their unique calling.

The three aspects of the mission as presented here, as you might have noticed, are worded differently than they were expressed in the Letter “The Mission,” but portray the same intent.

As we are striving to be more transparent and inclusive as an organization, we feel that it is important to update the language in which we express our core purpose accordingly, so that it’s easier to use the same terminology whether you are communicating with a Family member or with someone who is not a member.

Guiding principles

The combination of our beliefs, our values, and our purpose make up the guiding principles that direct and inspire the Family as an organization. They express our identity. They are like our DNA. They characterize who we are, as an organization, and what we stand for. They help us to know what we are striving for, and they empower us to pursue our goals and find success. They shape the culture and practices of our organization. They provide ideals that we can translate into practical actions and transpose in a wide array of circumstances.

As we build for the future, we can look to our guiding principles and make decisions that correspond with and support them. Decisions would not be made that are in contradiction to or not supportive of our guiding principles.

Family leadership, including Maria and me, will use the guiding principles to direct us in making decisions that affect the organization, and in setting the organization’s goals. Maria and I and all Family leadership will support and promote TFI’s guiding principles through our communications and actions. We will use the guiding principles as aids in our decision-making, as a standard of measure, and base our actions and choices on them.

We will look to the guiding principles in facilitating Family members’ efforts. What the organization says and does will align with TFI’s guiding principles—beliefs, values, and purpose. This starts with leadership, Maria and me first and foremost, clearly focusing on and reinforcing these principles in our words and deeds.

Concerning the actions of members, if they truly follow the commandments that Jesus taught, to the best of their ability, and act in accordance with the guiding principles of our organization, they will have a reliable means of making decisions and gauging their actions—whether something is right or wrong, or in keeping with TFI’s principles.

We feel that TFI’s guiding principles also represent good, sound ideals that can benefit and enrich your life personally. The beauty of operating more on the basis of guiding principles than on hard-and-fast rules is that it allows for more spirit-led action. The principles can be applied in a variety of ways in almost any situation you might encounter.

The guiding principles will also serve as a standard for expectations of members. Members will not be held to particular applications of the guiding principles (i.e., a litany of rules). Rather, it will be expected that members will use the guiding principles to determine their actions.

Your relationship to the guiding principles should be that you allow the guiding principles to motivate and direct your actions. We look at it in this way: If you share in TFI’s beliefs, if the values of the organization are important to you, if you want to work to preserve these principles, if you feel that the Family is the right place for you to do your part in the Great Commission, then being a member will be meaningful to you.

Working together with other like-minded individuals to uphold TFI’s guiding principles will provide the basis for your membership. Since the guiding principles are part of the reason for your membership, then your actions will be consistent with the guiding principles—especially any actions you undertake as part of or because of your membership with TFI.

(Note: The “Mission Statement of the Family International,” updated as of the reboot, is, in a way, a condensed expression of the guiding principles. The guiding principles are what drive us, what members would base their decisions on. The mission statement describes the action that we take based on our core purpose, values, and beliefs. It helps to give an overview and understanding of what the Family is and does.)

Leadership will not monitor whether TFI members are applying the guiding principles; they will not be able to, nor will it be their job to do so. But we will all be aware of what the guiding principles are and can help and encourage each other to live them. If a member’s actions are consistently not in harmony with TFI’s guiding principles, no doubt the members they work with, interact with or live with will be among the first to recognize this. And if someone comes to a point where they and/or others realize that their personal values, beliefs, or goals are diverging from TFI’s, or that they no longer wish to follow TFI’s guiding principles, or feel that it’s not possible for them to do so, then they’ll probably see that they don’t “fit” with TFI very well and that it’s advantageous for them to find a different church or organization that better meets their needs.

We are moving beyond a structure that is based on rules. We are focusing on the beliefs that are fundamental, the values we see as pivotal, and our core purpose—the mission.

Together, these three elements—core beliefs, core values, core purpose—form the guiding principles on which our collective and individual actions will be based.

If a majority of Family members continue to live their faith in a dedicated manner, if members remain focused on TFI’s core purpose and use that as a touchstone in their choices and actions, if members hold to the values that we have chosen to embrace together—if we each strive to live a life anchored by our guiding principles—then by God’s grace we will remain strong in faith and active in practicing our faith as an organization; we will be an example of Jesus’ love to the world, and will progress in the mission, which is our organization’s primary purpose.

Our guiding principles are what the Family is based on. They are the reason TFI exists as a community of faith, as we believe that we can better live and grow in our faith, preserve our values, and witness together, as a fellowship of like-minded believers, than we can on our own.

As members of the Family, the imprint of our guiding principles should be seen in our actions. If these guiding principles influence our attitudes, thoughts, words, and choices, our results will bear witness. Our lives will reflect our faith and beliefs.


Since its inception, the Family has been a communal society, based on collectively shared ideals, beliefs, lifestyle, goals, and mission. As is generally the case with communal societies, our focus was on the collective purpose and good, the commonalities that linked us together. Within this framework, the primary focus was not on fostering individuality but on functioning collectively, which is not unusual in religious communities.

David maintained, as do Maria and I, that God has granted every individual the majesty of choice and the right to make decisions for their lives. Within the Family’s cooperative communal framework, however, the reality has been that practicing self-determination has had limitations. In order for communal living to work, it required willingness on everyone’s part to operate within certain agreed-upon boundaries, and, when necessary, to put the good of their team and the overall Family above personal choices, goals, or dreams.

Due to this environment, as well as other factors in our culture (as expressed in “Backtracking Through TFI History”), we acknowledge that you may not have always had enough freedom to exercise your right to self-determination and to follow the Lord’s Spirit freely in how He was leading you.

Maria and I want to reiterate that our belief, and the Family’s belief, is that God has given all people—including all Family members—the right to self-determination in all aspects of their life and personal decision-making, whether practical, spiritual, family- or mission-related. We believe that self-determination is a God-given right and responsibility, and we welcome it in our Family. It’s a keystone of both spiritual and practical development and progress.

What you believe, how you apply your Christian faith, the life choices you make, how you raise and support your family, how you maintain a close connection with the Lord, and any other life choices, are matters of personal faith and conscience. Such matters are to be determined by each member. We are individually accountable before God for our choices and for their outcome. (See “Lifestyle” for more details and explanation on this point.)

Even though Maria and I will put forth certain principles or teach particular applications of spiritual truths, and even give practical advice as the Lord leads us to, your decisions and actions must be fully rooted in your personal convictions. Undergirding your choices and practices should be your faith, your convictions, your connection with the Lord.

Within the broader scope of Family membership, freely choosing what you will do and how you will do it, without the compulsion of regulations or interference from others—acting with self-determination—applies to choices in all aspects of your personal life, spiritual life, application of faith and belief, and mission-related service.

—The Family will continue to have some structure and regulations concerning organizational matters, as well as some basic responsibilities and expectations for members to adhere to and operate by. These will be far fewer than we’ve been accustomed to for the last many years. These changes will make it easier for you to operate according to your personal faith.

Abiding by guidelines, even if they are few, automatically creates some boundaries, or what might be seen as restrictions. If you are part of any organization, faith, group, club, or corporation, there generally are requirements or expectations that those who practice that religion, or join that group or company, choose to abide by. According to the choices people make in life, they often choose to curb their self-determination to some degree, or to work within certain limitations, or to operate with some restrictions.

For example, if you work for a corporation, you’re choosing to abide by certain guidelines—be at work on time, abide by the dress code of the company, answer to a boss or overseer, etc. If you choose to live in a certain country, you’re choosing to abide by the laws of the land and to respect social customs and the cultural ethos.

In the same way, in choosing to be a member of the Family, it’s understood that you are choosing to adhere to the Family’s membership requirements and governing policies.

—Some individuals are called by the Lord to serve Him in a manner that necessitates that they relinquish a good deal of their wants and desires for Him. They’re not required to or pressured to do so by outward circumstances, but because of their commitment to fulfill the Lord’s personal calling to them, they make this type of choice as a freewill offering to the Lord. Not all Family members will be called to serve the Lord as full-time missionaries, or in a manner that entails this type of sacrifice.

When someone chooses, out of love, to devote as much of their life as they can in service to the Lord and others, it’s a beautiful and honorable thing. Such commitment is a costly sacrifice, to be valued and respected.

—As Christians, part of our faith involves making personal decisions to submit our will to God14; to, at times, choose to set aside our own opinions and preferences in order to receive and obey God’s Word, to follow His leading and voice, to acknowledge in word and in deed that His ways are higher than ours.

The advice and admonitions of Scripture, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ counsel to us through personal communion and prophecy, could be seen as forms of external pressure or interference. However, as Christians who have a personal relationship with Jesus, we should want to be open to this guidance and let Jesus have sway in our lives.

“Pursuing God’s Spirit” is one of our core values, and we desire to hear the Lord’s voice and to be led by Him. We want to allow His laws of love to guide our lives. We are compelled to follow the moral code God has placed in our hearts, so that our actions are driven by love and integrity. We want the Lord’s Spirit to guide us into wisdom, truth, and love toward Him and others.

As with other things, how you respond to the conviction of the Spirit in your life is a matter of personal choice and faith. We trust that you will do your best to be open and adaptable to the movement of the Spirit in your heart and life.

We continue to believe that God’s will should be a primary consideration in Family members’ decision-making. He loves it when we choose, of our own free will, to follow His guidance, even if it means forsaking our own desires, to live in a manner that is in harmony with His will. We encourage you to establish what God’s will and calling is for your life, and then to pursue it, according to your faith.

Available to you are all the spiritual tools you need—prayer, communion with the Lord, praise, the Word, the gifts and fruits of the Spirit, godly counsel, etc.—to make good, prayerful decisions, to live a life that you have invited God to participate in, a life that reaps blessings due to your sacrificial and loving choices.

Removing unnecessary rules and elements within the Family’s structure that limit self-determination is a step that makes Maria and me extremely happy.

It inspires us, because we know that it will provide you with more “room for your faith to expand” and “opportunity to follow where the Lord’s Spirit is leading.” It will enable “you to be more fruitful and professional in serving Jesus and fulfilling the mission—and happier personally as a result.”15 We want each of you to be happy in your personal life, spiritual life, and service for the Lord.

It’s faith-building to think about the potential for future mission success as a result of your ability to exercise more self-determination in your service for the Lord. As you participate in and facilitate the mission in accordance with your personal faith, in alignment with the Lord’s commission to you, you’ll naturally have even more passion for what you do, and your efforts and the results will have the flavor of your unique personality, gifts, and anointing.

Eliminating outdated restrictions and rules and the limitations of past culture, context, and mindsets will open doors to new vistas of possibilities. These changes take the “ceiling” off of what “can or can’t be done.” You can look forward to opportunities galore—new ways and means to reach the world with God’s love. We encourage you to pursue your dreams—whatever God has given you the vision, talent, means, passion and faith for.

We hope that clarifying TFI’s position on self-determination, which also applies to exercising your personal faith in how you receive and apply spiritual counsel from Maria and me, will help you to feel more at peace in your spiritual life and walk with the Lord. We’re happy to continue to share spiritual instruction and counsel with you, knowing that you will pray about its application in your life and situation, and act according to your personal faith and convictions.

Our fellowship of believers will be made up of individuals who understand and accept our collective beliefs, each manifesting personal conviction in living our Christian faith, each being personally convinced of the beliefs that they hold to. When your personal faith is grounded and you’re convinced in your heart of what you hold to be true, this enables you to take greater action that glorifies the Lord. Your strengthened personal faith will also enable you to provide ballast to your fellow believers in our community of faith. (For more on this topic, see “Membership” and the upcoming series addressing the Word.)

It’s an honor for us to serve with believers like you, who have chosen to yield so much of your hearts, your wills, and your lives to following God and to bringing His love and light to others. You have chosen to follow and serve Him, to be His hands and feet and heart to others who need Him. You have made this a priority in your lives. We believe that your passion for Jesus will continue to drive your decisions.

You are the caliber of people who use your self-determination to demonstrate your love for God and fellow man in the unique ways that He calls you to, according to the skills and interests that God has blessed you with. When we determine to use our will, our mind, our strength, and our energy to glorify God, there is no limit to what He can accomplish through us.

The Calling of Discipleship

Because one of our past categories of membership was tagged FD (Family disciples), the meaning of “disciple” and “discipleship” tends to be associated with the Family-disciple-specific references or counsel in the Letters, and the requirements we’ve had for FD membership.

There has been plenty in the Letters about disciples and discipleship in relation to those who are followers of Jesus’ teachings, who actively strive to live His words. But because we’ve also had the model and ideal of Family discipleship, as outlined and promoted in the Letters of especially the last ten or so years—and which was fortified by accompanying practical requirements and spiritual life to-dos—the actual meaning of discipleship has become blurred.

Sad to say, an understanding that has resulted from the Letters and the rules and regulations in place has been that if someone wasn’t applying the FD requirements, and practicing the counsel in the Letters to the maximum degree, they were not really “disciples.” In other words, if someone wasn’t manifesting a full-time example of the words of David, their commitment or discipleship was sometimes brought into question. If someone didn’t meet all our requirements, or was expressing their discipleship differently from us (including other Christians), we weren’t sure whether they were really following Jesus “all the way.” We tended to judge, and consequently, we often minimized what others were giving to the Lord. Although we have tried to change this mindset in recent years, this thinking has been deeply rooted in the Family throughout our history.

We are getting back to the basics—the foundation of discipleship as expressed in the New Testament. Our position is this:

—All who have made the commitment to follow Jesus’ teachings and example, and who are living that commitment, are Jesus’ disciples, whether they are members of the Family or not.

—We will no longer have membership categories. We won’t have labels whereby some members are categorized as “Family disciples” and others are not; or that suggest that some are living a full-time example of discipleship and others are not, or that some are more or less committed or obedient in spirit; or that label whether someone is giving their all to the Lord or serving Jesus full-time or part-time. (The details of this change will be fully explained in “Membership.”)

—The terms “disciple” and “discipleship” will no longer be used in connection with a category of Family membership (as there will be no categories), or to define a set of lifestyle requirements. When “disciple” or “discipleship” is used in Family publications, this will refer to an individual’s personal commitment to follow Jesus.

We will not specify or suggest a list of requirements that someone must fulfill in order to “be a disciple.” There will no longer be Family rules and regulations that specify how you should practice your discipleship or manifest your commitment to Jesus.

—Discipleship is not an isolated, once-in-a-lifetime happening, but a spiritual journey, a faith journey. It involves daily choices and actions to abide in Jesus, and to let Him abide in us, to be led, fed, and cleansed by His Word, to operate under the influence of His Spirit and love, to seek Him first and yield to His will for our lives, to obey Him to the best of our ability, to testify of His love through our words and actions, to bear fruit that glorifies Him.

—Our focal point as a Family is no longer that of preserving an example of “full-time discipleship according to the words of David.”* But discipleship—following Jesus and striving to be more like Him—remains at the heart of our organization. The Family will provide an environment where members can progress in their spiritual journey, practice Jesus’ teachings, and share God’s truth and salvation with others. *(More on this topic in the coming series addressing the Word.)

A disciple is defined as a “follower of Jesus,” “a learner,” “one who follows another’s teachings” (in this case, Jesus’ teachings), “an adherent,” “someone who is aiming to be like Jesus,” “someone who imitates the Master.”

Being a disciple of Jesus today is a challenge. The stakes are high. Jesus made it clear that following Him would involve sacrifice, forsakings, putting His will above our own, loving others with His love, and sharing His teachings with others, even being willing to “lose our lives for His sake.”16

Discipleship signifies an active relationship between Jesus and His followers. He speaks, He guides, He instructs. We listen, we follow, we benefit. Discipleship is centered on love for Jesus and having a personal relationship with Him. It hinges on faith in His Word. It requires dedication and commitment. It entails openness and obedience to the conviction of the Spirit. It involves looking to the vision of the eternal glory and rewards that are to come in the hereafter. It calls for endurance.

Answering the call of discipleship is a personal choice, a personal commitment. Discipleship is a journey. We’re each at different stages of the journey, different points along the path of discipleship. Some are far along the path of discipleship; some are just getting started on this journey of faith and spiritual growth. But all of us who are following Jesus, in whatever ways we are called to serve, are His disciples.

The Family will welcome into its membership all those who want to follow Jesus, share the message of His love, and reap the harvest with us, including those who are at the start of the path of discipleship. For those who are just starting out, we will provide instruction, guidance, and encouragement in the foundational principles of discipleship, to help them to grow and progress, at their own pace, in their discipleship. We will also provide deeper spiritual counsel for those who want it.

Being a disciple of Jesus is what being in the Family is about. But adhering to rules and requirements will not be equated with “being a disciple.” We won’t judge whether someone can be a Family member based on how far along they may be in their discipleship, or whether they seem to be committing their all to Jesus. We will not measure our members’ discipleship against a long list of rules or a particular lifestyle.

Your discipleship and resultant commitment to the Lord is a personal matter. It has outward manifestations and repercussions, to be sure. There should be action that stems from your discipleship and commitment to Jesus. Some things, such as whether you are manifesting the fruits of the Spirit, if you are providing a good Christian testimony, if you are a witness of your faith to others, will be apparent to others too. But it’s a matter of the heart and spirit first and foremost, intimately linked to your personal connection and relationship with the Lord and your commitment to obey His Word.

What Jesus asks of His followers, the vision He gives them, the specifics of His call to them, are tailored to the individual disciple. Whatever conviction the Lord places on your heart, however He calls you to apply His Word, the gift of your discipleship is precious. Your discipleship is valuable to Jesus, and it’s valued by the Family.

We believe that the Lord does place on some of His followers’ hearts the call to forsake a career, personal possessions, or the comforts of home and family to serve Him. Some people are called to “immediately leave their nets and follow Him,”17 or to “sell all that they have and give to the poor.”18 He calls some people to be missionaries in foreign lands, others to be missionaries in their community or home country, others to be “laptop missionaries” via online witnessing ministries. The lives of disciples who forsook the life and career they had in order to follow Jesus are exemplified in the Bible. But there are also mentions of other followers of Jesus who had positions or wealth and were disciples, too; they did their part to serve the Lord and further the Gospel being preached.19

Some members might not feel called to engage in full-time missionary work, whether in the country of their birth or across the sea.—Their talents and/or choices might lend themselves more to facilitating those who are active in full-time mission work, or to pursuing a career path aside from full-time service. But they can still determine to follow Jesus and be a disciple; they can witness their faith and contribute to the mission in some way.

Throughout history, there have been many examples of people (Maria has highlighted a number in her “Christian Biographies” category on HIM) who did a great work for the Lord amidst varying circumstances—some from foreign mission fields, some in government, some as businessmen or those born into wealth, some in their home country, some from a sickbed, some in poverty and dire physical circumstances, some in front of a classroom, some world-famous, some unsung heroes. The common thread through each testimony of Christian commitment and discipleship that inspires and motivates us is the love for Jesus that they each had, and their obedience to the calling the Lord gave to them.

The Lord doesn’t call everyone to the same forms of service, to the exact same manifestations of discipleship, nor does He ask the same commitments or sacrifices of all His children. The same is true of those who are members of the Family.

We should not try to judge whether someone is “greatly committed” or “not very committed” based on past requirements and expectations, or on our own opinions or perspectives.—Such as whether someone lives communally; which country they serve the Lord in; whether they hold secular employment; whether they are going to college or university; how much time they spend reading the Word or invest in using spiritual gifts; how they enact their faith and desire to serve the Lord; what type of ministry they are involved in; whether they are a full-time missionary or are doing mission work part-time; or how much fruit their efforts seem to be bearing.

How the Lord wants you to express your discipleship, where and how He wants you to serve Him and witness, the conviction of Spirit He places on your heart, the way in which He wants you to grow spiritually, the blessings He gives you now and hereafter, are personal matters between you and Him. Your response to what the Lord has asked of you, both in your heart and spirit as well as in the degree of action you take, is the measure of your personal commitment to Him. It’s up to you to follow through on the call He gives you. That will be what tells the tale of your discipleship and commitment.

Based on what the Lord has shown you through His Word and the personal instruction and burdens He gives you, you will know whether you are giving all that He has asked of you, whether your discipleship is pleasing to Him, whether you are living up to your commitments to Him. The onus is on each of us as individuals to discover the Lord’s personalized calling for our life and to grow from there.

Your commitment to spiritual growth and service as a disciple is between you and Jesus. Other factors may motivate, encourage, and stir you, but taking action based on that motivation or encouragement is a personal choice. Spiritual progress starts in the heart. Where and how far you go from there is up to you.

Along the path of discipleship, we will each face ups and downs, encounter twists and turns, times when we feel we’re making good progress, times of quiet consolidation of our gains, times when we stumble. If someone seems to be doing less in their mission work and service, or if they are at a low point in the cycle of their discipleship or life, if they don’t seem to be progressing spiritually as much as we think they could or should, we should not judge. This is ultimately between them and the Lord.

We have high times and low times, whether physically or spiritually or both, times of strength and weakness. Commitment is not expressed identically in every life, nor does everyone always remain at, or manifest, the same level of commitment at all times. This depends largely on our personal choices, of course, but can also be influenced by a myriad of natural, human factors—the cycles of our lives, personal, family, or other obligations, and external extenuating circumstances that are beyond our control. These things are part of life, part of growth.

Through the inspirational writings and spiritual counsel we will provide, we pray that we can aid you in your spiritual development and service to Jesus. The Family will provide an environment that fosters growth in your relationship with the Lord, knowledge of the Word, discipleship, and mission service, with the understanding that these are matters of the heart and spirit that hinge on personal choices. It’s in the best interests of all of us to develop strong personal discipleship, and to support and champion the determination of others in walking the path of discipleship.

Discipleship in the Family today and in the future means following Jesus, seeking His will in your decision-making, living your life according to His teachings and guidance, and doing your personal best in what He expects of you.

The Family is a community of faith where members have freedom to practice their discipleship and live their commitment to the Lord and His personalized calling for them. We are an organization that is committed to providing a contemporary and relevant response to the Great Commission on an international scale.

TFI needs disciples. TFI needs missionaries. We welcome all who want to serve the Lord with us, who want to grow in faith and spirit alongside us, and we respect the unique, personalized calling the Lord gives to each of His followers. Whether someone has been serving the Lord for years or is just getting started in following Jesus, whether they are a “career” missionary or participate in the mission as they’re able to, they can equally be a member of the Family, part of our spiritual fellowship and mission-based network.

Every member’s commitment is valued. Every step along the spiritual journey of discipleship has significance. As friends and co-workers, we should be there for each other, supporting and encouraging one another as we grow in faith and work together to achieve our united purpose of sharing Jesus’ love, salvation, and spiritual truths with others.

TFI members are the engine that powers our progress. We will always need members who feel called and compelled to give the best of their time and efforts to the Lord’s work, and/or to support those who do. Our prayer is that as many TFI members as possible will commit, or grow into committing, as much of their time and resources as they can to furthering the mission.

The Family is, and, by God’s grace, always will be a group whose members are united by common bonds of dedication to serving the Lord, preaching the Gospel, and proving that Jesus’ disciples—those who are known by their love for God and fellow man—walk the earth today.

An Empowering Environment

By building on these cornerstone concepts and being motivated and driven by our core beliefs, core values, and core purpose—our guiding principles—we aim to change the environment of the Family.

We envision the Family providing an empowering environment—one that infuses members with inspiration and confidence to enact their dreams and plans for God; to act on God’s will for their life, whatever path or career it leads them to; to grow in Christian faith, belief, discipleship, or missionary service; to reach for the stars in finding effective means of bringing the Gospel to those who need it.

We see a broadening of our spiritual fellowship and community of faith, as we create an atmosphere that is open and welcoming, that extends a hand of friendship and camaraderie to all those who want to work with us and learn about the spiritual truths we have been richly blessed with.

We see a strengthening of hearts and hope, as we participate in a culture that draws a circle of love that brings others in, that recognizes, inspires, and cultivates the potential in others, that spiritually nurtures, that encourages the faith, vision, and resolve of our comrades in arms.

Our collective choices and decisions will determine what the Family is known for and how we are perceived—if we are known as a movement in which the Spirit of God is alive, in which the love of Jesus is manifested, if we are known as a group whose members conduct themselves with integrity, and who welcome others who want to work with us or be part of our fellowship.

How much dedication and passion we, as a Family, demonstrate toward fulfilling our mission will be the result of how faithful and committed each individual member is to following what the Lord shows them to do to witness to others, how eager we are to embrace new mission-related opportunities, and how much faith and action we demonstrate in pursuing the opportunities the Lord gives us.

The spiritual strength of our church as a whole, and whether we are known as “Jesus’ disciples” because of the love we show to others, again depends on each of us—our personal choices, our personal commitment.

Maria and I believe in the Family and in all that the Lord wants to do through each of you. There wouldn’t be a Family without you.

If as many of us as possible—by God’s grace, the majority of us—continue to live our faith and dedication to the Lord and pursue the calling of the Great Commission, in whatever form it takes in our lives, and we welcome into our membership those who want to do the same; if we each make choices that are motivated by Jesus’ love and God’s will for our lives; if we are committed to following our guiding principles, and applying them in our lives and work—then we do have a strong chance of success.

There will be struggles, it will take persistent effort on our part, and it will take time to realize our dreams. But as we do all that we can and count on God to guide and support us, we believe that we can achieve the progress and growth that we seek as a mission-minded community of faith that is welcoming, relevant, progressive, contemporary, and able to change with the times, without waning in its commitment to bring the world something that everyone needs at all times, in every country, in every culture, in every age—Jesus’ love and truth.

Copyright © 2010 by The Family International