Reboot-08: Lifestyle

From XFamily - Children of God
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The Reboot Series - Part 8 of 20; 28 May 2010

At different periods of our history we have focused heavily on certain aspects of our lifestyle—particularly those relating to the strengthening of our spiritual lives, the care and discipling of our children, and the successful and harmonious running of communal homes. At such times, the attention of leadership and the focus of the Word were devoted in great part to these aspects of our lives and service for the Lord.

When “The Mission” was published, a distinction was made between Family lifestyle/personal life responsibilities and the mission. In order for Family leadership to turn its focus more strongly toward the mission and to assisting Family members and homes in being successful and innovative in their mission endeavors, as well as to allow for more self-determination in relation to lifestyle choices, it became necessary to more clearly distinguish between what members do as part of their spiritual, family, personal, or home life, and what they do in relation to fulfilling the mission.

“The Mission” stated:

There are aspects of our lifestyle that serve as an undeniable testimony and positive example to others, and they call for a great deal of self-sacrifice and love for others, but they’re not the same as engaging in the mission. They aren’t the reason for the Family’s existence as a movement. … In order to stay focused on and true to our mission, we must distinguish between what we do in our spiritual, family, personal, or communal lives, and what we do toward the purpose of fulfilling the Family’s mission.1

The changes introduced in this document, which lift a number of lifestyle rules and requirements, are intended to facilitate your ability to focus more fully on the mission, as well as to exercise greater self-determination. We pray that you will find that these changes benefit you.

Communal living

Communal living has been a hallmark of the Family since our early days. Our model of communal living was built on our interpretation of the scriptural example of the Early Church in the book of Acts, specifically that “all that believed were together, and had all things common.”2 We adopted communal living as a way to showcase Jesus’ love and as a testament to the practicality of living His Word in today’s society.

Communal living is not without its sacrifices and inconveniences, but we have proven that it can work today, and that for those who want to live this lifestyle in the future, there are valuable benefits. For example:

  • Living together with other Family members provides a close fellowship of believers who can support one another spiritually and physically.
  • It’s economical.
  • It provides a physical base of support, a way to share common duties (cooking, cleaning, shopping, care of the children, maintenance, etc.), thus economizing on manpower.
  • It requires love and unselfishness to maintain a happy communal home. A communal lifestyle is one way to develop and manifest these qualities, which should be prominent in our lives as Christians.
  • When others have the opportunity to observe our communal lifestyle, and the love, harmony, and unity that we are blessed with despite the obstacles, it’s a living testimony of the Lord’s love, as well as an example of unselfishness, dedication, and unity of spirit.

“The Mission” states:

If you live cooperatively, your happy, united communal Home is probably very key to your witness. It might be part of your appeal, something that attracts others to Jesus and provides a tangible manifestation of His love at work in your life. A loving, harmonious, filled-with-the-fruits-of-the-Spirit, communal Home that is going places and getting the job done can be a compelling example, part of “walking the talk.”
While we don’t exist as a Family in order to live communally, we firmly believe that communal living can be a powerful asset in your witnessing. It can greatly aid you in accomplishing the mission, because it’s an uncommon testimony, and it can provide a well-rounded example of applied Christianity. The Family’s example of communal living is something that the Lord has used over the years to attract many to His power and love. It can play an important part in your delivery system.3

While Family members have demonstrated that it’s possible to have a successful Christian communal lifestyle in today’s society, and that it can be a powerful witness in some situations, we also acknowledge that times have changed over the last 30–40 years. In today’s world, communal living is not necessarily the best way to be a living testimony of Jesus’ love in every country or culture, nor is it the only proof that His teachings can be lived in daily life.

In some cultures, a communal home can be a beautiful and compelling testimony, one that is appealing or intriguing to those who are interested. In other cultures, communal living is not highly thought of, nor is it understood, and the very foreignness of it can work against our members being accepted by the people they are trying to reach. In some areas of the world, housing that is adequate for a large communal home is often prohibitively expensive, or is located far outside the city, which can sometimes make it more challenging for members to engage in the mission.

Living communally can also be complex, particularly in larger homes. The bigger the communal home, the more must be invested in internal matters in order to help the home run smoothly. In some cases, the benefits of living communally equal or outweigh the time and effort that has to be invested to have a happy, harmonious home. In other situations, the internal workings and upkeep of a large communal home can become time-consuming or demanding in ways that make it difficult for the home members to give as much of their time and energy to mission-related focuses as they would like. In those instances, communal living is not contributing significantly to the mission, and in some cases, might even be detracting from fulfilling mission goals.

At times people have lived communally because they had to in order to keep their FD status, or they felt it was expected of them, but they didn’t particularly feel united or want to live together with those who were in their home. Sometimes they were able to overcome personal differences regardless, and do great things together to move the mission forward. But other times, it took so much work to remain united, or to keep up with the many personnel changes, that they weren’t able to accomplish as much on the mission front.

The reality is that it’s not possible—or always best—for all members to live communally. Some people might need to live on their own for health reasons. Circumstances in some people’s lives might dictate that they reside in an area where there are no other Family members, so living communally isn’t an option for them. Some people might find that the needs of their children and teenagers are best met when they live on their own with their personal family.

Some of our members who are raising their own families might want more space or privacy or autonomy than large communal situations afford. Some might find that living in a smaller situation makes it easier for them to raise their family and accomplish the mission, or is more suited to their life goals. Some older members might find that they need a slower pace of life than a large communal situation provides. And there are a number of other possible reasons.

Already, Active members (and many Fellow members and Missionary members) don’t live communally, and in the future we’ll welcome new Family members who are either unable to live communally or wouldn’t choose to. If communal living were to continue to be considered “the best” or preferred lifestyle for Family members, that might hinder or even prevent us from gaining some co-workers who want to help us in the mission, but who aren’t interested in living communally for one reason or another. What counts is a member’s commitment to serve the Lord and fulfill the mission in some way; whatever living situation best facilitates that is what members should choose.

The principles that make successful communal living possible are enduring. Love, sacrifice, unity, unselfishness, and bearing one another’s burdens are values that are core to our Family and what we believe and who we are. These are aspects of the Family that we do not want to lose.

The way in which Family members choose to apply these principles of love, unselfishness, caring for one another, and the principle of “all that believed were together and had all things common,” which communal living is fundamentally based on, will be up to each person. Those beautiful and enduring principles are still central to who we are; they’re timeless principles. We must work to keep these in place.

What we are changing is the mandate that anyone in the Family must live communally, as well as the legislation attached to living communally. We are relinquishing the statuses of membership which were based on various guidelines and rules, including communal living. We realize that there are some situations in which it is more advantageous and conducive to fulfilling the mission for members to not live communally. We also recognize that there are Family members who would either prefer to not live communally (for example, to live only with their personal family), or who do like living communally but would prefer to do so in an unstructured way, or who would like the freedom to experiment in structuring their communal lifestyle in a different way than has been presented by the Family’s guidelines.

Communal living is viable and well suited to some people and to some locations and ministries. For those who have the opportunity and desire to live communally, though it comes with some inherent sacrifices, there are also unique benefits and blessings. For some people, living communally will be the best arrangement; it will facilitate their participation in the mission, as well as help to meet their personal and family needs. Some members might find that living on their own is what they need, or what will best facilitate their participation in the mission.

Some might find that some form of cooperative living is practical and efficient and appreciated in their situation, rather than a number of people living under the same roof. For example, some members might choose to work cooperatively (a number of members living in different residences, yet operating “communally” in some respects, such as sharing donated goods, combining aspects of the care and training of their children and teens, working together on the same mission-related projects, meeting regularly for fellowship, etc.). Or they might choose to live communally with guidelines that they set together regarding such things as division of finances and responsibilities.

Members are free to pursue whatever living arrangements are best suited to their needs and to accomplishing the mission in the way the Lord has called them to. For some people, that will be communal living. For some people, it will be working together cooperatively. For some people, it will be living on their own.

Even though communal living is based on beautiful and enduring principles, it’s not the only means by which to live those principles. It’s also not the only way to stay strong spiritually, or to maintain bonds of love and brotherhood with co-workers and fellow disciples. Whether someone chooses to live on their own or with others will not be considered a reflection of their spirituality, their discipleship, their commitment, or their desire to live those enduring spiritual principles.

There is value in:

a) Living the Family’s values, the biblical principles of “bearing one another’s burdens,”4 manifesting love and unselfishness, and supporting one another in faith and practice. Whatever your living situation, you can work in teamwork with others when the opportunity presents itself, you can reach out to others with love and unselfishness, you can fulfill the scriptural advice to fellowship with your brothers and sisters in the Lord, you can practice TFI’s core values in your daily life.
b) Doing what best facilitates your participation in the mission in your situation. Aiming for a living setup and lifestyle that provides you with the platform you need to reach the people the Lord has called you to reach.

Related to the change of communal living no longer being a requirement for any Family members, here are a few points to bear in mind:

  • There are no longer any Charter rules governing communal living (such as the requirement to have a steering council, a minimum number of voting members, or home councils, etc.). If you choose to live communally, it’s up to you to determine (along with the other members you are living with) what the rules governing your home or community life will be. You are free to adopt or adapt rules or guidelines or procedures that worked for you in the past, or use previous communal living guidelines as your model or as a starting point which you can adapt. You’re also free to create your own structure or governance plan.
  • There is counsel in past Family publications and Letters which you might find helpful if you choose to live communally. We have been blessed with a wealth of instruction and counsel on the subjects of communal living, teamwork, personal relations and communications, and caring for one another. Communal living is something that we have a lot of experience in as a Family. It is in your court to decide how to set up your home and its governance, and you’re welcome to refer to, to use, and to adapt previous counsel and principles that you feel might be helpful in making your situation happy and harmonious.
  • In the past we viewed our communal homes as Family bases, and our communal lifestyle was considered a showcase for our witness. While it remains true that the way you live, as Family members, is part of manifesting your faith, and that your personal example is a part of your witness, because the Family will no longer regulate personal lifestyle matters, we will no longer look at residences of Family members as being official Family bases or “Family Homes.” Where you live is your personal home.

You might choose to have your personal home also be a place where you invite people to visit, have Bible studies, fellowship, etc. In other circumstances, you might prefer to pursue other venues for hosting fellowships, Bible studies, community events, and so on. These and other options are perfectly acceptable.

  • There will continue to be Family members who need help and support from their brethren in the Family. Whether a Family member chooses to live communally or not, as part of the body of Christ, it’s still part of every member’s responsibility before the Lord to, within their power, provide care and help to those in need.

Whatever our living environment, we should all be on the lookout for opportunities to live our values and to practice love, unselfishness, unity, and to find workable solutions in caring for one another and meeting each other’s needs—doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.5

Acts 2:44-45

We continue to believe in the principles that form what we have commonly referred to as common-potting or “Acts 2:44–45,” based on the example of the apostles and their model for handling finances and resources in the book of Acts.6 To sum it up, the Acts 2:44–45 concept is that, as believers, we share our material possessions and finances with each other. This principle has also been widely applied to other aspects of life or resources, such as living space, the gifts and talents of individuals, etc.

The intent of the principles behind common-potting and “Acts 2:44–45” is that everyone will have what they need, and that those who have more than others should lovingly share some of what they have with those who lack.

When it comes to the ownership of material possessions, we have operated on the principle that these things belong to the Lord above all, and that we should give willingly to the Lord and His work, and take care of our brothers and sisters who have a need.

These are scriptural principles that we have lived by for many years, and that we continue to hold as important tenets of our Christian faith. Demonstrations of love, unselfishness, and willingness to give even to our own hurt are not only part of our testimony, but part of manifesting Jesus’ love and living our lives as His representatives. Abiding by these principles is also a safeguard against adopting ungodly mindsets and attitudes, which run contrary to the Lord’s Spirit, such as materialism, greed, and selfishness.

While we will no longer have rules and guidelines that dictate a specific application of the Acts 2:44–45 concept (specifically as regards communal living, common-potting of finances, ownership, etc.), we hold fast to the principles of sharing what we have with others, and helping and giving to those in need. These principles are some of our enduring Christian values.

We want to keep the spirit of loving-kindness, giving, unselfishness, and helping others alive in the Family. What’s more, we hope that this part of our Family culture will flourish and grow stronger as we follow the Lord in the specific ways He leads each of us to enact these timeless principles.

May we always be known for our love!

Matters of personal choice

As articulated throughout the counsel the Lord has given since the start of the change journey, and more recently in “Blueprint for the Future,” personal life matters are up to the individual to decide on, in accordance with the way the Lord is leading you personally.7

As a Family member, the core values and core beliefs of the Family, as well as our core purpose (the mission), should be considered in decisions that you make. The values, beliefs, and purpose that make up our guiding principles are the soul of our organization. They are what inspire and motivate us to serve Jesus and others, and to live our lives in a godly manner.

Part of our faith is that when the Lord calls someone to serve Him, or when He calls them to grow in their spiritual life and walk with Him, then serving and following Jesus and striving for that growth is what will bring that individual the greatest joy and satisfaction. One of our values in the Family is to follow the Lord in the things that He asks of each of us. What the Lord asks of an individual is between that person and Him, and how that person enacts what He asks is also up to the individual to decide.

Because the Family as an organization aims to facilitate those who want to serve Jesus, who want to go further for the Lord, who want to grow in their spiritual life, the counsel that is published will encourage, prompt, and challenge you to live your personal commitments to the Lord, to be true to His calling for you. How you enact what God shows you to do, the choices you make, the sacrifices you choose to make, the lifestyle choices that you feel best suit your needs and the mission, are between you and the Lord.

How you support yourself, how you educate your children, whether you pursue a career outside of or along with your missionary service, whether you live by yourself or with others, and many other such choices, are personal matters that are for you to decide, in counsel with the Lord and any others you might want to counsel with.

Our core purpose as a Family is to fulfill the mission. To that end, all Family members are encouraged to make choices that will enhance their ability and effectiveness to carry out the mission, and that will strengthen and preserve their faith and connection to Jesus. The hope is that, as followers of Jesus, advancing the mission will continue to be one of the primary goals of every Family member.

The changes being made now should broaden the ways and means available to you to participate in and facilitate the mission. They provide you with more flexibility in how you meet your spiritual needs and advance in your spiritual life. They will give you the opportunity to use different methods and modes of living for and serving the Lord. They will remove the lifestyle barriers and restrictions that, in some cases, may have made it difficult for you to interact with others in mainstream society in a way that makes you relatable, transparent, and better able to meet their needs. The goal is that those who you minister to can see you as being someone they can connect with, because you’re relatable, and yet at the same time, they recognize that there’s something different about your spirit and manner that they are interested in having or learning about, something valuable that you can impart to them or teach them.

More important than having a particular lifestyle within our own homes is finding ways to bring the essence of what makes us different—a personal, living relationship with Jesus, His love and Spirit in us, and the truths of His Word—into the lives of others, so that they can benefit too, and, in turn, share those benefits with the people in their circle of influence.

Our prayer is that these changes will empower Family members to be mission entrepreneurs, to boldly pursue new methods or means of service, to branch out into new ministries, to be more innovative than ever in witnessing wherever the Lord calls them—in the workplace, with their family, to their community, in their city or country—using their gifts and skills to convey Jesus’ love and message in ways that will be meaningful and relevant to those they’re trying to reach.

Spiritual life responsibilities

As the counsel in “Beyond Duty” explained, and as with many of the other changes the Lord is bringing about in the Family, He is moving us away from depending on hard-and-fast rules to ensure that we’re moving in the right direction or making the right choices spiritually. He’s asking each of us to place more priority on understanding and fulfilling the spirit or intent of His counsel, based on the personal instructions He gives us.

When it comes to spiritual responsibilities, this means looking at our spiritual lives and determining what our needs are, and how to best meet those needs. It means pursuing the avenues of spiritual feeding and renewal that best help us to connect with Jesus and take on His nature and Spirit, rather than being bound to time requirements or using specific methods.

There is also the important aspect of giving the Lord a portion of our time out of love and obedience to Him, to commune with Him, to show Him our respect and to affirm that we put Him first—above the other things we would like to do or need to do, even above His work.

Nurturing our spiritual lives isn’t a new concept. It has always been a personal responsibility, something that we do because we believe we need it and because the Lord asks it of us. But there will no longer be across-the-board stipulations on the activities individuals should include in their spiritual lives for spiritual feeding, renewal, or communion with the Lord, nor will there be time requirements for these activities. It’s up to people to consistently make time for the spiritual matters that are important to them—including communion with the Lord, times of spiritual feeding and renewal, times of spiritual fellowship with fellow believers, times of prayer for others, etc.

Removing the specific time and frequency requirements that were previously attached to spiritual activities does not mean that time with the Lord is any less important or any less of a priority. It’s still supremely important; it’s what keeps us connected to the Lord and His Spirit and gives us grace and strength in our work for Him and others. But requirements for spiritual activities will no longer be mandated, because each member’s connection with the Lord, and the way we each maintain this, is a personal responsibility. It’s up to each of us to fulfill this responsibility in the way the Lord calls us to.

The fruits of a healthy relationship with Jesus are evident and speak for themselves. The principles behind dedicating time to spend with the Lord are enduring and unfailing. We need His power, strength, anointing, and wisdom flowing through us in order to lift Him up and glorify Him, so that others may be drawn to His love and Spirit. We need time with Him in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to renew our faith.

As our forefathers of faith did, those who desire to be filled with the Lord and His Spirit will continue to set aside and give priority to the time with Him that they need, because they want to and are personally convinced of the need to do so, because they recognize that it’s a law of the spirit that works, even though it can’t be explained logically. To be an example of Jesus, we need His power, His love, His Spirit to touch us and compel us, and in order to receive that, we must spend time with Him and receive from Him.

The same concept applies to other forms of input and the effect that such input has on your spirit, as was explained in “Your Input, Your Choice, Your Spirit.”8 It’s a personal responsibility to choose the input that you feel is beneficial to your life, your faith, your commitments to Jesus, your involvement in the mission, and your personal development.

It’s up to each member to decide what is or isn’t acceptable in their circumstances and according to their commitments to the Lord. In the case of children and youth, it is up to the parents. In the case of a communal home, if those living together want to set guidelines for what is acceptable within the home (or in the public areas of the home), they may of course do so.

As the Lord suggested in “Beyond Duty,” one method that can be helpful to ensure quality personal spiritual feeding and forward progress is to make a plan for the various elements that you want to include in your time with the Lord and Word intake, and then regularly assess your spiritual life and make changes as necessary to meet your needs.

Even though there will be no requirements regarding spiritual activities, uniting with others for prayer, praise, reading/study and discussion of the Word creates a spiritual dynamic that isn’t possible to create on your own. Fellowshipping with believers is a biblical principle and an important part of living a Christian life. You should take time for spiritual fellowship and praising and honoring the Lord together. Share with others how the Word is convicting and motivating you, what the Lord is speaking to you about. Take time to pray for one another. It will take some work to coordinate schedules and preferences, but the benefits are well worth it.

The Family won’t provide official rules, safeguards, and requirements in the realm of your spiritual life, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t need safeguards, or that you shouldn’t set goals for yourself, or ask others to hold you accountable for certain commitments that you make before the Lord.

We all need goals, assistance and accountability at various times in our lives in order to maintain a healthy, fulfilling spiritual life. Others need spiritual support too, so do what you can to uphold and support fellow disciples in their time of need.

Spiritual accountability

With the changes the Lord is bringing about in the Family, He is asking us all to be much more accountable to Him for our actions and our spiritual lives. This includes being personally responsible to seek out and welcome the type of safeguarding and spiritual guidance and mentoring that will help us to progress spiritually along the path of discipleship. An adjustment of this nature means that it’s no longer necessary for the organization to mandate a certain structure or style of shepherding for individuals or homes or groups of members.

While the Family won’t require homes or individuals to elect shepherds, as we have in the past, that doesn’t lessen the importance of staying healthy spiritually. Nor does it mean that it’s fine to let your personal spiritual standard slide, or that mentors and spiritual counselors are not helpful, or even vital in some cases.

Having someone who you feel comfortable with, who you can confide in, who is interested in helping you to make progress and reach your goals, can help you in your application of the spiritual principles in the Word, and can provide an outside perspective. If you’re looking for a safeguard, they can help to challenge or motivate you when you’re slipping in your commitments. That person can help to point out things that you might not be seeing clearly, and if nothing else, he or she can be a friend who is there for you, who will pray for you. And you can do the same for them.

Ultimately the maintenance of each member’s spiritual life is a personal responsibility that individuals hold before the Lord. Spiritual support and safeguarding is valuable, and can assist you in staying spiritually healthy. Having the help and support of others who are like-minded is of great worth. But it is in the court of members to seek out the type of spiritual accountability and support that facilitates their goals.

You might want to find others—mentors or peers—who have similar goals in their walk of faith, and make yourselves accountable to one another. You may find it beneficial to seek out those who are going the direction you want to go in your spiritual life, and avail yourself of their counsel or mentoring. They can help to encourage you when you need it, and you can ask them to level with you when you’re slipping in your commitments.

Maintaining an active, vibrant spiritual life, and taking steps to become more like Jesus and more effective as His representative in doing the mission, will cost you. Choosing to push yourself past your comfort zone in order to seek out and receive honest critiques and outside perspectives from your friends and fellow disciples, even though it comes through imperfect human vessels, will cost you. It’s up to you to decide what sacrifices the Lord is asking of you in your spiritual life, and then to commit to making them.

It’s up to you to determine what you need or would benefit from as far as spiritual accountability and support, and to seek it out. That might include being personally accountable to someone whom you trust, electing a shepherd or counselor in your fellowship group or home, requesting counsel from someone who is gifted as a mentor or coach, banding together with friends who are like-minded and making yourselves accountable to each other as a group, or whatever the Lord shows you will be most effective for you personally.

We also encourage you to be open to spiritually assisting and helping others, as the Lord leads. Some people are especially gifted at encouraging and mentoring, and their gifts can fill a great need in others’ lives. Even if you don’t feel particularly gifted, the Lord may put you in situations where you are the perfect person to help someone else in their time of need. You may not have a title, but the Lord can use you just the same to make a difference in someone else’s spiritual life when they need prayer, encouragement, support, and counsel.

The type of mentoring or spiritual counseling that will most likely be sought after in the future is assisting one another in reaching personal goals, helping others to enjoy quality of life by encouraging and motivating them in living the core values and fulfilling their personal commitments to Jesus, helping one another through moments of difficulty or loss or struggle, encouraging one another in the mission, and becoming more professional and adept at the ministries the Lord calls them to.

We all need each other, and we need friends and fellow disciples who will motivate us to stretch, to grow, to be better than we are, to grow closer to the Lord, to expect more fruit and better results than we’re currently getting. That’s part of living a Christian life.

Civic responsibilities

Throughout our history as a religious movement, we have been organized as our own society operating within the greater society. We’ve had a specific code of conduct, which for the last 15 years has been codified in the Charter (and, more recently, also in the MM and FM statutes), and rules and regulations that governed acceptable behavior, as well as a judicial system to manage infractions of our internal rules. This system served us well in our communal society, where the actions of the individual affected others in the home, and ultimately our Family society. The enforcement of a specific code of conduct was required in order to preserve our common values and lifestyle.

It also provided a universal system of governance, so that regardless of what country Family members lived in, the rules and regulations would be the same for all members. Considering that we have had members in up to 90 countries around the globe, having a uniform societal structure has made it easy for Family members to travel from country to country and to know what was expected of them in order to be a Family member in good standing. Since laws and cultural norms vary quite a bit from country to country, having a universal code of conduct for members, via the Charter and our governing documents, was helpful in maintaining our Family values and beliefs within our communal society.

Now that we no longer have requirements governing aspects of life such as how people support themselves or who they work or live with or how they educate their children, our lifestyles and activities will be quite diverse. Members will branch out into new areas of life that we have little experience in, and which our previous rules and regulations were not designed to address. It wouldn’t be possible to provide a list of rules and regulations that will enable Family members to meet the legal requirements for every country and culture in which they may live. It will be up to individuals to be knowledgeable of their civic and legal responsibilities in their country of residence.

TFI’s structure will no longer monitor and judge the actions of individuals as it has in the past. Each of our members—whether they live communally, with their personal family, or alone—will be responsible for their lifestyle decisions and their day-to-day conduct. (Of course, if an individual is found to persistently contravene the membership responsibilities or to engage in behaviors that are harmful to the Family, that person will be in jeopardy of having his or her membership revoked.)

The actions of members are subject to the laws of the land in which they reside. For example, the decision of where to educate your children—whether at home or in the public or private school system—is in your court as parents and has no bearing on membership status. If you choose to educate your children at home, you would of course be subject to the laws of the land in which you reside regarding education. In deciding to educate your children at home, you’re taking on the responsibility to fulfill any necessary requirements.

If a person’s actions are in violation of the laws of the land, they are accountable for their actions. For example, the age at which young adults are allowed to drink alcohol or engage in sexual relations differs from country to country. It’s up to the individual to be aware of and comply with those laws (or for parents to ensure that their minors’ actions are in compliance with local laws).

The same applies to having your and your children’s legal documentation and paperwork in order, whether those are your personal identification papers or needed documentation for your ministry, residence, or work. It’s up to you to be aware and knowledgeable of what your responsibilities are in such matters and to fulfill them.

All citizens (or residents) of a country have societal responsibilities that they are expected to fulfill, whether it’s paying taxes, military training/service, educational requirements, etc. It’s up to each individual to determine how they will fulfill their responsibilities to society, which includes operating according to cultural expectations and the laws of the land.

It’s important that you are aware and informed of any laws of the country in which you reside that concern your daily life. Of course, most citizens (or residents) in a country aren’t aware of every law and local ordinance on the books. But it is your responsibility to be knowledgeable and observant of the laws that do affect your immediate actions. For example, if you drive, you’ll naturally want to know and abide by the local traffic laws and be knowledgeable of your responsibilities.

Or, if you have children, you’ll want to observe and be aware of the education or health laws. If you decide not to observe these (for example, vaccination requirements), you’d want to do your research, find out what is expected, or how to work around it or apply for an exemption, so that you’ll be prepared to answer for that decision should it come under scrutiny.

Or, if you were to decide to not take part in mandatory military service/training in your country, then you would need to have the faith for any repercussions of that decision.

As we branch out into new directions in many areas of our lives (both in the mission and in our personal lives), it’s vital for us to be aware of the laws of the land in which we live. Many of the laws that are second nature to people who have been living a secular lifestyle all of their lives are not so familiar to many of us, as we have lived apart, in many ways, from society at large. But with the changes currently underway in the Family, a more proactive approach will be needed by each of us in researching and understanding the laws which govern pertinent aspects of our lives and activities.

Previously, some matters that would have ordinarily been handled by society’s judicial systems have fallen to Family leadership to arbitrate, judge, and sentence. A number of matters were handled in-house, in accordance with the biblical injunction “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life?”9

While we believe that this model continues to be the ideal for managing many affairs among the believers, Family members may also need to avail themselves of the means provided by society for legal matters that are not related to their membership responsibilities.

Family leadership are subject to the laws of the land in their position of overseeing the Family’s disciplinary system. If they are made aware of criminal actions committed by a member of the Family, they may be subject to laws that require them to report a matter to the authorities. Of course, the legal expectations vary vastly from country to country, so it will be the personal responsibility of the leadership involved to be observant of applicable laws. (See more on this topic in “Membership Accountability.”)

In cases where the laws of the land are in conflict with our religious beliefs—for example, laws that forbid the practice of our religion or the sharing of our faith with others, as is articulated in our updated “Statement of Faith of the Family International,” under the point “Civic Responsibility”—it’s up to Family members to follow the dictates of their conscience according to their faith.

While we believe in the biblical injunction of “let every soul be subject to the governing authorities,”10 we also acknowledge that there may be times when the laws of the land are in conflict with God’s laws—such as in the case of countries that are persecuting minorities or requiring citizens to participate in an unjust war. In such cases, the Lord may lay it on your heart to object to such injustices. This would be a matter of personal faith and conscience.

Dating, sex and marriage

The sexual aspects of adult members’ lives—who they choose to date, marry, or have sexual relations with—are personal life issues, and are the responsibility and prerogative of the individual.

As in all aspects of their lives as Christians, Family members should conduct themselves—including their sexual interactions, whether with members or nonmembers—with integrity and love. (Sexual relations should also be conducted in accordance with the laws of the land in which members live.)

If a member of the Family chooses to engage in sex outside of marriage (with a member or nonmember), it should be within the guidelines of the Law of Love. This means that all parties involved need to understand and have a personal belief in how the Law of Love applies to sexual relations, and their actions must be in alignment with the principles for applying the Law of Love to sexual relations.

The sexual interaction must be handled lovingly and unselfishly, and with the willing consent of all parties involved, and must not hurt any third parties that would be affected, in order for the sexual interaction to fall under the “love fulfills the law” aspect of TFI’s sexual beliefs. Otherwise, such actions are not right; they go against TFI’s beliefs. (See an up-to-date explanation about the application of the Law of Love to sexual relations in “Applying the Law of Love.”)

The responsibility for matters relating to sexual behavior, health, propriety, and safety are fully in each adult member’s court. It is wise to become well educated on these matters. (Further education in the realm of sex and dating, including regarding health and safety matters—both for young adults and parents, for the purpose of educating their children and teens, covering the aspects that need to be addressed and taught as well as counsel on how to do so—will be made available after the reboot.)

These changes in Family policy also highlight the need for parents to provide their teens with well-rounded sex education, guidance, boundaries, and values regarding matters relating to dating, relationships, and sexuality.

Life and societal needs

As we become more socially integrated in our neighborhoods and communities, the ways in which we meet the needs of our children and teens and other personal and family needs will change. When we use the term “societal needs” we are referring to these needs and others, such as educational needs, recreational needs, socialization needs, etc.

In the past we have invested a lot of time and effort in creating programs and materials that were tailored to meeting members’ needs, or that were related to aiding members in fulfilling our former extensive membership requirements. While we have produced some excellent programs and materials, as we work to cement the importance of the mission in the Family, the mission will take prominence in how leadership’s time and efforts are apportioned, and the projects and endeavors in which we invest our resources. The Family will continue to produce materials that members need in relation to our faith and core purpose, while also aiming to devote more of the Family’s resources toward facilitating the mission-related needs of our members. (See “Structure and Services” for more information on this.)

The emphasis on the mission does not negate the importance of the societal needs of Family members and their children. These needs are still important, and we’ve had to look at how these can be best supplied. Realistically, it’s not possible for the Family to supply all the societal needs of its members. If we tap into the resources and options that are available in society, this can help to meet many of our members’ societal needs, as well as help individuals to reach their personal and life goals, and aid parents in meeting their family’s needs. You might find that some of these opportunities, in time, also open new doors for you to participate in the mission.

There are avenues available outside of the Family structure and our support network that can meet some of the needs that members and parents have; for example, education, funding (for special needs children, for the infirm or elderly, etc.), social activities, and so on. There are programs and helpful materials that have been created by dedicated Christians, churches, or secular organizations or individuals who are experts in their field, and which could help to meet your or your children’s needs. When there is a program or material already produced by someone in society that would meet your needs, we encourage you to tap in to the expertise of others and benefit from what they have to offer.

As was expressed in “Backtracking Through TFI History”: “We do not consider that everything of the world is inherently evil or ungodly. … There is much evil in the world, but there is also a lot of good. There are noble and godly people whose writings and lives we can learn from. There is much that is educational and relevant. We acknowledge that there is much in what the world provides that we can learn and benefit from.”

Some family and personal needs can also be met very well through collaborating with other members of the Family who have similar needs—which many of you already do, to varying degrees. For example, if there are several families with teens living in a city, one family might start hosting regular Word classes for the teens, and another might start a youth outreach ministry that is geared to teens. By collaborating, the families are able to meet the needs of their teens more easily than if each family tried to do so on their own. In time, those families might find that the programs that they’ve started for their own teens are needed by other parents in society too. The programs might grow, with other parents contributing, which might also generate opportunities for networking and engaging in the mission.

We will be cutting back on internal services and focus, and while this is a loss in some ways (because some needs have been met very well internally), in other ways it will be a positive. By looking around and finding out what will best meet your needs, or the needs of your children and teens, you’ll probably find a lot of variety and some amazing opportunities that the Lord wants to provide you with.

The Family will still provide spiritual feeding and mission-focused materials for its members and for children of members, but what the Family is able to provide will never be able to meet all of your or your children’s needs. So we encourage you to follow the Lord’s leading in supplementing what you are already getting or have access to, and see what doors the Lord opens for you.

One benefit of this change is that by integrating more into society in order to meet your or your family’s life and social needs, you’ll come into contact with people who have great spiritual needs that you are equipped to fill. As you interact with people who have similar practical needs and interests (for example, other parents who are also meeting their children’s needs through a certain program or club or school), it will open doors for you to minister to them spiritually on a level that they might not have been comfortable with or open to otherwise.

You’ll have opportunities to start or join communities of like-minded people, and become a positive and encouraging influence on them through the Lord’s love and the spiritual wealth you have to share. Interacting with others who share common interests and needs will open new doors to participate in the mission.

Peter and Maria

While we see and acknowledge the need to make these societal changes—as it’s the only way that we are able to practically direct our resources more fully to the mission at this time—they have not been easy decisions to make. We wish that we could provide you with everything that you and your children need and deserve—both what would facilitate your mission work for the Lord, as well as provide for personal and family needs and interests. If we could, we would.

We’d love to be able to help to provide some of your children’s and teens’ need for fellowship and excitement and hands-on discipleship training—as we have been able to in the past, most recently via the boards, which have done an excellent job in this realm. But we’ve had to be realistic in assessing what we, as an organization, are able to do at this time. In order to direct more focus to the mission, we have to make some sacrifices. (For more on the changes pertaining to the board structure, see “Structure and Services.”)

This step of cutting back on the programs that we generate from within the Family that cater specifically to Family members and their children, while an adjustment, to be sure, will also help us to make changes in our mindsets regarding being open to what society has to offer us in these realms. As we explained in “Backtracking Through TFI History”:

“We no longer hold to the thinking that the Family should try to operate independent of mainstream society’s structures. We neither oppose nor reject everything that mainstream society has to offer, whether in terms of government, or other Christian or secular organizations’ assistance programs, aids, education, etc.—including for our children and youth.” We believe that you will find some programs and opportunities that meet your needs very well—in some cases with more variety or resources than the Family programs would have been able to.

Still, this change is not easy for us, as we know it will not be easy or happy news for some of you. Finding alternate options will involve more work for you in some cases. We acknowledge that it will present new challenges initially for you and your children or teens, especially if you have depended on the helps and practical aids and courses that the Family has provided over the years. But we also trust that the Lord will open new doors for you as you step out by faith; He will supply your family’s needs.

The Lord has encouraged us in this matter, reminding us of His promises to provide for you and your children in every way. His promises in “The Ride of Your Life”11 come to mind.

To quote just a few things He said:

“I’m not going to disadvantage your kids so that the [mission] can succeed.”

“You will see, with time, that their spirits will be strengthened, their lives will be enriched, their education enhanced, their opportunities many, and their experiences vast and colorful.”

“You will see their physical needs provided for in outstanding and previously unexplored ways.”

“I see their future as being loaded with opportunities for growth spiritually, mentally, educationally, artistically, and professionally.”

“I am going to provide for your children and young people in ways that you never could in your present circumstances and situations. You are hemmed in by what you can provide for them now, but the witnessing and winning of the future will shatter the box of what you are capable of and what you can give to your children and young people today, and will thrust you and them into a new realm of experiences and opportunities for spiritual growth and well-rounded development and education.”

“I dream of filling your children and young people to overflowing with so many perks and opportunities, and I’m committed to making that happen.”

“I will give you whatever you need—from finances, to educational materials, to teachers, to time, to inventive ideas, to solutions, to miracles, and most of all, opportunities for growth and stretching and giving and greater happiness, for both you and your children.”12

Some of the changes in this document probably come as good news or a relief, and others represent some challenges or sacrifices. In making these changes, we have to keep coming back to the core purpose of the Family—which is facilitating the mission-related efforts of each Family member. We pray that the flexibility and options that these changes provide will enhance your efforts in doing the mission, provide greater happiness and fulfillment, and open possibilities that weren’t available to you before.

Copyright © 2010 by The Family International