Dear brothers and sisters,
Dave here, with a fairly long list of points to consider with regard to setting up your own community. For the most part, these points will have relevance only to our own community, and I will not bother to go over material which I am assuming most of you have already learned. Nevertheless, I will probably go ahead and post this on our web site, more or less as a matter of historical interest if nothing else, since I do feel that this is an historical moment in our development as a community.
Some of you are reeling a bit at my earlier suggestion that we consider breaking up into separate communities with only a bare minimum of links between us. At the time it was only a suggestion, but there have been a number of responses which seem to indicate that God has been preparing others for this as well. In other words, at this stage, it looks like being what we will do over the next few months.
One of the reasons for this move is because we do seem to have suffered from an over-abundance of "socialism" within our community. It has often been quite helpful to have a single purse, and to have one person (namely, me) arranging movements between bases, and another person (namely, Christine) organising print runs for all of the bases. But in many ways, people have been deprived of the opportunity to learn from their own mistakes. And, at the same time, a small handful of leaders have felt an overload of responsibility for things which could have been managed quite well by others.
So, in order to get everyone exercising more personal initiative, we are hoping (over the next few months) to get each base set up on a completely independent footing. You will make all of your own arrangements for printing new literature and arranging for personnel movements, and you will more or less become accountable only to God and yourselves for the rest of what you do. Toward that end, there are a lot of different areas of leadership and accountability that you will need to consider, and I will try to cover some of them in this letter. Some practices you may wish to keep more or less as they are now; some you may wish to change; and some you may wish to discard or replace. It is all up to you. At the very least, I am hoping that less accountability to the larger community will ease the burden on people with regard to the various reports that have been sent off each week... although you may well find that you still have to go through most of the same motions in order to be accountable to yourselves.
Those reports which you will no longer need to send out to everyone else include budget reports, phantom run results, 144K percentages, empowerment points, statistics on the number of books distributed, and reports on the number of contacts you have followed up. At this stage, I think it would be good to continue with the monthly newsletter, various charitable projects, and the web site, although all of these will be handled by the Kenya base. Cherry and I will be officially linked with the Kenya base, and not with the Australia base.
There will be some tidying up with regard to moving both finances and personnel around to a good starting point, and then, after that, you'll be on your own!
Australia, Europe, and North America will each operate independently, and so here are some points for them to consider as they move toward independence.
I want to caution you all to avoid the temptation to adopt a laissez faire approach to leadership. There have been a number of experiments of that nature in our community in the past, and the results have always been disastrous. Leadership is hard work, and even a facilitative style of leadership must be approached with forethought and care. The "laissez" approach is often a "lazy" approach, and the results are often UNfair.
You will most likely feel a relief to be free from some of the inconveniences of so much accountability, and that is fine. But please do try to continue to be accountable to SOMEONE, if only to yourself and God.
When it comes to choosing a leader, I recommend a vote, although it does not always need to be a formal vote... if there is a general consensus. In very small teams (e.g. four members) there really needs to be a strong feeling of unity, and so discussions amongst yourselves may arrive at who should lead better than a straight out ballot. The UK team has been experimenting with leaders being chosen on the basis of performance. This has acted as a safeguard against leaders slacking off on certain disciplines after they have gained the title of leader. Leaders may be elected for long terms, short terms, or indefinite terms. But do not be afraid to discuss the pros and cons of each, and to re-discuss them if circumstances change.
Before leaving this topic, I should stress that your spiritual success will not depend on either the style of leadership or the system of government that you choose to adopt. This is the mistake that people make over and over again when they place their hopes in political solutions. Your spiritual success will come from a humble, honest, loving spirit. You can make any number of mistakes and still be a success if you can stay open to the leadings and lessons of the Spirit.
Learning to handle finances and still stay on top spiritually may well prove to be your greatest single challenge. Some of you may have assumed that you were more spiritual than you really are, simply because you have opted out of financial decisions. Now you will need to learn how to be responsible without being greedy... definitely not an easy task.
Hopefully bases will continue to keep budgets, even though these will no longer be sent in to the overall leadership. They are helpful for reference, but they also act as a rough buffer against dishonesty with finances.
One practical tip with regard to your wealth. Try to share it around a bit. You may find it best to keep funds in more than one bank account (or one account that requires several signatures), and if you have more than one vehicle, register each one in a different name... favouring (of course) those members who have the most proven records of reliability. New members especially need to relinquish all private ownership until they have shown an ability to handle funds without selfishly abusing that power. So even when they bring a vehicle into the community that is registered in their name, it is generally wise to either sell it or transfer the title.
If you are likely to be handling large amounts of money, you may need to check into what is required to cover yourself with regard to taxation. This will vary from country to country.
Although we are giving all vehicles and all stocks of books to the various bases, we are asking that each base set aside what cash you have when the new arrangement begins, to be used only for projects endorsed by the Kenya team (e.g. travel costs for personnel movements, charitable projects, or print jobs already underway at the moment). When those funds are used up, then you will be entirely on your own, and it will be your responsibility to set aside funds for travel, future print runs, and further donations to charitable projects. Work out priorities on all of your various expenses.
Pray for wisdom with regard to how you use your money. There are times when it is best to do without luxuries, but there are also times when you will save more (in both time and money) by spending a bit more. Just be sure that you have it to spend. We have always operated on the assumption that debts are the slavery of the rich. Please do not commit yourselves to things that you do not have the money to pay for.
One of the best ways to avoid debts is to plan ahead... well ahead. And then budget for whatever it is that you want to get.
Each base will need to decide whether or not to give pocket money or cash bonuses as incentives, and as opportunities for members to develop personal responsibility with regard to how they use personal funds. If an individual member wants to transfer to a different base, we will need to decide whether the individual, the base they are leaving, or the base they are joining, will have responsibility for covering the cost of travel. Generally speaking, I would assume that it would be the responsibility of the base they wish to join. If that base is not keen enough (or not rich enough) to pay travel expenses to bring them over, then it may be that they will have to pray for other openings before they make such a leap.
People should generally buy one-year return tickets, especially if they are going someplace where visas are required. Even in cases where we have had to discard the return portion, we usually have not lost much by getting cheap return tickets. If you work it right, you should also be able to arrange for one free date change on the return portion. (Airlines selling one-year tickets usually will not make a booking twelve months in advance, and so when you point that out, they will usually mark the ticket to allow one free date change to compensate for their inability to give you full use of the 12 months at the time of purchase.)
Often it is wise to have an understanding with someone going to a new base (especially one with strong cultural differences) that they will not be able to use the return portion of the ticket at will. They will need to give some notice of a desire to leave that base. This is because there is often a feeling of panic when someone is undergoing culture shock, making them want to flee the scene immediately.
Print runs (especially very large ones) need to be planned well in advance. At times, our printer in India may have other jobs pending, and not be able to start a job immediately. Even when he does start immediately, he usually needs at least ten weeks to complete large orders. Then there is the amount of time needed for shipping, as well as all of the other little glitches that can (and usually do) come up.
Of course people should also feel free to search for other printers who may be able to meet their needs better, either overseas or locally.
There are other extras to figure in when you budget for print runs, including the cost of shipping and an awful lot of fees at both the sending and receiving ends. Often the fees are more than the cost of the shipping itself. Then there are storage charges and the costs of trucking the container to the storage shed on arrival.
I won't list them all here, but there are a lot of tips that you can pick up from Christine in particular with regard to your dealings with the printer. Many of these tips will be helpful in other business dealings as well. It is a situation where it pays to be tactful, considerate, and polite, but where you also need to be somewhat on guard against big increases in price, and where it pays to have 'penalty clauses' written into the contract (to be sure that it is completed on time). We generally pay half of the cost of the print run at the start and half on completion. We have a good reputation of always being prompt with our payments. Please do not damage that reputation by letting us down in that area. We would hate to have to dissociate ourselves from the business dealings of a sister community.
NOTE: It has been suggested that each base may want to do something about inserting their own email address in the title page of any literature that they have printed. This will eliminate the need for someone in the administrative team (Kenya) to "farm out" enquiry mail to the relevant bases. If you do this, please remember that the address will need to stay active for many years, because people often write in years after receiving a piece of literature.
All of what we have said about printing assumes that you will continue to distribute literature in much the same way as we have done for years. However, there is nothing to say that you necessarily have to go that way. And there are some dangers to consider regardless of which way you go.
The biggest single danger of distributing is the fact that it most often generates income. Unless your burden is to get the message out in the best possible way (with or without income), in one way or another you are going to backslide. You must always stay open to other ways of being more effective in obeying Jesus, even if those other ways do not generate income. Remember, you are not really living by faith if your faith is in a money-making "system" rather than in God himself.
There will always be the temptation to create literature that "sells" or that goes out more easily. If you go down that road, you may eventually end up selling balloons or smiley badges, as has happened with groups like The Family and the Hari Krishnas. The message is far more important than finding something that is easy to distribute.
Although the idea of keeping a personal empowerment chart (in which you set goals for yourself, and measure how well you are achieving them) may not seem like a really important discipline, please do not underestimate its significance. Its significance lies in the fact that your spiritual growth can only be measured most accurately by yourself and God.
Consider that there has been more confessed 'cheating" on empowerment reports than on any other reports within our community. It is ironic that this has happened in an area where you yourself make all the rules. Obviously, there is no rational need to cheat. But, of course, when you are backsliding spiritually, you are not interested in measuring yourself, and you replace that with a primary concern to make a good impression. Thus your empowerment chart (and especially your temptation to cheat on your empowerment chart) may be your first and best indication that you have lost the vision for personal spiritual growth and are more concerned about outward appearances (i.e. pleasing the group).
Often people feel that someone who backslides does so because the community is making such great demands on them. But in reality, I believe that most people who backslide do so because they decide to stop listening to their own conscience. Keeping an empowerment chart is a way of regularly reminding us to check in with our own conscience. This is far more important than any form of accountability to the group.
We have, in the past, asked people to make a weekly assessment of how committed they are to the principles that Jesus taught with regard to our sex life. It is probably the easiest report to make, as it can be done in an instant, without any complicated record keeping. However, under the new arrangement, this report may not be as important as regular sharing between members of a team with regard to their thoughts on such subjects as chastity and remaining single for God.
There are other ethical issues that will be especially important on small teams where there are people of both sexes. Care needs to be taken to avoid situations which will increase temptations, or which will give cause for scandal as far as the general public is concerned. In addition, such issues as flirting and its effect on others should be discussed and dealt with from time to time.
Do not underestimate the benefits of praying for each other in these areas, and giving regular hugs and/or massages. We each need a certain amount of human contact, and there are ways to obtain this without it leading to a sexual relationship, if we will make the effort to find them.
Each base will be able to set its own standards with regard to who it will accept as members. This means that a candidate may fail to qualify for (or even be kicked out of) membership in one base, but that person can reapply to another base. This will give more hope to people who are having difficulties, but it could also keep them from really dealing with a serious problem.
There has always been a dilemma created when remarried divorcees have applied for membership (as well as couples where one party is keen to join, but the other is not). You will need a lot of wisdom to deal with each situation on its own merits. We do hope that each base will find ways to keep the standards high at the same time that they exercise grace according to the leadings of the Spirit.
Another common problem with regard to applicants for membership are those who approach us with huge debts. Hopefully by now most members have discovered that there are a number of different ways of approaching such a situation, and you will stay open (again) to the leadings of the Spirit as to which is most appropriate and helpful.
The three-step grievance system is probably one of the most scriptural and most successful practices that we have adopted as a community, and I sincerely hope that bases will continue to use it. Remember to keep working at not talking about people behind their backs, i.e. in their absence; or at the very least to express things in a way that you would be happy for them to hear if they were present.
The fact that people could be kicked out of one base and accepted into another will add a new dimension to the grievance system, and it will be interesting to see how it works.
If there are really serious problems (e.g. sexual immorality, blatant dishonesty, or breeches involving finances), it may be wise to alert other bases to these problems, so that they can be on the lookout for them if a member transfers from one base to another. Except in the most extreme circumstances, it is only fair for the person transferring to know what is being said about him/her.
One base will not be able to take a grievance against someone in another base now, and we will all need to work hard at keeping spiritual unity despite the fact that dramatic differences may develop between the ways that some bases operate as opposed to the ways that others operate.
If any individual feels that things are seriously off the rails at a particular base, they are, of course, free to leave that base, and to take their concerns with them to another base. It is conceivable that there will need to be a system of accountability to sister communities with regard to serious breeches on the part of leadership in other bases. At this stage, I should imagine that the worst cases could result in the rest of us publicly dissociating ourselves from a particular base. That should only be considered as a last resort, however. Try to remember that with this new arrangement, we will not be morally accountable for the actions of sister communities, and so it will not be necessary to pursue or resolve most differences.
We have traditionally had regular runs in order to maintain physical fitness. Obviously if people are doing a lot of walking each day while distributing, such exercise may not be essential. The inter-base "phantom runs" will cease when teams become independent, but each base should consider whether or not they need a regular system of exercise. Running is the cheapest and most universally practical way to exercise, and competing on a handicapped system as we use in the phantom runs can make the exercise fun.
If we can learn a lesson from The Family... When more freedom was given to their separate "houses", they found that a lot of members over-ate and over-drank, so that obesity and alcoholism became serious problems. Please do be on the lookout for signs of this amongst yourselves. The two-drink rule, once or twice a week, has served us well for many years, although there have been a number of attempts to stretch it a bit. ONE drink, on a daily basis (preferably red wine) is now being recommended by health authorities as having positive medical benefits.
This is another area where prayer is important. If temperance (i.e. drinking in moderation) is difficult for even ONE member of your team, you may need to consider total abstinence for all... in solidarity with your weakest member.
VISITS FROM LEADERS
In the past, Dave and Cherry have made frequent visits to the various bases. These visits have, understandably, sometimes been stressful, as bases strive to make a good impression. It will be up to each base as to whether or not such visits continue. In some ways, we more or less expect some standards to drop... at least in the initial stages of sorting our your priorities. Because of this, it may be better NOT to have these "inspections" too soon or too often. However, hopefully, as you gain confidence, you may actually look forward to opportunities to more or less "show off" your achievements in various areas.
We hope to continue to maintain a family spirit, but we also know from past experience (and from research by others besides ourselves) that the really close relationship that we have experienced so far as a community will be lost to a certain extend as our numbers grow. We will need to do all we can to guard against competitiveness between sister communities, and to guard against in-group vs out-group assessments of issues. Frequent transfers of personnel between bases is one way to foster this co-operative spirit, and I hope that this may continue to happen.
Visits from leaders, the web site, the monthly newsletter, and co-operation on charitable projects will probably be the main things that hold us together as a community. Your co-operation in these areas will be greatly appreciated.
Please assign someone to send in the monthly report, and please do not wait until the last minute to put it together. Be thinking throughout the month about items of interest, so that reports do not become boring and repetitive. Friends and relatives in particular like to hear what individual members are doing, so try to remember this when preparing reports.
We have made this move toward greater independence because we are more concerned about the spiritual growth of individuals than we are about total control by the leadership over everything that happens as a community. There will certainly be mistakes made as we all experiment in this way. But more than anything, let us all pray for a humble, loving spirit, that will continue to lead us to learn from even our mistakes. There is no list of rules that will ever take the place of your own sincere desire to grow spiritually. And no amount of growth as an organisation will ever make up for indifference to your own spiritual growth.