A Rule of Life for the Congregation

by Rev. Dr. Steve Manskar

“A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness.

“A rule of life is not meant to be restrictive, although it certainly asks for genuine commitment. It is meant to help us establish a rhythm of daily living, a basic order within which new freedoms can grow.

“A rule of life, like a trellis, curbs our tendency to wander and supports our frail efforts to grow spiritually. …

“[A rule of life] fosters gifts of the Spirit in personal life and human community, helping to form us into the persons God intends us to be.”

— Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life (page 138)


A rule of life is a congregational guide for cooperation with the Holy Spirit in the work of forming disciples of Jesus Christ, and equipping them to live as Christ’s representatives in the world.

As congregations strive to be intentional about their mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” they will be helped in their ministry by adopting a rule of life based upon The United Methodist Rule of Life.

A congregational rule of life guides the congregation in its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ who are equipped to participate in Christ’s mission in the world.

I recommend congregations adopt the General Rule of Discipleship as their rule of life. It is a contemporary re-statement of the General Rules; distilling them into a single, straightforward statement that can be easily memorized:

The General Rule of Discipleship

To witness to Jesus Christ in the world and
to follow his teachings through acts of
compassion, justice, worship, and devotion
under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The General Rule of Discipleship is a succinct description of the Christian life. It tells us first that a disciple is a witness to Jesus Christ in the world. This tells us that he or she knows Jesus and can tell others who he is and what he is doing in them and in the world.

A disciple follows Jesus by obeying his teachings. Jesus describes what obedience looks like in Luke 9:23, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Self-denial is putting the beloved first in your life. The cross disciples daily take up is obedience to Jesus’ teachings summarized in Matthew 22:37-40.

Disciples grow in holiness of heart, loving God (the cross’ vertical beam), through practicing acts of worship and devotion.

Disciples grow in holiness of life, loving those whom God loves, through acts of compassion and justice (the cross’ horizontal beam).

As disciples take up the cross of obedience to Jesus’ teachings they open themselves to the grace they need to live and grow as faithful, more dependable disciples of Jesus Christ.

Adopting the General Rule of Discipleship as your congregation’s rule of life will guide the people and leaders in how to pursue the mission: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

It serves as a compass that centers the congregation in Jesus Christ and his mission.

The General Rule promotes balanced discipleship. It directs the congregation towards the pursuit of holiness of heart (inward love of God) and holiness of life (outward love of whom God loves).

Encourage members to memorize the rule, teach it to their children and apply it to their family life. All the congregational committees and groups set aside time in their meetings to allow members to give an account of what habits they are practicing as they follow Jesus guided by the rule of life.

Mission is the church’s identity and purpose. A rule of life, such as the General Rule of Discipleship, is how the congregation cooperates with the Holy Spirit in faithfully pursuing the mission: to make disciples of Jesus Christ who are equipped to join Christ in pursuing God’s mission in the world. 


Categories: Covenant Discipleship for Groups and Class Leaders