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We Need Rules – So, Make Sure You know This

We all need rules. Rules are a part of life and leadership. Without them we’d like have chaos. But I have one word of advice in a world where rules are necessary.

Since we need rules, let’s write better rules.

That principle came to me once in a personal illustration.

Cheryl and I love to travel, and we have done a lot of it together. Several years ago we realized that we were getting close to visiting all 50 states. Friends of ours had that as a goal of theirs, so we adopted it. Our overall goal was simple – visit all 50 states together. Since then we’ve planned many of our vacations around trying to get to all 50 states. At the time of this posting we are only missing 1 state – Alaska.

Cheryl needs a plan, so we needed some criteria in her mind for the visits. We developed the “rules” for a state to be considered “visited”. There were only two rules:

  • We had to be in the state together.
  • We had to spend the night in the state.

Pretty simple, right?

The only problem is we do lots of traveling and most of it is to places we have already been. It will require intentionality to check off the last one. (I’m praying some church in Alaska will need me to fill in some Sunday or lead a retreat for them soon. 🙂 )

A few years ago, we were on vacation attempting to cover another state. Our plan would allow us to mark four states off our list on this trip. As we started planning, however, we realized we could mark five states off our list, if only we didn’t have to “spend the night there”. Our own rule got in the way. As anxious as we are to mark off all 50 states, especially since we are so close, we still had a rule to follow.

Then the thought occurred to me. They were our rules. We could change them if we want to. We could say we had to eat a meal there. Or we could say we had to spend 6 hours there.

But the point I’m making:

We could change the rules and still not alter our original goal – to visit together all 50 states.

It was a huge relief. Cheryl agreed – for a short time.

But then she couldn’t bring herself to change the rule. Thankfully, as it turned out, we were able to spend the night in that state anyway, but I still contend we could change the rules if we wanted to. They are OUR rules. (Now if someone could please convince my rule-following wife of that.)

I know that’s a silly example, but it illustrates a much bigger problem we face in many churches and organizations. There’s a leadership principle here.

Sometimes we confuse a rule for a goal.

A rule isn’t a goal. Goals aren’t rules.

Rules are meant to help us attain goals, not keep us from them. They guide our way to progress.

As much as rules are a part of the process –

Why live by rules that keep us from accomplishing our goals?

I have seen this so many times in leading people. Often we limit ourselves to doing things strictly according to rules we have set for ourselves – or others have set for us, but they actually hinder progress. The rules no longer match what we now want to accomplish – they don’t enable us – they are actually hindering progress.

In those times, we may not have to change our end goal. And we don’t need to lower our standards.

Many times we really just need to write better rules.

I’m still trying to convince my wife this with our last 4 states. (Pray for me.) But for the organizations we lead – let’s not let the rules become a burden in accomplishing our goals.

Be honest – What’s a rule that’s currently getting in the way of progress?

Check out my leadership podcast where we discuss issues of leadership nuggets in a practical way. Plus, check out the other Lifeway Leadership Podcasts.

Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Jim Pemberton says:

    Outstanding, and it makes perfect sense.

    Rules come into play in every aspect of our lives precisely to help us achieve goals. I'm not only an employed leader in my church (I'm a deacon, teacher, missionary, and sound engineer – I get paid for the sound engineer part), but I also have a full time job in manufacturing where I'm a production controller. The word "controller" doesn't mean I'm in charge of the production. It's there in a financial sense. I process orders and load the plant in such a way that I can track the cost of production. I have a host of rules for doing so. Some of these rules were given by Accounting. Some of these rules were set to meet conditions required by the Plant Manager. Other rules are those that I set for both myself and the production team. Any of these rules can be changed. For example, I was brought into this position in part because I was honest and we had a Plant Manager who was abusing the rules in order to make his numbers look good. After building up a couple of months of data, he was fired. I went to Accounting at that point and requested a rule change to disincentivize this kind of abuse, which they happily agreed to. The rules can change, but we often all need to play by the same ones.

    I use rules in running sound at church. I set up the system to work the way it needs to, but I'm not the only one who ever sits at the faders. So I make rules so that whoever sits behind our consoles can run it the same way so we have consistency week to week and service to service. The goal is to facilitate worship. The ultimate instrument isn't the equipment, or anyone on stage, but the souls in the pews. The rules make sure we provide an "invisible" medium where God's Word can be communicated well in music and preaching among the assembly and they are able to respond to it as well as possible. That's the goal.