Developing a Rule and Rhythm of Life

Founding a new community will lead you to encounter unusual levels of chaos. New people, new places, new plans, and new priorities are just a few of the dynamics at work behind the chaotic experience of a planter. Although typically avoided, chaos is not always a bad thing. Under the right conditions, it can actually facilitate growth and innovation. This is why we often see a new leader(s) emerge during chaotic situations. In fact, one of the staple features of leadership is the ability to bring order out of chaos. Those who manage to facilitate order in the midst of chaos are often invested by the group with charisma. That is, the group deems such people as being worthy of following.
In the beginning phases of a plant, it is often the leader(s) charisma that provides the initial energy in the life of the new group. The leader(s) vibe (personality), vision, values and virtues serve as a point of reference around which the group will organize itself. Without this point of reference in the leader(s), a new group will struggle with a sense of identity and purpose.
While being an important ingredient to the life of the group, charisma can only take a group so far. At some point, the leader(s) vision, values and virtues have to be incorporated into the group’s way of life. Sociologists call this process the routinization of charisma.
As someone engaging in the apostolic work of starting new communities of disciples, one of your tasks is to intentionally routinize your founding vision, values and virtues within the new community. Part of this process takes place in discipling relationships. The other part of this process requires you to design systems and structures that will allow the community to thrive in your absence. That is, the role of the apostle is to found new communities that can flourish without the founder(s) being the primary source of life, energy and direction in the group. This is, in part, what Paul is alluding to when he talks about himself as being a wise master builder (I Corinthians 3:10). The word master builder in Greek is architekton. Arche meaning originator, and tekton meaning designer or craftsmen.  It is from this Greek word that we get our English word “architect” from. As the principle founder of the Corinthian community, Paul endeavored to lay a good foundation for the community to flourish in his absence. Laying a good foundation not only includes giving truth about Jesus, it also entails giving the new community templates, tools, tactics and tracks so the building project can keep going in your absence.
A good example of how truth and tactics can be incorporated into a plant is through the intentional development of a rule (truth) and rhythm (tactics) of life. A rule and rhythm of life is a set of core practices around which people can organize their individual and communal life. Ideally, a rule of life will be characterized by these three movemental principles:
It should be simple: The goal of a rule of life is not to increase activity in people’s lives. A rule of life should be something everyone can do, regardless of how complex their lives are. A good rule of thumb in developing a rule of life is to bring intentionality to what people are already doing.
It should be sticky: The rule of life should be easy to remember. If your rule of life has 10 practices and each one needs a paragraph to explain it, you need to go back to the drawing board. If people are going to organize their lives around this rule of life, people need to be able to remember it.
It should be scalable: Ideally, your rule of life can not only be adopted by an individual, it can also be adopted as a rule of life for your missional communities. JR Woodward will be writing an additional article that will explore several examples of how to formulate a rule of life. For now, lets look at these two examples:


BLESS 3 people each week. One from the community, one from beyond, and one from either.
EAT with 3 people each week. One from the community, one from beyond, and one from either.
LISTEN Developing a practice of listening so we can discover what God is saying and doing.
LEARN Developing a discipline of studying the Scriptures or reading other literature.
SENT Looking for ways in which God is leading us to be Jesus in our context. [1]

Upward, Inward, Outward, Forward

Upward – Spend Time with God
Inward – Spend time in solitude
Outward – Spend time with people
Forward – Spend time being and doing good news.
Developing a rule of life helps guide people into formational practices that move them closer to imitating the patterns of Jesus’ life.
Yet without intentionality, a rule of life just becomes another cool acrostic or alliteration. A rhythm of life also needs to be developed in which people can be voluntarily held accountable to living that rule of life out in practical ways. So at an individual level, it is often helpful for people to get in a habit of mapping out on a calendar when the different aspects of their rule of life, say UPWARD, will take place. The same is true for the missional community. A rhythm of life should be mapped out a month or two in advance so people can synchronize their schedules for collective participation.
If you develop a rule of life but there is no accountability measure for people to implement that rule into a rhythm of life, then you are essentially engaging in a purely academic exercise. This kind of intellectualism will lead to dabbling in what James calls dead faith (James 2:14-17). On the other extreme, if you have a consistent rhythm of activities, but do not know why you are doing it, then you begin to move towards being ritualistic. Ritual is repetitive action with a lot of meaning. Ritualism, on the other hand, is repetitive action with little to no meaning. If we were to diagram this out, it might look something this:

Rule Rhythm Matirx

The sweet spot is of course found in holding these two things elements of rule and rhythm together. When they come together, our lives become a form of worship offered to God. Paul says something in Romans that resonates well with this.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:1
This verse is packed with insight, so lets focus our attentions around a few key words in the text. First, the word for service in this passage is latreia, which is where we get our word liturgy from. Interestingly enough, this is also the word used to describe what the priest did in the temple (Heb. 8:5, 9:9). Paul is essentially saying that our entire lives are offered as an act of worship. That is, when people see the pattern and rhythm of our life, it should resemble an ordered rhythm and pattern of worship/service to God.
Secondly, the word reasonable is the Greek word logikos, which is where we get our word logic from. Paul is saying that our service is logically derived from God’s mercy. It flows out of our response to the gospel (Rom. 11:29-36).
Lastly, the word perfect in Greek is telios, which means goal or purpose. Paul is saying that our service to God is not only logically derived from what Jesus has done in the past, it is also tied to an ultimate goal, an over arching purpose contained in the will of God. Our present service is anchored in what God has done (gospel), and will do (new creation) in the future. Recognizing this helps us keep our rhythm of service/worship from becoming an end in and of itself.
Developing a rule of life offers people a framework to help focus their energy and attention towards being disciples. However, each person and MC should have the freedom to develop a rhythm of life which allows them to live out the rule of life in ways that are appropriate for their context. So while two missional communities may have the same rule of life, their rhythm of life will likely look very different depending on what people or place they are on mission for. Allowing freedom to craft a rhythm of life according to the unique qualities of a particular context allows the adaptive capacities within the community to be released for cross cultural missional engagement.  It is a great example as to how the principle of unity in diversity can be embedded in the foundation of the community from the very beginning.

About the Author

Tim Catchim

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