If you have to live by the rules

Write better rules…

That principle came to me recently 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. Again, our 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 present count we are missing 9 states.

(I’m praying some churches in Alaska and Hawaii need me to fill in some Sunday or lead a retreat for them soon. :) )

Cheryl needs a plan, so we needed some criteria in her mind for the visits. So 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 there.

Pretty simple, right?

Recently we were on vacation attempting to cover a few more states. Our plan would allow us to mark four states off our list. 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. We added the fifth state to our list. As it turned out, we were able to spend the night there, but not out of the pressure to obey a rule, but because we wanted to.

Now that’s a silly example, but it illustrates a much bigger problem we face in many churches and organizations.

Sometimes we confuse our rules for our goals.

Rules aren’t goals. Goals aren’t rules.

Rules are meant to help us attain goals, not keep us from them. We need rules. 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?

Many times we limit ourselves to doing things strictly according to rules we’ve set for ourselves, or others have set for us, but they actually hinder progress. Instead, we don’t need to change our end goal. We don’t need to lower our standards. Many times we really just need to write better rules.

Help this post. What’s a rule that’s currently getting in the way of progress?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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16 thoughts on “If you have to live by the rules

  1. I totally get what you're saying and I agree with you because I can see how this can bring freedom to people who are very rigid about things. It's kind of like God's laws – it's meant to bring you closer to Him. Not keep you away!

    However, what might you say to people who seem to constantly bend the rules as a way of life to make achievement easier? For instance public schools who seem to repeatedly lower the standards in order to meet certain "goals" possible?

    • I'd say they aren't bending the rules, they are lowering the goals. It's starts with the goals. In the example you mentioned, they need to maintain the high standards, then write “better rules” to achieve the high standards. In organizational leadership I say, “get better so you can get bigger”. The key to making this post work is that the goal isn't lowered.Thanks. Great question.

  2. 'Course this would involve redefining what a rule is. For some, it's an inflexible thing, thus they cannot be changed. For others, they can only be changed subjectively by the rule-creator and NO ONE ELSE. Kinda like the Pharisees.

  3. Rules that get in the way… I can be/do/have (X) when I become/achieve/obtain (Y). I find myself stumbling on this rule in both directions. For myself, I find that I sometimes limit my vision based on my own assessment of my current abilities. While I feel that a certain amount of this is rational, other times I limit myself to a path of my own choosing. And sometimes that path has nothing to do with any prerequisites to achievements.

    These things challenge me to look up, look out and dream bigger. To "lean up" my personal processes and ideas about me so that I'm not hindering myself.

    The other end, is simply this, when I'm being forced into a track or process that doesn't apply because I'm personally past it. Just because I'm past the process doesn't mean that the person I'm talking to is. In many cases others will cherish a process, sometimes to a fault.

    When I was building my radio program "Your Hope Today" I ran into this constantly. The issues got resolved fairly quickly but still, the processes were hindering my progress and I was not in control of them. Now the program is heard around the world in 120 countries every week via shortwave and is building a presence in the US markets.

    The radio show demonstrates both ends of the "rules" issue quite well. Both in my personal thinking about being on the radio and then, when I had grown past those limitations to have them re-imposed by the industry was difficult to manage. In the end, the rules got in the way but the process was worthwhile.

  4. I really like your post. It is a great reminder. I think often times we are so set to follow the rules that we forget that we can change them, adapt them, or even scrap. A common saying we used to say in the military when we reached a stumbling block was, "improvise, adapt and overcome." When we reach a stumbling block that is self imposed, we need to take a step back and figure out a way to overcome it. This post explains this concept to the tee!

  5. Love this post, Ron.

    Several times I've promoted people up through two layers of management. The person has the skills, attitude and ability to make the jump. But they often have an internal "rule" and feel like they need to go back and do something in order to truly make that jump. So they have a goal to move up in the organization, but they have created a rule that is getting in the way. It's self-made. Your post explains it well.