Just as individuals need a personal rule of life, so trusted ministries need biblical rules, guideposts, or railings to ensure consistent practices which glorify God.


by Dan Busby


When I was 16 years of age, I aspired to be a baseball umpire. Trained by a former minor-league umpire, I pursued that passion for 30 years in my free time, umpiring hundreds of games, including at the college level. Wisely, I did not give up my day job for the joy of making decisions on balls, strikes, and safes-or-outs.

The most successful
people do not make up
the rules as they go.
They have a set of rules
that they follow and
they stick to them.
John Chancellor

 Like any sport, rules are the backbone of baseball. Without them, the game would quickly turn into chaos. The rules must be so thoroughly understood by an umpire that they are applied instinctively—often in a split second (even if the decision is subject to an instant replay review).

Each of us lives by rules. In his marvelous book Crafting a Rule of Life, my trusted counselor Stephen Macchia, says,

“All of us have an unwritten personal rule of life that we are following, some with great clarity, others less knowingly. We wake at certain times, get ready for our days in particular ways, use our free time for assorted purposes and practice rhythms of work, hobbies, worship, vacation, and so on.”[1]

He continues, “Your personal rule of life is a holistic description of the Spirit-empowered rhythms and relationships that create, redeem, sustain and transform the life that God invites you to humbly fulfill for Christ’s glory. Rather than being a set of laws that forbid us to do certain things, a rule of life is a set of guidelines that support or enable us to do the things we want and need to do.”[2]

Just as individuals need a personal rule of life, so trusted ministries need verifiable rules, guideposts, or railings to ensure consistent practices that glorify God. By adopting verifiable rules, ministries articulate their intentions (in their rhythms and relationships) and identify their commitments to enhance trust for the ministry. Rules are a key element to enable ministries to accomplish His plans.

When ancient opinions and
rules of life are taken away,
the loss cannot possibly be
estimated. From this moment,
we have no compass to govern us,
nor can we know distinctly to
what port to steer.
Edmund Burke

“The word ‘rule’ derives from a Latin word, ‘regula.’ In the ancient sense of the term, regula or rule meant ‘guidepost’ or ‘railing,’ something to hang onto in the dark, that leads in a given direction, points out the road, or gives us support as we climb.”[3]

Ministries are not exempt from breaking the rules. Countless times I have spoken with ministry leaders searching for a way to “paper over” a situation instead of following the rules. Rules test our integrity. “We have words for people who achieve victory: winners, champions. We don’t have a word for people who honor the rules.”[4] Rules bring us to the deeper issue—the issue of integrity. If we are clever enough, we may be able to find a way to skirt the rules, but that doesn’t keep us from violating our own character.

Rules are vital even when everything about a ministry is running like clockwork—in fact, following sound rules contributes to smooth operations. But when financial or other pressures come like a flood, a Christ-centered ministry especially needs to stay the course following its biblical rules of ministry.

When pressures
come like a flood
against a Christ-centered
ministry, it is vital to
rely on the biblical
rules of ministry.

Throughout its history, ECFA (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability) has provided key elements for biblical rules of ministry life. We call the rules “standards.” The high standards are in the areas of governance, financial management, and stewardship/fundraising.

While the word “rule” often has negative connotations, Spirit-empowered “rules” enable ministries to be properly focused. Rules allow them to function with intention and purpose in the present moment. In turn, many ministries have created their biblical rules of ministry life based on ECFA’s standards, but they have taken their rules to an even higher level.

What are examples of biblical rules of ministry? Here are seven key rules that apply to every ministry:

  1. Commit to discernment. Committing to discernment in staff leadership and board governance is where biblical rules begin and end. Yes, discernment seems to take more time than off-the-cuff decisions, but ensuring the ministry is in step with the Holy Spirit is not only the most effective governance approach—it is also more efficient.

Discernment increases our capacity for leaders to “see” what God is up to in the place they are called to lead. Instead of hearing God’s voice thundering from Mount Horeb, discernment relies on the more subtle dynamics of the Holy Spirit. Discernment is the spiritual dynamic when we sense the movement of consolation—the sense of God’s presence—and desolation—when we are in touch with the Holy Spirit.

  1. Choose selfless leaders. It is essential to choose selfless leaders—leaders who do not elbow their way to the front—leaders who follow the example Christ set with the Father: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30 NIV).

Choose leaders who practice the inward disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, fasting, and meditation, and let God take care of the rest. The differences between selfless leaders and the opposite—selfish leaders—are stark:

Selfless Leaders

Selfish Leaders

  1. Put others ahead of themselves
  1. Put themselves ahead of others
  1. Look to God to apportion credit for the success of the ministry
  1. Look in the mirror to apportion credit for positive ministry results
  1. Value is created where value is given
  1. Value is created when value is retained
  1. Believe that when they help others, they succeed
  1. Believe their own success is paramount
  1. Egos are in check
  1. Ego-centered, ego-prominent
  1. Primarily about what we are becoming
  1. Mostly about what we are accomplishing


  1. Use adequate governing documents. A ministry’s articles of incorporation and bylaws seem very perfunctory. However, key governance design elements are found in these documents which can significantly alter ministry outcomes. Embedded in governing documents are the “rules” relating to the size of the board, board members’ rotation (a stated term of service or perhaps allowing members to serve for their lifetime), guidance on whether a board is self-perpetuating (appointed by one person, elected by a certain group of individuals), and more. Keep the governing documents up-to-date. If you are not following these documents, either change your practices or revise the governing documents.
  2. Develop and follow a sound mission statement, vision statement, and a set of core values. These statements and values are the ministry’s guardrails. It is similar to driving a car on the freeway—if you do not keep the car between the guardrails, you quickly go off course.
A body of men
holding themselves
accountable to
nobody ought not
to be trusted
by anybody.
Thomas Paine
  1. Only select Godly board members who are passionate about the ministry. The process of selecting board members are many and varied. Many ministries believe they need board members of different types—one attorney, one CPA, one of this, and one of that. And, perhaps they do need each type of person. After a lifetime of service on ministry boards, I am convinced that two criteria overshadow all others—selecting godly men and women who have a deep passion for the particular ministry. If the individual happens to be an attorney, a CPA, a business owner, wonderful.
  2. Adopt sound board policies and properly record them. From a ministry’s first board meeting, polices are being adopted by the board. These policies are another set of ministry rules. It is amazing the number of ministries that fail to retain board policies in an organized manner so future boards can easily determine which policies have been adopted by earlier board. Without placing all board policies in a Board Policy Manual and having it available for reference at each board meeting, it is difficult for a ministry to consistently follow the board’s own policies.
  3. Commit to be law-abiding. It should go without saying that ministries must be law-abiding. But if conformity with the law (federal, state, and local) is not a fundamental rule of a ministry, it is easy to see this topic as a gray area.

Can a Christ-centered ministry follow its own verifiable rules without being accredited by a peer accountability organization like ECFA? If so, how does a ministry convince others that it is following self-imposed rules?

Spirit-empowered peer accountability includes:

  • Third-party oversight. It is third-party oversight of compliance with high standards that sets accountability apart from self-imposed rules. When a question is raised concerning whether a ministry is in compliance with sound practices, an objective decision can be provided by the peer accountability organization.
  • Enhanced trust. The peer accountability organization does not give a ministry integrity. Ministries have their own integrity based on following their biblical rules of ministry life. The peer accountability organization lends its credibility to ministries that have already established integrity. The trust of givers is enhanced, providing more resources to carry out the Great Commission.
  • Standards consistent with Scripture. Biblical rules, guideposts, or railings are the basis for a sound peer accountability structure.

Stephen Macchia says, “A rule of life is like a trellis which offers support and guidance for a plant, helping it to grow in a certain direction.”[5] So, sound rules followed by Christ-centered ministries allow them to grow and flourish, fulfilling God’s purposes for them.

In the administration of ministry resources, applying rules is an important concept:

We don’t want anyone suspecting us of taking one penny of this money for ourselves. We’re being as careful in our reputation with the public as in our reputation with God (2 Cor. 8:20–21).

Craft biblical rules for your ministry. Without them, some fruit will be produced but not with the abundance the Master desires. With biblical rules, ministries grow on a trellis, are cultivated toward maturity, and produce an abundance of fruit for the glory of God.[6]?

  Questions   for reflection


  1. How would you describe your personal rule of life?
  2. Do you have a system of accountability for your personal rule of life?
  3. Does the ministry you serve follow Spirit-empowered rules?
  4. Does the ministry have a system of accountability for its biblical rules?



[1] Stephen A. Macchia, Crafting a Rule of Life (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 14.

[2] Ibid., 159.

[3] Ibid., 14.

[4] John Ortberg, When the Game Is Over It All Goes Back in the Box (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007), 111.

[5] Macchia, Crafting a Rule of Life, 14.

[6] Ibid.


From TRUST: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness, ECFAPress, 2015,


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.