Rule of Life: A Trellis for Growth

Brian Gray

A banker, a teacher, and a pastor walk into a bar to share a conversation about the most important Rule in their life... 

But there’s no punchline coming next…that was an actual conversation. Last month, I got to lead three gatherings to help professionals craft a personal Rule of Life. We retreated into the mountains over a good meal and a glass of wine (not technically a bar) to be reflective and share important conversations about our lives. 

Life is Liturgical

The banker, teacher, and pastor share something in common: their life is built upon routines and habits that form who they are becoming. Christian philosopher, author, and Denver Institute intellectual crush James K.A. Smith calls these “cultural” and “personal liturgies”1. Every church culture has its own liturgy – their order of Sunday worship, how long they preach, what they announce, how they pray corporately, etc. The goal is to shape our desires for God and to form members into Christlikeness through these routines. Similarly, there are cultural liturgies at our workplaces that are shaping us toward the hours we work, the way we execute toward metrics, and how we embody the company values. (Imagine the all-hands meeting where employees are galvanized to practice the company’s “Customers first!” value.)

Similarly, Smith suggests that our lives are being shaped by personal routines. Imagine if the first thing our banker, teacher, and pastor do each morning is reach for their phone. When they prioritize missed texts, the news, emails, or their work calendar for the day, they are being formed by habit into becoming people who are efficient and productive. These qualities aren’t inherently wrong, but these habits show the value of daily reconnection to work and current events as a priority over first acknowledging our identity as a person in Christ. Or perhaps these three bring work thoughts and emails home and attend to them throughout the weekend, without taking a Sabbath day. In that habit, they value being made in the image of a working God (Genesis 1) while ignoring being made in the image of a resting God as well (Genesis 2:2-3). Over time and practice, those personal routines form us into human doings over human beings.

Life Needs a Trellis

About 1,500 years ago, St. Benedict served as the abbot who guided a group of monks living in community. He wrote what has come to be known as The Rule of St. Benedict, a document spelling out the guidelines of that community to support healthy relationships with God and one another. From this early concept, Christians and churches have similarly developed the spiritual discipline known as a “Rule of Life.” 

The root meaning of regula, the Latin word translated as "rule," is a trellis, the wooden lattice that supports and frames the growth of climbing vines. If a vine has water, soil, and sun, it will grow wild. But if it is supported by a trellis, it grows in a particular direction, maximizes its fruit, and remains protected from predation and trampling. A Rule of Life is like a trellis for our lives at work and home. It is a simple statement of the regular rhythms we choose that help maintain our connection with God, others, and ourselves. Andy Crouch calls a Rule “a set of practices to guard our habits and guide our lives.”2

A healthy Rule does not put forth legalistic principles for living, earn God’s favor one bit, or establish ways we produce our own spiritual maturity. Rather, it establishes a framework on which our lives with God and others can naturally grow in a healthy direction and produce lasting fruit. 

We’ve covered what a Rule is and why our conscious and unconscious habits are important in shaping us. But what might you do with the idea of a Rule?

Would you like a PDF of our ebook on Spiritual Disciplines for your Work? Just click here. The final chapter includes a practical guide on how to craft your own personal Rule of Life.

Want to dive deeper than that? I highly recommend Steve Macchia’s practical guidebook, Crafting a Rule of Life.

Denver Institute may consider creating a guided Saturday seminar on how to create a personal Rule. Let us know if that idea would interest you by filling out this short form

If your church, business, or nonprofit staff might be interested in hosting a seminar on crafting a Rule, email us at and let’s talk. We recently did this for a local church for the second time because of the impact it made on their staff’s culture. Even in a secular business setting, a Rule can be described in “professional development” terminology instead of Christian formation language. It can be a gift from our tradition!

It’s our hope that you might more deeply practice life with God, through your work and for the life of the world.

Works Cited:

1Smith, J. K. (2016). You Are What You Love. Brazos Press.

2Crouch, A. (Guest). (2019, March 6). A Rule of Life for Redemptive Entrepreneurs: Andy Crouch, Author, Journalist and Partner at Praxis [Audio Podcast].Retrieved from


Brian Gray

Brian is the VP of Formation here at DIFW and also leads our 5280 Fellowship program. Prior to landing at DIFW, he served in pastoral ministry for thirteen years and at Denver Seminary for four years. His vocation includes moving ideas out into life through relationships and conversation – whether that applies to God, work, the Church, good beer, or Liverpool Football Club. He married way out of his league, and spends most of his free-time being parented by his two daughters.