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Order Rules of Life

“Ordained persons exercise their ministry in covenant with all Christians, especially with those whom they lead and serve in ministry. They also live in covenant of mutual care and accountability with all those who share their ordination, especially in The United Methodist Church, with the ordained who are members of the same annual conference and part of the same Order. The covenant of ordained ministry is a lifetime commitment, and those who enter into it dedicate their whole lives to the personal and spiritual disciplines it requires.”—The United Methodist Book of Discipline

Purpose and nature of a rule of life

A rule of life for a religious order is a mutual exchange of promises for the good of the body, its purpose and ministry, and discipleship to God.

Many religious orders or groups have a rule, which defines membership and mission in the order or group. For example, the Rule of Benedict revolves around practices in five areas: prayer, work, study, hospitality, and renewal/Sabbath. Covenant/Accountable Discipleship groups’ covenants revolve around the four areas of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion.

Content of the rule

The following are the functions of a United Methodist clergy order. An order rule should address practices to achieve these:

  • Gather regularly for continuing spiritual formation (Bible study, issues facing church and society, theological exploration of vocational identity and leadership)
  • Assist in plans for individual study and retreats
  • Develop a bond of unity and common commitment to the UMC mission and ministry
  • Nurture mutually supportive and trusting relationships among order members
  • Hold order members accountable to the above purposes

Format of the rule

Each order may develop into the rule form the practices and promises that seem most critical in their context. Given the above-stated purposes of an order, the rule may include these components:


Why do we exist as an order? What are the key values we share? What is our relationship to God? What are our spiritual and institutional commitments? What is the duty of the order as a community and what is the duty of the individual member?

Key areas of promise

    1. Spiritual growth
        • As a gathered community: How frequent will you gather? Will this include worship? Learning? Spiritual retreat?.
        • As individuals: Spiritual disciplines such as prayer, scripture reading, corporate worship, spiritual retreat
    2. Vocational development
        • The order will organize for the members opportunities for reflection upon and renewal of vocation, continuing development of the practice of ministry, self-care, boundaries and ethics, and issues facing the church and society
        • The member will participate in the order gatherings and pursue opportunities for vocational development
    3. Accountability and support
      • The order will facilitate opportunities for order members to gather in small groups that gather regularly to develop collegial trust, support and encourage each other, and hold each other accountable to maintaining personal health and personal renewal, ethical relationships and practices, their relationships with each other and God, and their commitment to the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church
      • The members will participate in a collegial small group for the above purposes


Briefly state the aspirations of the order (for example, to grow in Christlikeness, in faithfulness to the calling, and in trusting relationship with each other) and conclude with a benediction.

Preparing and renewing the rule

An order with many people, such as an Order of Elders, may assign the development of a rule to a small representative group. An order with a smaller number of members, such as an Order of Deacons, may gather as an order to develop a rule.

Find a process for developing a rule here.

Members may recommit to the rule annually at clergy session or an annual gathering of the order. This is an opportunity for new full members to commit to the rule.

British Methodist Deacons Rule of Life

PDF icon Rule of Life for Orders

PDF icon Rule of Life for Order of Deacons (Sample)

PDF icon Covenant for Eastern Pennsylvania Order of Deacons 2014

PDF icon Covenant for Detroit Conference Order of Deacons 2014