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The Rule of Six

In light of the Government's new Rule of Six, here's a look at some other famous Rules of Six, and how they might provide some encouragement to us today. By Darren Blaney


Just when you thought it was safe to go out again….
A new day, a new regulation. Many people feel frustrated and confused again, struggling to understand how this new rule will affect their family and social life, while churches must once again reassess their plans for emerging from lock-down.
However, before we despair at Boris’ ‘Rule of Six’, we should remember that there have been other ‘Rules of Six’ before this one which have had a very positive effect on those that have used them . Perhaps this is a good time to review them and see what they can teach us?

Achieving More Every Day - Ivy Lee and the Building of A Steel Empire.
Ivy Lee was born in America in 1877, the son of a Methodist minister. He is considered the father of modern public relations but started out as a young management consultant.  Keen to further his career, he one day obtained an appointment with Charles Schwab, the founder of Bethlehem Steel. Schwab explained that he was a very busy man and most of his managers were struggling to get more done as well. If Lee had any advice on this problem, Schwab would be happy to listen, otherwise he had a company to run!  

Lee asked Schwab to take a piece of paper and write down on it all the things he had to do that day. Then Lee instructed him to identify the six most important items on that list. This took Schwab just a few minutes.

“Now”, said Lee, “organise those in priority order from the most important to the sixth most important.”  

This took Schwab another minute or two. “When you come to work tomorrow,” advised Lee, “start with number one on that list. Don’t let anything stop you or distract you, and keep working on it until you have completed it or until you can take it no further. Then move on to number two, and so on. Don’t worry if you don’t get through all six items. If you could not do them using this method, you would not be able to do them any other way either. At the end of the day, make a new list of six for the following day.”  
Lee invited Schwab to try this ‘Rule of Six’ for 30 days and to teach his managers to use it too. At the end of the 30 days, he could pay Lee whatever he thought the idea was worth.
A month later, Lee received a cheque from Schwab for $25,000 (approximately $400,000 in today’s money!) Schwab said it was the most profitable advice he had ever received, and credited the method with helping Bethlehem Steel grow from being a small company to one of the largest Steel producers in the US.
So if you’re struggling to get everything done, and who isn’t, perhaps Ivy Lee’s Rule of Six is worth a try?

Pursuing Your Dream - The Rule of Six and the Most Successful Book Series in History
A slightly different version of the Rule is taught by management consultant Bob Proctor. He advises people to think about their long-term vision or goal. This could be in business, or a family dream, or a personal goal. Whatever it is, write it down clearly, advises Proctor. He then recommends that on each and every day you write down a list of six things that you can do on that day to move you towards your goal.

These don’t need to be large tasks. In many ways, the smaller they are, the better, as one is more likely to get them done. It could be writing an email, making a phone call, or setting aside 10 minutes to work on a small task. As long as each task moves you towards the goal, it counts. Over the course of a year this adds up to nearly 2,200 actions, or 2,200 steps closer to one’s dream.
Jack Canfield and Mark Victor-Hansen used a very similar approach to completing and publishing their best-selling book Chicken Soup for the Soul.  There’s was a Rule of Five, with the pair of them doing five things each day that moved them towards completing their book, finding a publisher, and then marketing it. The result of their 5-a-day efforts? The Chicken Soul for the Soul book has sold more than 65 million copies, and the whole series has sold more than half a billion books, making it one of the most successful book series in history.
So if you are forever putting off a long-term goal or vision, perhaps this Rule of Six (or Five) is worth a try to get you going in the right direction?

The Rule and Building a Long-Term Ministry
This system seems to work not only for goals but for broader, long-term ventures, such as building a career. Dr John Maxwell practises a Rule of Five for developing his ministry. He knew that he wanted to pursue a calling of speaking, training and writing. He reasoned that to do this effectively he needed to do five things every day:  read, file relevant material, ask questions, think and write. So that is what he has done, every day, for years. The result (apart from all the books and online courses he has produced) is that he is considered one of America’s foremost authorities on leadership, both within the Christian church and in the secular realm too.
The Baptist Union has just reminded us in its leaflet on Continuing Ministerial Development that “Ministry is a long game.” What is your vision for your long-term ministry? What five or six practices or habits, repeated regularly, would get you there? Why not develop your own Rule of Six?

A Guide for Prayer and Faith
One final application of a Rule of Six comes from my friend and Baptist church planter, Steve Hill. Many years ago, he and a few colleagues came up with a 1-3-6 Plan, based on 1 Cor 3v6. “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” Here is how it worked.

  • God alone gives the increase, but we have a role to play in planting and watering. 
  • So each Christian picks 6 non-Christian friends or family members, and commits to praying for them for a year. (This can be praying for all six every day, or more likely, a different person on each day of the week, with a day left spare for catching-up if a day is missed,) 
  • As part of the praying, one asks God for an opportunity to witness to each of the six friends during the coming year and also the opportunity to invite each of them to a service or outreach event. 
  • The idea is then to trust God that at least three of them will attend, and at least one of them will come to faith. Hence 1-3-6. 
  • If each and every Christian did this, the church would see significant growth (Another take on ‘1…3….6’) 

At a time when many leaders are wondering how to do evangelism in our zoom-focused, covid-19 limited world, perhaps we should take advantage of the opportunity provided by fewer meetings, and instead use the time to focus on preparing and training Christians for witness. If everyone of our members in everyone of our churches started doing this Rule of Six during this period, what might the results be over the next 18 months?
What’s Coming Next?
Boris Johnson’s new Rule of Six feels like the last straw for some folk. People are speaking of Christmas being cancelled, and others are starting to fear that 2021 might bring more of the same. People in my own church are talking about not being able to cope with much more and being desperate for things to go back to normal.

But what if that is still a long way off? Or what if the old normal is never coming back at all? Perhaps one of these alternative Rules of Six might offer a little hope and comfort? For all of them have one thing in common - they put us back in charge of our own actions. They remind us that whatever constraints there are on the outside, as humans made in the image of God we can always exercise choice on the inside… and make it a choice that moves us forward.  

Darren Blaney is minister of Herne Bay Baptist Church 

Image | Clem Onojeghuo | Unsplash


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Baptist Times, 15/09/2020
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