Sermon Illustrations on Accountability
The Buck Stops Here
President Harry Truman placed on his desk in the Oval Office a sign that said “The Buck Stops Here.” The sign had to do with a saying that was popular in his day: “Pass the buck,” which meant to shirk responsibility. Some government agencies were notorious for passing the buck, for failing to make decisions and take responsibility for them.
When Truman said “The buck stops here,” he meant, “As president of the United States, I am responsible. I will make decisions. And I will own up to those decisions.” As an energetic and wise ruler, God has pondered the smallest details and largest themes of your life and has made comprehensive decisions about each one.
The Fundamental Very-Goodness of Creation
After finishing a major project, have you ever stood back, taken in what you have accomplished, and said to yourself, “That’s pretty good”? I’ll admit that I have on numerous occasions, especially after mowing the lawn.
When we lived in Texas, our house was surrounded by more than two acres of turf. (Land is gloriously inexpensive in Texas because they have so much of it there!) Several times during the spring and summer, I’d get on my riding mower and spend a couple of hours cutting the grass, not to mention plenty of weeds, wildflowers, fallen branches, and pesky rocks. After I finished, I’d gaze upon what I had done and feel a peculiar sense of accomplishment.
My formerly shaggy lawn looked like a well-trimmed carpet. Plus, the smell of freshly cut grass reminded me of summer afternoons in days gone by, when my dad and I would work in the back yard together. Seeing what I had accomplished, my heart exulted, “That’s pretty good!”
When creating the universe, God did something like that. In Genesis 1:3, God created light. In verse 4, God “saw that the light was good.” Several times throughout Genesis 1 God saw the goodness of his creation. The earth and seas were good (1:10). The vegetation was good (1:12). The celestial bodies were good (1:18). The creatures of the sea and air were good (1:21). The land animals were good (1:25). Finally, after creating human beings, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (1:30).
Notice, according to God, everything was not just “pretty good,” but “very good.” The fundamental very-goodness of creation is a reality that must not be ignored. It provides a sure foundation for fruitful living, not to mention an essential basis for a right understanding of life and its meaning. Affirming the basic goodness of creation does not deny the brokenness that comes from sin. We’ll get to this in Genesis 3. But, all too often, Christians think and act as if Genesis 3 reveals the fundamental nature of all things, thus neglecting the goodness of God’s original production. Whatever else is true of the world, God made it good, good, good, good, good, good, and, indeed, very good.
A Lack of Accountability
Whenever I have encountered any kind of deep problem with civilization anywhere in the world—be it the logging of rain forests, ethnic or religious intolerance or the brutal destruction of a cultural landscape that has taken centuries to develop—somewhere at the end of the long chain of events that gave rise to the problem at issue I have always found one and the same cause: a lack of accountability to and responsibility for the world.
Vaclev Havel, Civilization.
The Pastor’s Visit
The story is told of a man who had gone to church for several years but suddenly stopped attending. His pastor dropped by one evening unannounced. The man answered the door and invited him in. Of course, he knew why his pastor was there. They went and sat in two chairs in front of a roaring fire. Neither man said anything. After a few minutes, the pastor picked up the fire tongs, took one of the logs out of the fire, and laid it on the hearth. The flames died down and flickered a few times before going out. They watched in silence as the log started to grow cold.
After a while, the pastor once again picked up the fire tongs and put the smoldering log back with the other burning logs. It immediately burst back into flame. The pastor got up and said, “Well, I need to go now. But I’ve enjoyed our visit.” The man rose too and said, “I appreciate your message, pastor. I will be in church on Sunday.”
A Reminder of the Paradox of Christian Power and Authority
When you go into one of the great basilicas of the late Roman empire and you see a mosaic of Christ enthroned at the far end, you’re looking at the place where the emperor would sit. And the emperor would be sitting there either dressed in his armour or in cloth of gold with a diadem around his head.
So you’re looking to the throne, but who’s on it? This rather curious and disreputable wandering teacher. So you have a bit of a paradox in visual form there. The person who holds the emperor’s authority in cosmic terms isn’t just another soldier or administrator in uniform, but a philosopher, a sage.
So something’s being said there that is on the edge of paradox. It’s been suggested, quite credibly, that some of that tradition of representing Jesus borrows from the ways in which late Classical art used to depict Plato the philosopher or Homer the poet. So it’s a poet, a philosopher, it’s a wordsmith who’s sitting on the throne.
Article: “Rowan Williams & Neil MacGregor Discuss Faith and Visual Imagination,” The Telegraph, 2013.
Shaming Vs. Accountability
I was recently brought in to talk with a group of corporate leaders who were trying to manage a difficult reorganization in their company. One of the project managers told me that, after listening to me talk about the dangers of using shame as a management tool, he was worried that he shamed his team members. He told me that when he gets really frustrated, he singles people out and criticizes their work in team meetings.
He explained, “I’m so frustrated. I have two employees who just don’t listen. I explain every single detail of the project, I check to make sure they understand, and they still do it their way. I’m out of options. I feel backed into a corner and angry, so I take them down in front of their colleagues.” When I asked him how he was holding these two employees accountable for not following the project protocol, he replied, “What do you mean by accountable?” I explained, “After you check with them to make sure they understand your expectations and the objectives, how do you explain the consequences of not following the plan or not meeting the objectives?” He said, “I don’t talk about the consequences. They know they’re supposed to follow the protocol.”
I gave him an example, “Okay. What would happen if you told them that you were going to write them up or give them an official warning the next time they violated protocol and that if it continues, they’re going to lose their jobs?” He shook his head and said, “Oh, no. That’s pretty serious. I’d have to get the human resources people involved. That becomes a big hassle.” Setting boundaries and holding people accountable is a lot more work than shaming and blaming. But it’s also much more effective. Shaming and blaming without accountability is toxic to couples, families, organizations, and communities. First, when we shame and blame, it moves the focus from the original behavior in question to our own behavior. By the time this boss is finished shaming and humiliating his employees in front of their colleagues, the only behavior in question is his.
You are Who you Surround Yourself With
Context matters. According to the Terman Study, which followed one thousand study participants from childhood until their death, the people we surround ourselves with are who we become. We see those around us slacking off, we become less motivated. When we see people performing selfless acts, we become selfless. Who you surround yourself with, especially at an early age is likely to make a significant impact on the person you ultimately become.
Stuart R Strachan Jr.
When Scandales Become Blasé
In his thoughtful book, Our Good Crisis: Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes, Jonathan K. Dodson describes what has become a reality of modern-day life-scandals happen every day, and no-one seems to even notice:
After settling into my tech-savvy dining booth at JFK international airport, I heard “breaking news” in stereo. News blaring–flat screens scattered throughout the terminal announced CNN had obtained a tape of a conversation between Donald Trump and his attorney Michael Cohen discussing how they planned to buy the rights to a Playboy model’s story of an alleged affair.
I looked around the terminal, scanning gates and bars filled with TVs. No one paid attention. Not a single person seemed to be concerned that evidence had surfaced indicting an American president of an extramarital affair, with a Playmate, which he tried to cover up by paying her off. Irrespective of political affiliations, this news should grab our attention.
Not a head turned. Why? Perhaps it’s because we’ve become so accustomed to public crises. Just this week I came across the vicious ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Rohingya, the massacre of six American women and three children in Mexico, an impudent religious leader hurling racial insults, impeachment hearings in DC, and a college admission scandal. If I’m honest, I’m kind of overloaded, even numb to these atrocities.
Taken from Our Good Crisis: Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes by Jonathan K. Dodson Copyright (c) 2020 by Jonathan K. Dodson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
See also Illustrations on Discipline
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Accountability. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!