Leaders, Don’t Pass the Buck

The sign on his desk read, “The buck stops here.” It referenced the oft used phrase to denote the shirking of responsibility by “passing the buck.” Yet, while others might place mementos on their desk without fully realizing their message, this wasn’t the case for President Truman.

Perhaps there is no greater irony in American history than the fact that this man, had this placard, placed on his desk. Harry Truman had to make some of the most difficult decisions of any prior or future President; Discerning how to engage with an increasingly hostile Russia post WWII, and whether or not to engage communist North Korea and its Chinese/Russian supporters are but a few. Yet, without a doubt, his most difficult decision came near the end of World War II when he authorized the dropping of two nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

While many continue to debate the moral justification for such action, I find myself sympathizing and respecting leaders like Truman who were placed in integral, unavoidable moments and refused to pass the buck to the next leader in line. Good leadership refuses to shirk responsibility out of fear of consequence or preservation of comfort. It engages with the present circumstance and uses the best wisdom at its disposal in order to produce the greatest possible results for its followers. Nothing kills success like indecisiveness, and nothing produces change like decisive leadership.

From a Biblical perspective, perhaps no leader was more tempted to pass the buck than Joshua. He followed in the steps of Israel’s greatest leader (Moses) and was brought to the brink of a hostile territory populated by fierce and wicked nations. Possibly sensing this unease, God encouraged the new leader in Joshua 1:

Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel…Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you” (v. 2, 6-7).

The Lord needed strong, courageous leadership in a time when Israel was vulnerable and possibly on the brink of returning to Egypt. Joshua met the challenge and led the people of Israel into victory. He didn’t pass the buck to the next generation and made the necessary decisions for his time.

Such an example reminds us of the particular dangers that spiritual leadership faces. While we may not decide whether or not to enter a worldwide conflict, or whether to drop nuclear bombs on a foreign enemy, we do make eternally important decisions which cannot bear the weight of our cowardice. Yet we often witness an unwillingness to accept responsibility within the church. How?

When shepherds refuse to deal with sin. Imagine a shepherd who is out with his flock one day and witnesses one of his sheep limping. Instead of stopping to check the injured animal, he keeps the flock moving, not wanting to slow the majority down. As the day progresses, the lamb’s condition grows worse, eventually causing it to drift farther and farther from the group. The shepherd continues to neglect the sheep, thinking that the one who watched the flock tomorrow was better equipped to take care of the issue.

The next day, when the new shepherd came to check to flock, he not only found the injured sheep deceased, but several more in the flock limping as well. The previous shepherd didn’t realize that the hurting sheep was infected with a disease which caused the limp; although the sickness was preventable the day before, it was now too late and infected more of the flock.

In a similar way, spiritual shepherds often ignore sin within the local congregation hoping that it will either go away naturally or be handled by someone else. Paul dealt with this issue in Corinth. The church refused to properly discipline a man living in sexual immorality, and Paul rebuked them for it:

When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Cor. 5:4-6).

Sadly, this type of spiritual negligence is perpetrated by shepherds within the local body:

They see a member drifting away, attending worship less and less, but never say anything…

They hear rumors that a member is struggling with a sin, but instead of lovingly approaching them about it, they contribute to the gossip or simply ignore it…

They see the church growing increasingly apathetic, but have little concern for the future…

This occurs in congregations around our nation every day. When will the neglect stop? Elders must have the moral courage to say something—to do something—for these hurting sheep. Otherwise, who will? Where does the buck stop?

When fathers refuse to deal with their children. No greater burden can be laid at the feet of a man than to be granted the responsibility of shepherding a child’s soul. Scripture leaves no doubt as to the father’s role in the home:

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:1)

Discipline and instruction. These are ingredients for Christ centered fatherhood. If fathers chose to pass the buck to their wives, to schools, or even to the church, the chances of our children being disrespectful, undisciplined, and without knowledge of the Lord, increases exponentially. More than ever, we need courageous, decisive fathers in our homes.

When husbands refuse to deal with their spouse. Nothing can douse the fires of marital intimacy like unresolved conflict. Sadly, too often, Christian men are unwilling to communicate effectively with their wives in order to confront unspoken friction. This results in bitterness, cynicism, and lack of trust—ingredients which will leave any marriage destitute.

While women are often viewed as the communicators within the home, it is the responsibility of the man to be proactive in conflict resolution in the home; we can’t afford to pass the buck to our wives. Either we are the head of our homes or we aren’t. Our authority isn’t expressed in stern demands, but in expressions of selfless love and Christ centered tenderness (Eph. 5:25). Communication takes work and patience, but without it our marriages will crumble under the weight of our negligence.

In reference to taking responsibility, a wise man once said, “If it’s everybody’s responsibility, than it’s nobody’s responsibility”—how true this is! Unless leaders are willing to say “The buck stops here” inactivity will prevail and change will never occur. Excuses abound, but if God can find leaders—both men and women—who will do what they can, with what they have, where they are, then the result will be incredible growth in the Lord’s church.

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