April 1: No joking matter…

One evening the telephone rang. It was late on Saturday. I was a young preacher at the time. The voice on the other end of the line was somewhat panicked. “Would you be able to preach for me tomorrow?” “Yes, I am available” was my response. Then it dawned on me. Tomorrow is a very short time away, what had I just committed myself to?

The thought going through my mind was advice from an old preacher. He said, “Never forget what day it is. Preach to the subject at hand.” That sounded like good advice. The next day would be April 1: April Fool’s Day. Would I dare preach on that subject? I thought for a while and then decided I could do that. I went through the process of creating the sermon. The next morning came very quickly.

As I got to the church and entered the pulpit I was confident that the sermon prepared was appropriate and would be sensitive to the day. The text was Luke 12:16-21. The passage was a parable about the story of a person who had given himself permission to “eat, drink and be merry.” The advice to this person was somewhat shocking, “You fool, be careful for tomorrow you might die.” No sooner had I read the text then a man sitting toward the front of the church began to fidget, make painful facial gestures, and begin to grab his chest. In a very short moment it was obvious that he was having a heart attack. I stopped, called the ushers forward and asked someone to call 911. In a matter of minutes the service was over. The sermon was never delivered.

I went to the hospital to visit the man and his family. When I got there I told the emergency room people who I was. A voice came from behind the curtain. “I don’t want to see you!” “This is all your fault!” “If you had only preached on something else I would still be at the church visiting with others!”

“What happened?” I called the pastor that week and tried to figure it out. He told me this was a person who always tried to pass the buck. It was always someone else”s fault. The pastor told me not to worry, things would be okay. I have never forgotten that moment.

When we began to create the contract process my mind went back to that incident. I knew that we had to create the contract in such a way that whoever was doing the contract would know that the contract was their own. The contract could not be someone else’s. The contract had to create accountability that could not be passed on to others. It was then that the bonus was given to create an incentive to take ownership. Think about what you want to do. Write it down. Then do it. Then come back and talk about what worked and what didn’t work. Then start another contract building on your experience.

Accountability is not a joking matter. Accountability will not exist if someone else creates plans for someone else. The reality is that someone else cannot live your life for you.

We have become a society of planners. Often it is someone else making the plans. Too often it has been necessary to live your life while being put on hold. The contract and bonus process was created to help people move on with their lives. Homeless youth, youth at risk, and now people from multiple situations are learning and experiencing freedom from being put on hold. Contracts are being created and people are getting on with THEIR lives. Simple tasks are being identified and being accomplished. The expectations concerning the system around us is slowly coming into focus for many as a way of help and not a mode of dependency.

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