How to Remove a Volunteer

I hate to even write on this subject, but it’s one of the most frequently asked questions when I teach on developing volunteers. Always, someone sheepishly asks, “Uh … well … I have this one leader … and … well, she’s been there a long time … and … uh … well …”

Since I’ve heard the same scenario a thousand times, I’ll say, “And you want to get rid of her but you don’t know how, right?” The crowd laughs awkwardly, but question-asker sighs with relief when he finds out he’s not alone.

In 30 years of youth ministry leadership, I have had to ask people to step away from their volunteer positions. Often, the volunteer was relieved to go, but most of the time I faced a sweaty-palms, intense, conflict-filled, difficult conversation. And every time our ministry was healthier once this person was removed.

Here are some principles for managing volunteers that I’ve found helpful:

? If your church has given you the mantle of leadership, then lead. You don’t have to be mean-spirited to lead; you just need to be willing to lead. Leaders have to make decisions and take actions that aren’t easy. Letting a volunteer go is one of these decisions. Your ministry is too important to lower your standards and overlook someone who is causing problems. Difficult volunteers damage morale, hurt kids, cause continual grief and hinder your ministry from growing.

? As the leader, it’s your responsibility to put a team together that’s going to pursue health and move in the right direction. Not every volunteer is willing go there with you. Remember what Paul and Barnabas fought about in Acts 15? They went their separate ways because Paul didn’t think John Mark had what it took to minister with him. You’re not the first leader in the history of Christianity to make a tough decision about who makes up your ministry team.

? It’s always easier to bring people onto the team than to move them off. Remember this when you’re about to say “yes” to a potential volunteer who gives you an unsettled feeling. Trust your gut and say “no.”

? Realize the difference between a person who’s a chronic problem and a person who needs immediate intervention (moral failure, a non-negotiable rule broken.) Volunteers who just aren’t cutting it are going to need more tenderness, grace, and opportunities to grow and change than those who knew the consequences of their choice and chose poorly.

Removing a volunteer is your last resort, a step taken ONLY AFTER you’ve done everything you can to help the person succeed.

Before you remove a volunteer leader:

? Have a conversation with your supervisor. Tell your supervisor what you’re planning to tell the person. Ask for advice, coaching and prayer. Don’t make important decisions in isolation. Get a second opinion. Support from your supervisor is crucial since backlash is common.