No matter how good your screening process for new volunteers for your youth ministry, at some point you may find yourself stuck with a bad youth ministry volunteer. There can be many reasons why a volunteer doesn’t work out (anymore) in your youth ministry:
- A lack of chemistry with the students, the team, or with you as youth pastor;
- The volunteer has demonstrated risky behavior that hasn’t changed after several warnings;
- The volunteer is going through a rough season in his or her life and simply doesn’t have the energy for youth ministry right now;
- Not everyone is destined to stay in youth ministry forever, even after having successfully served many years it may be simply time to leave;
- The gifts and character of the volunteer don’t match with the task he or she is doing;
- The volunteer does a reasonably good job with the students, but is causing problems in your team (no team player) for instance with excessive criticism;
- Despite best efforts and the necessary youth ministry training, the volunteer simply isn’t ‘performing’ well;
- You may have made some changes in the youth ministry (for instance in programs) that the volunteer doesn’t feel comfortable with or the volunteer doesn’t support the mission and vision (anymore).
Even the above list is far from exhaustive. There can be many reasons why you need to part ways with a bad volunteer, but how do you do that?
Before doing anything, spend some time reflecting honestly about the situation. How sure are you that it’s not your fault, your perception? Is it really a bad youth ministry volunteer or is it just someone who rubs you the wrong way?
The simplest way to find out is to check if you are the only one who has a problem with this person. If so, chances are you are the problem, not the volunteer. If more people have a problem, there may be something else going on. When in doubt, confide in someone you can trust to help you discern the situation.
You have got to pray about the situation, and pray for this volunteer. Do not do anything until you feel you are at a place of love and compassion, no matter how hard it may be. God has to soften your heart first, or you will run the risk of saying and doing things you will regret later.
You have to make a decision: what is the best course of action with your bad youth ministry volunteer? This depends on the reason he or she isn’t functioning. When it’s a matter of personal circumstances (tired, burn out, depressed, etc.), it’s completely different than when it’s about skills or gifts. Here are your basic choices:
- Temporarily quit youth ministry, and come back possibly at any time;
- Temporarily quit youth ministry, and come back possibly if certain conditions are met, and after period of restoration under pastoral care;
- Quit youth ministry permanently, but help in finding another ministry or task;
- Quit youth ministry permanently and no recommendation for serving elsewhere (referral to pastor or pastoral team).
Which is the route to go considering the reason why your volunteer isn’t doing a good job? Be very clear and decisive here, because it’s of crucial importance for the rest of the process. It may be tempting to do nothing in the hopes that the situation will resolve itself, but sadly that’s almost never the case…it will only get worse.
Most of the time, it’s wise to ask others for advice, for instance, your (senior) pastor or someone from the pastoral team. They can check your decision making process, make sure you are doing the right thing, give you advice in follow up, pray for you and with you, and they can even sit in on the conversation you’re about to have.
The next thing to do, and this is going to be the toughest part, is to sit down with your volunteer and talk with him or her about your decision. Here’s how to do that:
Be loving: don’t speak out of anger; and put your genuine love and concern into words. Make sure the other person knows you love him or her and that you’re not doing this out of spite or personal issues.
Be clear: don’t beat around the bush; be very clear in your communication. State the problem you’ve observed, state the warnings you have given, and state your decision.
Be short: in bad news conversations, people’s emotions run high and they won’t hear anything you say. So keep it short, and follow up later.
Be true: when you promise to follow up, do so, and don’t forget it. Follow through on the help you promised; make an appointment for a follow up talk, etc. Be true to your word.
Be compassionate: the process of removing a bad youth ministry volunteer is tough on you, but even more on the volunteer. Be compassionate in the whole process. Offer him or her to bring someone into the talks, for instance, for moral support.
Even when you have removed the bad volunteer from your youth ministry, keep praying for him or her, and make sure your heart stays soft and loving. Don’t talk with others about the situation, and if you need to say something, protect the volunteer, and keep it neutral.
Expect resistance, anger, and high emotions in this whole process. You may even get criticism from other volunteers and leaders that you can’t defend yourself against because you want to protect the volunteer. If that gets tough, find someone trustworthy who isn’t part of the problem to confide in. Leadership sometimes means loneliness, but find someone to share the burden with.
Have you even been in the position where you needed to get rid of a bad youth ministry volunteer? How did that go, and what have you learned from that?