Yes you can fire a volunteer

Before we even begin to venture down the road of this topic, let me make a few things very clear:


  • I love the whole idea of a volunteer team. Not only are they essential to what we do, but I believe that part of the role of a church media team is to create an opportunity for people to exercise their God-given abilities.
  • Volunteers deserve our thanks and appreciation. After a long day at their day job, or a long week doing other things, they sacrifice time away from leisure and other options in order to serve. We should appreciate that and tell them often that we do.
That being said, I also have a very clear viewpoint on expectations for a volunteer team. In it’s most basic form, volunteers and staff members can be treated equally. Think about this: the church needs people to fulfil certain roles. It seeks to fill them from within the congregation. If someone has skills to run sound, then they get recruited to do so. The same is true with staff, but the main difference is the focus and time commitment. Staff members are in place when volunteers can not fill the role due to time commitment. Yes, I know it’s a bit more complicated than that – there are leadership components and such – but in it’s simplest form, all of us are here to serve the Lord with what we have to offer.

Never make the mistake of thinking that a church media, tech, music, or other team is “yours” – when you begin to believe they serve you, you’ve injected pride into the equation.
Instead, understand that you (if you’re leading) are a steward of God’s resource – a pool of talent formed to equip and mobilize the Gospel through media and technology. And because you are a steward, not an owner or superior, your viewpoint should be that every player on the team plays by the same rules.
The rules:
- honor your commitment: if you say you’ll be here to serve, you do it
- respect others: your demeanor and actions reflect love for those you serve and serve with
- be proactive: strive hard to learn new things, not staying stagnant to the same old things. Desire to be better
SO, the big question – can you really fire a volunteer?
I recently have had a few conversations with ministry leaders, where it became extremely evident that the growth and effectiveness of that team was being hindered because of a volunteer with wrong motives, a terrible attitude, and an incredibly overbearing personality. Yet, they felt handcuffed. They were scared to death of the fallout if they asked them to leave, so they continued to shuffle them around, every so often having blowups, but then “in love dealing with it” – more like enabling them to keep doing what they were doing without consequence, hindering everyone else around them. They have to put a stop to it, or they’ll just keep running that same track!
Before we get there though, effort to correct needs to be made. You start “firing” people every time someone makes a mistake or they aren’t as cheery in the morning as you wish them to be, you’ll find yourself on a team of one – you and you alone. When a situation arises, make it your habit to address it with the person, in private, and very soon after it occurred. Never harbor situations up and then dump them on a long while later. Also, never have these conversations in any other setting than one on one. You must, lovingly, explain how you view the situation and what you’d like corrected. Bring them in on your thought process. Give them a chance to explain their side. Thank them for listening (even if it feels like they didn’t).
Rinse and repeat as long as you feel the situation is under control.

When to pull the plug:
If you have had those conversations several times, you need to begin to think about your next move. When your situation includes a few of the following warning signs, it’s time to start considering the tough conversation:
  • The volunteer is hurting those serving with him/her. You have repeated complaints from others on the team of their being overbearing, rude, or inappropriate
  • The volunteer won’t get on board with the direction of the team overall. They purposefully go their own way, and try to bring others with them.
  • They are a constant source for dissention, stirring up complaints on every front
  • Those you serve feel uncomfortable when this volunteer is the one assigned to operate something that effects them.
While none of these in an isolated scenario is cause for “the boot” they begin to dig more at the heart behind what’s happening.
In the end, no doubt this is one of the hardest aspects of leading in ministry. In order to build healthy teams though, you MUST expect a lot from your members and be willing to tow the line with them when need be. Love them like crazy and appreciate the daylights out of them, but don’t let one person derail what could be a thriving, growing ministry team. You have to prioritize the ministry and God’s heart above what one person would sway the team towards – namely negativity and disagreement. Be patient with people, extend large doses of grace, take the time to find out why the behavior is happening – but in the end, have the guts to take action. Stand up and lead.
One last thing, if you do have to actually go through with asking a volunteer to stop serving, do it humbly and with a peaceful spirit. It isn’t a showdown, it isn’t a time for you to flex your muscles. Do it in love and consider leaving the door open for them in the future if they decide to change.

Author: Jon Cook

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