“You can’t fire a volunteer!”
That’s the first thing many people think when reading this title. And their second thought is likely of a certain volunteer or two they’d like to fire.
Just as volunteers will, rightly, leave a position that is not working out, so also they can be asked to leave. The fact that they are church volunteers does not prevent them from being ‘fired’—but it greatly impacts how it is done.
Attitude is Important
Volunteers and their leaders can be held to mutually-agreeable standards. If we accept the unacceptable, we lower volunteers to second-class workers. Ignoring or accepting problem behaviors hinders the work of the church, work that is too important—-eternally important—-to allow it to suffer.
Begin with the attitude that problems can be worked out to the benefit of both sides. There are no ‘wrong’ people, just people in the wrong position. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it,” St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians. “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (v. 27 and v.18). Every person has a place in the body that suits their gifts.
Steps to Take
When a problem arises concerning a volunteer, intervene early. Don’t put it off; things don’t generally get better on their own. And the longer you wait, the harder it is to solve. Once you quit stalling, here are suggested steps.
- Pray. And pray some more. Ask for wisdom to do the right thing. Ask for help in continuing to love the individual with Christ-like love.
- Examine your role carefully. Are there things you have done, or not done, that contributed to the problem?
- Talk it over first with someone you respect–someone impartial, wise and spiritually mature. A different perspective can really help.
- Try to pinpoint the reason/s for the problem. Causes will point to solutions. Are there misunderstandings? Then you’ll want to clarify expectations. Different purpose/goals? Aim to find common ground. Does the volunteer lack skill? Offer training, support, and /or mentoring.
- Now you’re ready to meet with the person. Meet in private, at a time and place comfortable for the volunteer. Focus on the behavior that’s causing the problem. Don’t attack the person. Explain the consequences of the behavior. Also talk about your shared purpose and find areas of agreement. Ask the volunteer to suggest a solution. Do lots of listening. Agree on a solution and a plan for following up on the agreed solution. Write it down.
- Do the follow up. Meet and discuss again. If the first solution didn’t work, is there another possible solution? Repeat as needed.
- Reassure the individual of your support. Demonstrate that support throughout the process.
- If you honestly cannot agree on a solution, or cannot find a solution, ask the person to accept another position.
- If at this point they refuse to leave the position on their own, then consider the option of firing them. This is a last resort, never the initial action. Weigh the cost, keeping your mission in mind.
An Ounce of Prevention . . .
. . . is worth a whole lot more than a pound of cure. Most problems are prevented when volunteers:
- are screened before being placed in service
- are trained and given clear expectations for the position
- have a trial placement, a “try it” time for both sides to see how it works
- have a supervisor who wants them to succeed and keeps an eye on things
Churches also must cure “terminal niceness.” When we overlook problems and conflicts because we want to be “nice,” frustration easily builds to an explosive point.
The best prevention is a regular evaluation meeting between every volunteer and their leader, a time when both can be honest, fair and open.
Yes, volunteers can be fired. And sometimes they must be fired for the good of the church and its mission. But the process is long, difficult and must be done with much love. Each and every individual in the church is a part of the body of Christ, and each part has a role in the body. More that that, each one is a soul for whom Christ died.
rev. June 2014. See also “Got a Problem with a Volunteer?” on the CTA blog.