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Saying Goodbye to Volunteer Leaders

How to do it well—in youth ministry and elsewhere
Saying Goodbye to Volunteer Leaders

Leaders naturally cycle in and out of ministry. When it’s a positive parting of ways, create an environment where the leader is honored for their service and students, parents, and other leaders have a chance to voice their thanks. Make this a consistent ritual for all positive departures. It’s a great way to respect someone’s legacy, to help students understand that they’re not being abandoned, and to communicate to the larger church body that all people are valued in the youth ministry. Have a time of prayer and blessing for the leader and perhaps gift them with something that will help them in their next stage of life or ministry. If they’re moving to a different ministry, have a leader from that ministry be in attendance so there’s a healthy passing of the baton.

When a team member isn’t working out in a ministry, typically we defer to mercy or grace—“They just need a little more time.” Or “We all make mistakes.” In reality, you need to let them go. Or as a colleague puts it, “Free them up to succeed elsewhere.” Before you let someone go, however, you need to make sure you’ve done three things:

1) Consistently given feedback. Part of your team development is observing team members in action and talking with them about what you observe. If someone isn’t working out, he or she should be aware of it well before it’s time to part ways. Ask yourself: Is this a ministry issue, an attitude issue, or a moral boundary issue? If it’s one (or both) of the first two, you can take some time to work with him or her on the difficulty. If it’s a moral boundary issue, investigate further if confirmed, then think about if an immediate release is needed. Then be sure to let your senior pastor or ministry supervisor know as soon as possible so he or she can advocate for you should there be any repercussions.

2. Made sure that their failure is not related merely to job position. Sometimes, if someone’s not working out in the position they volunteered for, the position itself might be wrong for the person. Think about moving them to another position.

3. Documented the conversations leading up to dismissal. Note the date, the person, and the gist of any disciplinary conversation that you have with a team member. Also record any steps recommended for change and whether or not he or she followed those steps.

If you address the behavior or attitude and see no change in the volunteer’s performance, you need to release that volunteer. If you don’t, you drain the morale of the team, the ministry, and yourself.

Here’s how to release a volunteer:

Pray for wisdom.

Get your facts straight. Go over your notes.

Think through all the consequences carefully before you take action. Don’t give a knee-jerk reaction. Sleep on it. When in doubt, call a trusted ministry friend, therapist, or talk it over with another youth pastor. Maintain confidentiality.

Get wise, confidential counsel from someone who can help you sort out the issues from the emotions.

Dismiss a person face-to-face, not over the phone or via email—certainly not a text. Find a quiet location where you won’t be disturbed.

Do it with a loving and caring attitude.

Be clear and honest without being mean. Bill Hybels has a saying: “Have the courage to say the last 10 percent.” By that he means that too many of us shy away from saying what really needs to be said. We’ll say the 90 percent that’s easy. But it’s usually the last 10 percent that’s the most powerful and important information for the person.

Point out positive contributions as well as reasons for dismissal.

Suggest alternative places of ministry (if appropriate).

Don’t ask them to stay on until a replacement is found.

Talk about a plan of action to tell the other volunteers or students.

Keep confidentiality even if the other party doesn’t.

Remember that most volunteers will be relieved. They generally know at a gut level when it’s not working.

Once you’ve let someone go, check in with the person a few days later to see how he or she is doing or to see if anything needs to be clarified. Also let your supervisor know about the decision and the process; he or she needs to be your advocate.

Excerpted from Youth Ministry Management Tools 2.0. Copyright © 2014 by Ginny L. Olson and Michael A. Work. Used by permission of Zondervan.

September22, 2014 at 8:00 AM

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