How to Fire a Volunteer

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There are times when an adult leader or volunteer needs to leave your student ministry. I am not talking about when they “lose their anointing” (translation: hard to work with) or their “passion changes” (translation: volunteer burnout). When volunteer leaders leave for these reasons, it is about what I have done to create the environment that makes me hard to work with and leads them into burnout. When it isn’t about me, when it is about what them, how do I ask a volunteer leader to step away?

How do you fire a volunteer?

Before you even start down this road you must do everything to ensure that it is not, in fact, about you. Before and after each step, seek the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and make sure your supervisor knows everything that is happening.  Then get ready for a tough road.

1.     Hire Well

Before you bring someone on make sure they have a few things: the vision (where we are going), the mission (how we will get there), and a job description (what is my role and responsibility).

Each job description needs to outlines their roles and responsibilities and how those help move the ministry from where it is to where God is taking it. If a person want to be a freelance volunteer and operate without a role, they will likely cause unhealthy situations down the road. It is easier to not hire them now than to fire them later. Don’t hire someone who is not going to be part of the team.

The other thing this does is give you a way to express what went wrong.  It is hard to fire someone for doing the wrong thing if they never had a concrete understanding of expectations.

2.     Train Well

Spiritual leadership training is key! Establish a regular time to pray, read scripture, and learn how to fulfill their job description. These trainings provide the best place for preventative correction and clarification. Make sure to provide concrete and usable trainings, refresh and remind all leaders of church safety policies (Safe Sanctuary or Child/Youth Safety Guidelines), and restatements of the ministry vision and mission.

Set the expectation that the adult volunteer/leaders will be present. Be aware of adult volunteers/leaders who accept the job description but reject the training. Be proactive and contact them as you see this happening. Many times this will resolve the issue by re-establishing expectations, or create the opportunity for the adult to step away on their own.

It is a much better situation when you give adults the opportunity to step away because of ministry expectations rather than allowing them to get to the point you have to fire them.

3.     Meet and Clarify

Now you have an adult volunteer/leader who knows how they fit and are regularly trained as a spiritual leader. When, not if, one of these adults begins leading or acting in a manner inconsistent with the vision, mission, job description, and training, you as the ministry leader set a time to meet with the adult.

This is not the time for the pink slip! (If a leader is violating your church and ministry safety policies, act according the the policy. You will need to quickly remove them from interaction with students.) This is your opportunity to love them by seeking clarity. In the meeting, move quickly to clearly name what action or attitude is causing unhealth or consternation. Be willing to hear their perspective on their actions and look to understand their attitude. This may be a great moment of learning for you as a leader, or it may be that the clarity you arrive at is that the adult’s actions and attitudes are truly outside the ministry expectations. Either way, before closing the meeting, set another meeting before your next student gathering.

4.     Meet with Your Supervisor

You should have been keeping them in the loop all along the way. However, now it’s time to give them the play by play, tell them the next step you see (either a process of changing/training or firing), and hear what they want you to do.

5.    How to Part Ways

Now it is time to ask them to leave, to fire them. In this meeting, clearly and succinctly state that you are removing them from the student ministry and why. This is not a time to justify your decision, but to state the action or attitude that is not presently reconcilable with the ministry vision, mission, and training. Affirm them as a child of God with gifts and graces, but be clear that at this time they are no longer involved as an adult volunteers/leader. If your adult volunteers/leaders have shirts that say “Leader” or some other designator, ask them to return it to you. If they paid for it, reimburse them. The goal of this meeting is to affirm that they are loved and at the same time not continuing in the leadership of the student ministry.

I had to fire a core adult after working with him for 2 years. He was a friend and a true disciple. However, he consistently went against the aim of our ministry. We were transitioning from an event and church-based student ministry to a spiritual formation and unchurched student ministry. He couldn’t make the shift and and refused to serve in the area of our ministry he would have excelled in. I feared the result of loosing him so much that I made excuses and gave allowance for his negative leadership to continue. And I didn’t want to hurt my friend. When I finally fired him, it was hard. Improvement didn’t happen immediately. But we didn’t collapse and there wasn’t a big backlash.

What developed was a team of adults who knew they could trust me and each other to move toward what God had called us. Our adult volunteer/leader applications grew. Healthy relationships formed. Ministry was strengthened.

As hard as it is, letting people go who are not working with you will pay long-term dividends that far outweigh the difficulty of letting them go.

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Aaron is a deacon in the Anglican Church of North America serving as the Student Ministry Team Lead at University United Methodist in San Antonio, TX. He has focused on raising lifelong disciples of Jesus in student ministry for 14 years. Aaron and his family, Lyndee, Isaac, and Grace, have a deep love of the wild and living simply. They spend much of their time backpacking, gardening, hiking, cooking, and chasing chickens. You can see what is happening at The U Student Ministry on Instagram #theUstudents.

1 COMMENT

  1. I loved this article and completely agree with it. Firing volunteers is difficult to do, particularly when one is new in ministry but it’s a crucial skill to have and be able to execute when necessary.

    I also keyed on your statement, “We were transitioning from an event and church-based student ministry to a spiritual formation and unchurched student ministry.” I’m curious as to what that transition is looking like, they types of things the ministry does now to reach the unchurched, and how that approach is working.

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