Volunteers sometimes ask some toughhhh questions! Maybe they’re on policy, how kids are learning, what they’re teaching, or something else entirely. Maybe it’s on where our church stands on a theology issue or why we let certain volunteers serve. And, well, sometimes we don’t have the answers.
Have you ever found yourself stuck when someone asks you a question? You know, you’re standing in the hallway with a volunteer on a Sunday morning just before or after a service and out of the blue they ask you a tough question.
It’s not tough just because it’s a difficult topic, but you’re not sure where your church stands on the issue. Or you maybe haven’t thought it through deeply enough yourself to be able to answer.
Sometimes, It Gets Tough
Well, you’re not alone! There have been many times when I’ve found myself staring somebody in the eye and hearing them sincerely ask a question that I haven’t known the answer to.
Early in ministry there were many times I was questioned about curriculum philosophy. This was hard since I had inherited the curriculum from my predecessor. Plus I was so new to ministry that I wasn’t completely sure where I stood on certain philosophy issues myself.
I’ve been questioned by volunteers on parenting decisions that some of our congregants had made that the volunteer maybe disagreed with. I’ve been questioned on church leadership decisions that I was not part of.
Questions have even come up around a church decision or indecision to communicate where we stood on certain political or social topics. Again, if this is you, you’re not alone.
I’ve been there numerous times. I’d love to share some things I’ve learned over my many years of ministry!
Examples of Tough Questions
Let me share a couple of specific moments I recall that might help you relate better.
One curriculum we used did not refer to drinking alcohol and getting drunk in its curriculum because of the age demographic of the children we were teaching. I remember a volunteer who was mad because they felt like we weren’t being truthful with the children in our ministry.
They weren’t just frustrated, they were angry. A choice we made to be more age appropriate in our teaching left someone questioning if we were being truthful.
Another time I had a volunteer who felt that some parents in our congregation were wrong for teaching their children about Santa Claus. She felt that we owed it to the children to tell them the truth about where presents came from at Christmas.
Those are a few examples of easier questions in the tough category. But the even tougher ones include a volunteer who questioned our church’s accountability policies for serving in ministry.
6 Tools for You
Here are some tools I have garnered over the years that have helped me when facing tough questions from volunteers.
1. Don’t Panic
First, don’t panic. The question is usually not a challenge to you personally. It is usually something that the volunteer is trying to understand and needs an answer to help them understand the thinking behind a decision, theology, or philosophy.
2. Don’t Always Respond Immediately
Feel free to buy yourself time. We don’t have to answer the question immediately. Most volunteers are happy if you respond by setting up some time to discuss the question later.
Part of what I usually do before meeting with someone is asking them to send an email with specific questions so I can be sure that I am answering the real question they are asking.
3. Research, Research, Research
Do your research. Whether it is a theological question that is being asked, an unclear policy issue that is being questioned, or something else, make sure that you are doing due diligence to answer the question they are asking.
4. Consult Others for Help
Sometimes there are topics that we are being questioned on that others on your staff or ministry team might be better equipped to answer. Lean on them to help you answer the question or coach you in answering the question.
Theology or ministry philosophy questions can sometimes be answered better by your senior leadership (senior pastor, executive pastor, or elders).
I have found that if the subject matter is difficult, then it’s even more important to plan your response. I will often think through what the possible outcomes might be and plan for them, especially if the topic in question has the potential of causing conflict if the person isn’t happy with the answer to my response.
Additionally, I have learned that ministry is all about relationships. I will make sure that I am meeting with someone in person when I am responding to a difficult question because I want to ensure that, above all, my relationship with them is the most important thing, not the response.
5. Kindness Matters
Colossians 3:12-13 (NIV) says “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
If the person disagrees with an answer or is asking a question that is difficult for them to ask, I will ensure that I am sensitive to their emotions and make sure I am always kind.
6. Clarity Is Key
Be clear. No one likes a non-answer response.
As Brené Brown reminds us: ‘Clarity is kindness.’
Sometimes walking in ministry can be extremely challenging. My encouragement to you is to first stop and pray. Ask God for guidance and wisdom on how to answer the question.
And sit in the comfort that the God of our universe loves you and the person who is asking you a tough question. Neither of you is alone—God is near. And God loves us deeply!
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