Whether you oversee 2 volunteers or 200 volunteers, chances are you see some of the same patterns and experience the same frustrations.
- Volunteers not showing up prepared. (Or not showing up at all!)
- Forgetting or even choosing not to follow important safety policies.
- Coming late.
- Going rogue on curriculum.
- Giving up on discipline.
- Ignoring important emails.
- Checking cell phones while serving.
In our frustration we think, “If this were a job, they would be fired!” Yet in our desperation we cry out, “But I NEED that person in that spot!” It seems to be a catch 22—a no-win situation.
Kids’ ministry is a delicate balance of responsibility. As Children’s Ministry leaders, we have accepted the responsibility to pastor and disciple kids, parents, and volunteers. Each goal we set, each program we plan, and each policy we put in place should serve all of these groups in some way and facilitate their journey of discipleship.
Because of our passion for each of these groups of people, we can become passionately frustrated when the behavior of one group seems to thwart the development of another—especially when the volunteers we need don’t quite live up to our expectations to reach the kids we love. It’s important that we take a deep breath and become willing to enter into the difficult conversations that come with good leadership.
Avoiding conflict and holding frustration communicates a lack of value to our volunteers, the kids we serve, and their parents. Entering into the difficult conversation communicates that we value our relationships with them and their discipleship journeys. So where do we begin?
If it’s an epidemic, consider the source and communicate to the masses.
When the CDC is called into an epidemic of a disease in an area, they first investigate to find the source of the problem, then they communicate to the masses of people who are affected what needs to be done—or what should have been done.
If you have an epidemic of volunteers being late or checking phones during services, ask yourself some questions so you can find the source of that issue.
- What is the common denominator of the problem?
- Have you clearly communicated expectations to volunteers during training?
- Have volunteers completed training?
- Are you leading by example and beginning on time?
- Is there something that you need to communicate to the entire team, and, if so, what is the best way to do that?
This might mean the issue becomes the subject of a weekly email, you go room-to-room doing reminders, or you make a quick training video to share. This type of widespread communication will likely convict those who have been contributing to the problem—and everyone else will simply appreciate the reminder.
If it’s personal, communicate one-on-one.
If there are just 1 or 2 volunteers creating an issue, don’t rely on mass communication. When you took them on as members of your team (even if you inherited them), you’ve accepted a level of responsibility for their discipleship, and this means you may need to have a difficult conversation.
These are the conversations that might make you a little uneasy about entering into, but when you do, you will feel like you’ve accomplished something with eternal significance. Before beginning a difficult conversation with a volunteer, set an end goal (what is the desired behavior you want to see?) and assess your feelings on the situation. I like to break this (and most other situations) into 4 questions:
- What’s right? What is this person doing well? How can I affirm the working of the Holy Spirit in their life?
- What’s wrong? State the issue—write it out in a matter of fact way before your one-on-one.
- What’s confused? What assumptions are you making about the situation? What do your volunteers not understand? What are their motivations for serving? Do they know how their actions are affecting other volunteers, kids, or parents? How could you communicate those things well?
- What’s missing? How could provide accountability so this doesn’t happen again? What do you need to learn from this situation?
Once you’ve fully assessed the situation, invite the volunteer out for coffee or to come sit with you to talk. The 4 questions above can guide your conversation, but always keep your end goal in mind and, ultimately, keep the goal of discipleship close to your heart.
- Seek to understand. Open the conversation with a heart that’s ready to learn and understand—try to avoid the trap of making assumptions. Be curious about their lives and how you can help. For instance, “I’ve noticed it’s been difficult for you to get to service on time lately. Is there anything going on?”
- Talk feelings. Be sure to help them see how they contribute to the team and how their behavior is impacting ministry. Ask how they have been feeling about ministry. In some cases, they may feel unnecessary or simply confused about expectations.
- Make a plan to move forward. Ask for permission to hold them accountable. Also consider how they might hold you accountable for any changes you might need to make. If this conversation results in a volunteer needing to take some time off or transition to a new ministry, give some thought as to how God might use you in that process.
- Affirm and appreciate. Tell the volunteer the wonderful things you see in them—make sure they know as they leave the conversation what’s going right. Tell them you value them enough to have the hard conversations, and you appreciate their willingness to come talk to you. Even if this conversation ends with connecting them to serve in another area, let them know where you have seen God working in and through them!
Because of our volunteers, ministry reaches farther and wider than would ever be possible if we attempted to do it on our own. Embrace and celebrate this incredible responsibility God has entrusted you with—to guide people into a deeper relationship with Him. As you master these difficult conversations, find joy not only in the volunteers who consistently “do it right,” but also in those you see growth and transformation.