I recently had a manicure and pedicure by a delightful woman. We will call her Rachel to protect her anonymity. When Rachel learned what I did for a living she shared an interesting story with me. The story made me realize how important it is to be thoughtful with communicating bad news to a volunteer.
Rachel tearfully shared that she had been fired as a children’s ministry volunteer because of a picture that she was tagged in that was posted on Facebook.
The picture was of her at a family celebration in a restaurant and there just happened to be glasses of alcohol on the table. Rachel said that she does not drink and that the alcohol was not hers.
She then said she received a phone call from another church volunteer informing her that she would no longer be used as a volunteer because of the Facebook photo.
Rachel understood the expectations as a church volunteer to not drink alcohol, and that the photo gave the impression that she did, but she was very hurt by the incident.
Rachel said she felt bad for the woman who called her because her voice was shaking and it was pretty obvious that this volunteer church representative was not comfortable giving her the news.
Rachel said she understood how the picture could be viewed and why the decision was made to pull her out of Children’s Ministry but what seemed to hurt her the most was the how the message was delivered, and that there was not an opportunity to share her side of the story.
I asked if she had any communication from someone in a pastoral capacity and she said no.
As Rachel poured out her heart to me, she went on to say that it had been six months since the incident and she still had not recovered enough to go back to church.
It made my heart sad to see the pain this woman was in and that what the church probably thought was the right action to take, turned out to be a devastating experience for Rachel.
I’m not sharing this story to start a debate as to whether church volunteers should be encouraged to drink or not to drink alcohol, I share this story because the communication was so poorly handled that I think there are a few lessons that can be learned.
5 Tips For Delivering Bad News to a Volunteer
1. Take the Time to Gather the Facts
It is always a good leadership practice to give people the benefit of the doubt by taking the time to gather the facts, and give the person the opportunity to share their perspective.
I wonder if church leadership had known that Rachel doesn’t drink alcohol if they had taken a different approach to handling this situation?
2. Use the Situation as a Teaching Experience
We all come from different backgrounds and we are all on a development journey as Christians.
Some are further down the road than others so it is important to meet people where they are and help them grow to the next level.
This is done by showing respect for others and discipling them along the way.
3. Ensure a Face-to-Face Conversation
This communication was made over the telephone and I wonder how different the conversation would have been had it been a face-to-face meeting.
Some things are better said in person rather than over the telephone which limits one’s ability to read facial expressions and reactions to a difficult communication like this.
4. Pastor to Deliver the News
Having worked on a church staff, I know that no one wants to deliver news like this to a volunteer.
However, when the issues are of a pastoral nature, they should be delivered by a pastor or someone in a ministerial leadership position.
Pastors have the training to communicate diplomatically and to pastor the volunteer through the situation. It is just as important to minister to the volunteer as it is to correct undesirable behaviors.
5. Process Improvement
Whenever there is a major incident like this (firing a volunteer is a big deal), there should be an internal follow-up to try and learn what in the screening, selecting or volunteer training process could be improved to eliminate these kinds of situations.
If Rachel’s account is accurate, this entire situation could have been avoided, and a good volunteer saved, by simply offering volunteers tips for social behaviors that reflect their role as a church volunteer.
It is never fun being the decision maker for a situation as serious as firing a church volunteer, but church leadership needs to take the time to think through what is communicated, by whom and in what format. Taking these simple steps can possibly save the reputation of the church, but more importantly, the spiritual walk of the volunteer.