Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Volunteers are the labor engine of a church. Without the army of people behind the scenes, most churches would cease to exist.
As church leaders, we need to care for this precious resource and support them even when their behaviors do not match expectations.
Rachel Was A Volunteer
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.
I have to say that what she told me made me sad but I honestly was not surprised because effective and thoughtful communication is a skill that not everyone has.
The story made me realize how important it is to be thoughtful with communicating unpleasant news to a volunteer.
Rachel Was Fired From Her Volunteer Role
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 she was pulled out of Children’s Ministry.
However, what seemed to hurt her the most was 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 broke my heart 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 a faithful volunteer.
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 Sharing Unpleasant News With 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.
Take the time to gather the facts and give the person the opportunity to share their perspective and side of the story.
I’m not sure a post on a Facebook page should impact anyone’s life this drastically.
I wonder if church leadership had known that Rachel doesn’t drink alcohol if they had taken a different approach to handle this situation?
2. Use the Situation as a Teaching Moment
We all come from different backgrounds and are all on a spiritual journey.
Some are further down the road than others. This reality makes it important to not judge others but to meet people where they are.
The goal is to lead and guide them as they progress on their spiritual journey.
Leading means showing respect for others and coaching them along the way.
3. Ensure a Face-to-Face Conversation
The communication approach or plan is often more important than what gets communicated.
In this example, communication was made over the telephone.
I can’t help but 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 very difficult conversation.
4. Pastors Should Deliver Difficult News
Having worked on a church staff, I know that no one wants to deliver unpleasant news to a volunteer, employee, or church member.
However, when the issues are of a pastoral nature, the conversation should be delivered by a pastor or someone in a ministerial leadership position – not another volunteer.
Pastors have the training to communicate diplomatically and to help the volunteer through the situation.
Always remember that it is just as important to show the love of Christ to someone as it is to correct undesirable behaviors.
5. Work To Improve Internal Processes
Internal processes are how work gets done and church communication happens.
In a major incident like this (firing a volunteer is a big deal), there should be an internal follow-up.
The goal is to try and learn what in the screening, selecting, or volunteer training process could be improved to eliminate these kinds of situations.
For instance, does this example warrant a review of the volunteer orientation training to ensure volunteers understand social expectations.
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.
No One Likes To Have Difficult Conversations
No one likes to be the one to have as difficult of a conversation as this one discussed.
And, it is never fun being the decision-maker for a situation as serious as firing a church volunteer.
However, church leadership should take the time to think through what needs to be 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 a faithful volunteer.
You can access an editable copy of a Volunteer Orientation PowerPoint in our expanding library of forms and job descriptions. If you are already a member, click here to access the forms.
If you are not a member and would like to learn more click here.