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Irate Over Irksome Volunteers?

Bob D'Ambrosio

No matter how much screening you do, you can never screen out difficult people from your ministry. Because the church is a "grace place," people come to your ministry with their "issues" -- God love 'em. And try as you might, love and understanding may not be all these people need. At some point, you have to manage them. Read on to discover how to lead 10 of the most difficult volunteer personalities (these are listed in no particular order, by the way).

The Big Talker

Usually Volunteers For: Anything and everything!

The Challenge: Talks a good talk, but never follows through.

This volunteer is easy to recruit but doesn't get the job done. Often The Big Talker, after saying yes, calls back weeks later and says, "No, it won't be possible for me to organize next week's vacation Bible school after all!"

The Solution: Establish evaluation checkpoints.

Clearly outline the responsibilities of the position in a job description. If you go over the duties of the job with The Big Talker, you may get a more sincere commitment. Don't accept a "yes" until the person has had time to think, pray, and consider the position. In the job description, build in checkpoints or a timetable so you can check to see if the volunteer is staying on schedule. With this tool, you'll know in advance if nothing has been planned for VBS early in the game so you can find another volunteer, or divide and reassign the tasks to others who can do the job.

The Whiner

Usually Volunteers For: Committees, small groups, or any role with a captive audience.

The Challenge: Focuses on the negative.

This volunteer always looks at what's wrong with the situation and rarely offers suggestions for improvement. The Whiner complains about anything and everything, but continues to serve.

The Solution: Give this person short-term assignments.

Being a round peg in a square hole can often pave the way for unhappiness and complaining. While this characteristic may be just a part of an individual's personality, you can often prevent it from surfacing by placing the person in a ministry that gives him or her great joy and fulfillment. Start with a personal interview to find the person's passion. Assessment tools such as spiritual gift indicators and personality profiles can help you make a good match. Place these people in short-term "trial" positions so they can determine if a ministry is something they enjoy. Finding a good match may not make them smile more, but it may cut down on the whining.

The Pillar

Usually Volunteers For: Decision-making positions, policy-setting boards, or planning committees.

The Challenge: Ego and pride.

This volunteer has been in control for so long that he's become a part of the foundation. The church will fall down if The Pillar leaves, he thinks. This power (and self-deception) creates an unwillingness to let new people participate in any significant church ministry.

The Solution: Assign specific lengths of service.

Term limits for volunteers? You bet! Every position needs a job description that clearly states when the position begins and ends. This has two advantages. First, it prevents The Pillar from monopolizing ministry so roles, tasks, and groups are available to new people. Second, it prevents volunteers from burning out. Many may want to step down but feel obligated to continue because "no one else will do it." You must change the culture in your church to promote the idea that no one person does it all. As ministry is shared, the load becomes lighter. Pillars need to understand that the goal is to equip others so ministry is multiplied, rather than trying to become Superman or Wonder Woman to keep the church going.

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