9 reasons to fire a volunteer and how to do
After a month, it was apparent trouble was brewing in the
fourth-grade class. The teachers and students weren’t getting
along. Students complained and parents demanded that the teachers
After the Christian education committee discussed the problem, a
staff member talked with the teaching couple. The situation was
potentially explosive. Firing the teachers could lead to hard
feelings and the possible loss of a good church couple.
So how did it turn out? The teachers conceded they were
mismatched for the class. They knew it and so did the kids. They
agreed to look for another volunteer position in the church where
their talents were better matched. Thankfully, everyone ended up
happy. But it doesn’t always turn out that way.
GROUNDS FOR FIRING
The thought of having to fire a volunteer brings shivers to any
staff person. Without volunteers, Christian education ministries
But quite honestly, there are situations when volunteers need to
be fired. Terminating a volunteer in a loving, Christian way (and I
like Paul’s comment in Galatians 5:26 about not becoming conceited)
can usually mean the restoration of someone to a more meaningful
Let’s take a look at the top 9 reasons volunteers should be
1. Mismatched talents — Just like the teaching
couple described earlier, when talents don’t jibe with the job,
replace the volunteer.
Signs indicating a mismatched volunteer:
- volunteer complaints within a short time of beginning the
- concerns expressed by several people who are led by the
- a low energy level from the volunteer and
- below-average performance.
2. Personal Crises — When volunteers face
unexpected crises in their families or personal lives, monitor
those events and respond with caring. Some people will try to
complete their tasks, not wanting to let the church down. If
volunteers are stressed out from a crisis, they’ll welcome a
Some crises that warrant a volunteer being terminated, at least
for the short term:
- the death of a spouse or child,
- job loss with a prolonged out-of-work period,
- chronic depression and
- suicidal tendencies.
3. Poor performance — Frequently, the church
endures sloppy performance on the assumption: “We don’t want to
offend anyone.” But children’s ministries should expect the best
from volunteers, because children’s welfare is at stake.
Signs of poor performance:
- bragging about not needing to prepare for class,
- making verbal commitments and never following through and
- consistently having excuses for missing meetings or activities
they’re responsible for.
4. Theological or philosophical differences —
Volunteers who have theological or philosophical differences with
the church may “dump” a barrage of nonsense on unsuspecting
targets. Teachers who throw away your church’s curriculum in order
to teach “what I want” are setting a dangerous precedent. While
it’s okay to allow teachers freedom in their classrooms, all
curricular changes should have prior approval by you and possibly
the Christian education board as well.
5. Negligence — I once attended a weekend
retreat with several church groups. Saturday night, one of the
other church’s volunteers asked me to watch his group while he went
out drinking with some friends. That guy should be fired.
There are many situations in the church where parents or others
trust volunteers to be responsible. Any circumstance of volunteer
negligence where a child’s life is endangered is grounds for
6. Sexual misconduct — The church used to be
immune from having to deal with sexual misconduct on the part of
volunteers. Not any more. Volunteers who fall prey to sexual
temptations need to be terminated immediately. This can include
anything from inappropriate touching to more serious sexual
Don’t assume everyone has a pure motive for volunteering. Many
churches now screen all volunteers who work with children or youth.
Make sure your children aren’t endangered because of ineffective
screening methods. Confront any suspicious volunteers.
7. Emotional Abuse — Fire volunteers who are
consistently mean to others. All of us get a big enough dose of
emotional battering during the week without going to the church and
dealing with an overbearing, cruel volunteer.
8. Antagonism — Church antagonists constantly
undermine anything positive in the church. They’re dangerous and
conniving. Antagonists often use influential volunteer positions as
a launching platform to criticize. These people are like a poison
and should be removed immediately.
9. Gossip — Volunteers are crucial to
spreading the good news; they don’t need to be agents of bad news.
When they are, the church needs to confront them and make a change.
In Romans 12:18, Paul told the Christians to “live at peach with
everyone” (NIV). Gossip never leads to peace in the church.
LEADING THE FIRING SQUAD
Terminating someone is never easy for me, but occasionally it
has to be done. When I approach the volunteer prayerfully, the
outcome is positive and redemptive. When I’m insensitive, there’s
disaster and hard feelings.
Use these tips for terminating a volunteer in a positive
- Don’t be judge and jury. When you suspect a volunteer needs to
be terminated, get the volunteer’s perspective on the problem.
Inform your pastor or Christian education board about your
concerns. Get their input before action is taken and decide how to
- Fire a volunteer in person. Never fire someone over the phone
or through a letter unless it’s absolutely necessary. Take along
someone you trust to act as a supporter and impartial
- Respond to the children who lost the volunteer. Visit the
children after the volunteer working with them is terminated. Be
open and honest about the reasons and allow questions. This will
eliminate gossip and a lot of hard feelings.
- If appropriate, place the volunteer in another position. When a
volunteer is fired, there’s a sense of failure. Having options
available will show that you still value the person as a church
member. Of course, this may not be appropriate in more serious
Mike Gillespie is a Christian education director in
THE “BURN CYCLE” OF GETTING FIRED
Some volunteers will simply feel relieved when they’re
terminated. Others may go through the following stages of grief, as
outlined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross:
- Denial — “No way! How could they fire me? There must be some
- Anger — “See if I ever do anything for that church again-if
that’s the thanks I get!”
- Bargaining — “If I talk to the pastor, maybe I’ll get my
- Depression — “I’m so embarrassed. Everyone must think I’m the
- Acceptance — “Even though I wasn’t the greatest at that job, I
bet there’s something I could do well in the church.”