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An older female volunteer who is giving an uncooperative look across the table toward her children's ministry leader who wants to confront her.
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6 Steps to Confront an Uncooperative Teacher in Your Ministry

Uncooperative teacher or volunteer? Here’s how to know when it’s time to confront — and how to do it.

What do you do, as a children’s minister, when one of your suggestions goes ignored? How should you react when a volunteer says, “I’ve been a public school teacher for 13 years and I can tell you one thing-this proposed curriculum won’t work!”

For starters, you can gulp. Then breathe. Like it or not, awkward situations are an unpleasant reality of most any job.

Or as Earl Radford, minister for children at The Peoples Church in Fresno, California, says, “Whether you’re a children’s minister or a business person, we will have to deal with difficult people…even work with them.”

Go ahead, gulp again. You don’t like conflict. You don’t want someone mad at you. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

In fact, sometimes you’d rather put your head behind a pew and hide. But as a children’s minister your responsibility is to serve the needs of your kids…which just might involve rocking that pew a bit.

Why Teachers or Volunteers May Be Uncooperative

It’s normal-even healthy-to have some resistance to change. It’s a self-protective action; the familiar is predictable, probably comfortable. And when you’re presenting a shift in the curriculum, you’re asking someone to invest time in developing new techniques or presentations.

A lack of cooperation can also be a symptom of other problems. Perhaps the disgruntled teacher is unhappy with his position and needs to be reassigned to a different class, a different age group. Or resistance might result from a problem outside the church environment, such as mid-life crisis, depression, menopause, low self-worth, a career demotion or a family problem.

“It’s important to get at why they’re being uncooperative,” says Barbara Bolton of Cincinnati, a former children’s minister. “What might look like a lack of cooperation might be a simple misunderstanding.” For instance, your volunteer might not realize that what you’re requesting her to do is part of her job description.

6 Steps to Confrontation

Keep in mind that the word “confront” doesn’t mean “open fire!” The first definition in Webster’s New World Dictionary is “to face.” Didn’t Jesus confront sickness? Our Lord faced directly the difficulties of the day. Part of your ministry is to deal honestly with the circumstances around you. This can be done quite well with kindness and courtesy.

Here are six steps to help you move from confrontation to conclusion.

1. Give positive feedback.

We all like to be appreciated, stroked, complimented. When you have a situation you must correct or confront, start by pointing out the positives you do see.

“With one gal,” says Radford, “we spent two years just loving her, telling her how special and vital she is to the ministry here. Her attitude and her outlook on life has changed tremendously. Before, she had no self-esteem. Now she’s on a road to a positive Christian growth experience.”

Give compliments. Inform a teacher when you’ve heard kids talking positively about her class. Let a teacher know when you’ve noticed a room full of attentive pupils.

Because some Sundays are so hectic, Bolton makes it a habit to mail notes of praise throughout the week. These she often writes in those odd moments; for example, when she’s waiting for an appointment or tied up in traffic.

2. Share your experience, ideas and feelings.

Explain how your proposed innovation fits into the overall plan or goal. Describe any encounters you’ve had with this particular curriculum.

Talk with commitment and enthusiasm. Spill your hopes freely. Don’t present with hesitation or act as if you expect resistance. Be forthright.

3. Be specific.

Beware of offering vague feedback such as, “This doesn’t seem to be working out.” State why. Coming to the point alleviates confusion, misinterpretation and the temptation to play games. Being clear and upfront is the key to confront someone effectively

Sales people are trained to utilize a definite technique: Ask for the sale. This approach works in all communications. Don’t just hope and hint—ask for what you want. For instance, if a teacher is habitually late, explain how this hurts the class. Then tell her exactly when you need her to show up.

If you want a teacher to try a new curriculum, tell him. Don’t suggest; expect. For example: “I appreciate that you don’t think this can work, but I want you to implement it anyway. Let’s evaluate your experience with it after two sessions.”

4. Listen.

Make sure you let your volunteers know you value their input. (That doesn’t mean you have to use it.) In fact, elicit feedback.

“You need to listen to your critics,” Radford says. “Are they a friend? Or are they just being difficult?”

And why not put their experience to use? One of your volunteers might have a valuable point. This step can break down defenses when you confront someone.

5. Use writing to clarify communications.

Radford suggests putting job descriptions and goals in black and white. Bolton gives praise on paper.

Radford also uses writing in another way when he must confront a situation. When he needs to give feedback he often takes a teacher out for coffee or yogurt (to some neutral location) and he carries along a blank piece of paper. As the discussion progresses, Radford draws a line down the center of the paper, titling one side “positives” and the other column “negatives.” Then he asks the volunteer to inventory his or her skills and characteristics. Given half a chance, many people confront their own miscues or bad attitudes.

6. Introduce new ideas in small steps.

“Don’t approach them with a fruit-basket upset,” Bolton suggests. “Present change one step at a time. It really helps if that teacher has been part of the curriculum selection. They at least need to know why that particular course of study was chosen.”

So gulp again, then pick up the gentle staff of Christian love. And beware: The person you confront might become a good friend.

Want more volunteer management ideas? Check out these articles!

7 thoughts on “6 Steps to Confront an Uncooperative Teacher in Your Ministry

  1. However, if a teacher is that detrimental to the children’s ministry due to poor attitude or being uncooperative, they need to very politely be shown the door. Too many confrontations means that person is not ready to serve or needs to be serving somewhere else. I had a teacher once who couldn’t handle the fact that the attention span of a pre-schooler is five minutes or less. After several different interventions, we found her a wonderful volunteer position in the IT department, She was great there, but not great with kids.

  2. I thought this was a very good article. I liked the approach and believe the 6-steps are doable and will achieve the appropriate response.
    Thank you for sharing.


      You’re welcome, Katie. We know this situation can be a difficult one, so we’re happy you find this helpful!

  3. Coleen Mandean

    One of our teachers who are doing her final year in Education just started staying away after the first quarter. I am very lenient with students still studying, and have an open door policy. All the other students, and there were about 4 before her, and now still have one doing her articles in law, who would approach me for time off when she’s busy preparing for exams. I approached her on more than one occasion, tried to set up meetings, but something always comes up when we need to meet. I have just left it now as I dont know what to do. Her mom is also a sunday school teacher, and always telling others how busy this girl is with assignments. When I look at social media you see her busy with all kinds of other things, but school work. Please advise what I should do.

    • Jennifer Hooks

      Hi Coleen, thank you for sharing your situation. That’s a tough one, but here’s an approach you might try. You could contact this teacher and ask her to choose a time to meet that works for her. Let her know you have some changes you’d like her input on and that you’ll only need 30 minutes. Offer to come to her, if needed. That puts the ball in her court for timing. When you do meet, begin by asking how she feels. How are things going for her in life and in the ministry? Specifically, how is she feeling about teaching? Let her know you understand she’s super busy and you’re hoping to find an arrangement that works better for you both. Then offer her an out–it sounds like she has many other responsibilities and this has become more of an obligation to her. Be prepared with a few other options, too, such as moving her to a behind-the-scenes role like supply gathering, having her help in a support role (such as social media, if she’s good at it!), or offering her the option to step away completely during this busy season of life. If she cancels on this meeting and you still aren’t able to get together with her, let her know you’ll send her the information in an email and ask her to respond within a specific timeframe. In a nutshell, it sounds like this person may be in a season of life where the ministry is a lower priority or that she’s simply overwhelmed and unable to cope with it all. Be supportive, but firm. Sometimes people deal with stress, guilt, or conflict through avoidance, and that may be what’s happening here. She also may not fully appreciate the impact her actions have on the function of the ministry. So being supportive and offering her a graceful exit or a different way to contribute may be your best option. Best of luck–and we’d love to hear what happens and how others have dealt with this issue!

  4. In an effort to confront the safety issues in our church, we made the collective choice to move all our youth classes to the youth side of the building and all our KidMin to one side. The parents and teachers all appeared to be on board. However, as of last week one of our teachers has started to make a fuss. He agreed to the change but now is saying we’re trying to force him with the “mold” (which isn’t in the room) he thinks is in the room. We’ve tried to appease him and give him an upstairs room that used to be an office. We’ve moved all but a few bibles to his new room. We’ve done everything to make him happy. He’s been teaching for so many years, however, the adults/seniors in the church don’t necessarily like him because sometimes he can latch onto people in an unhealthy way. One of the grandparents has this concern because her grandchild will be in that class soon. He also won’t sign our safety policy or agree to a background check. I’ve only just started my second year at this church and I’m not sure how to face this situation. As some adults have stated, he gives off creepy old man vibes but not in the p*do way but in an uncomfortable way – boys really seem to like him but girls tend to stray away from him. It’s a weird and uncomfortable situation and if anyone has any advice, we’d love to hear it.

    • Melissa Towers

      Given you have policies and you require background checks, I would think this would automatically mean this person could not volunteer or be on staff. It’s a red flag that he would not want to sign your policies or undergo a background check, and it leaves your church at risk should something go wrong. If your policy states you can’t volunteer or be on staff without doing these things, then he shouldn’t be allowed as this would cause bigger issues in the case of litigation due to the fact that you’re not being consistent in enforcing your policies.

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