8 Tips for Dealing with Church Staff and Volunteer Problems

How to have difficult conversations without losing good people

Editor’s Note: Sometimes we need to have difficult conversations with those we lead. What’s the best way to do it? Or more specifically, what’s the best way to do it and not lose quality team members and volunteers? Pastor Karl Vaters offers these eight tips:

1. Lead with the good news. No one in my church, staff, board, or volunteer teams ever dreads my arrival. Why? Because I always walk in with a “hello” and a chance to catch up on the good news of the last day or week.

Yes, we deal with the problems. But, unless it’s an immediate emergency, it can wait.

2. Never address a problem when you’re angry. Do I really need to explain this one? Nah, I didn’t think so.

3. Don’t treat mistakes like sins. Volunteers work hard, do a great job, but leave something petty undone. What happens? They’re treated as though they’ve committed a sin that requires prayer, tears, and repentance.

A full garbage can left after a youth event is an oversight, not a sin. Treat it accordingly.

4. Recognize the difference between laziness and risk-taking innovation. No one in my church ever got in trouble for trying something new that didn’t work. That’s something I want to encourage.

“Innovate,” I say. “Take risks. Dream big. Fall down, then get back up.” I never criticize that, I praise it. But if someone is chronically late, unprepared, leaving early, or any other signs that they’re lazy and not giving it their best, we’ll have a talk.

5. Designate a good time and place to deal with problems. We do this at our weekly staff meeting. We start with prayer. We have a designated time to share positive ministry stories. And we have a permanent agenda item I call “Oops! Notices.” If anyone noticed anything since the last meeting that was an Oops!, we bring it up then.

For example: “I came in and one of the back doors was unlocked” or “I had to vacuum the fellowship room after the Kids’ Night event.”

We report the issues, recognize how the Oops! happened, offer apologies if needed, then move on.

Using a word like Oops! may seem silly, even childish to you, but that’s the point. It allows us to recognize the issues, address them for what they are (mistakes, not sins), and deal with them without anger or shame attached.

After all, how mad or embarrassed can anyone get over an Oops!?

6. Deal with private issues in private. If the issue is bigger than an Oops!, I deal with people one-on-one. It reduces potential embarrassment and allows for a deeper look at real problems.

7. Approach correction as a learning experience, not a punishment. Our church is always in process of training young, new ministers. So they make a lot of mistakes. But they come to our church because they know they can make mistakes, get them corrected, and learn to do better next time without anyone getting mad at them.

Punishment is reserved for sins. And that’s God’s job anyway. Mistakes are something we can always learn from.

8. Recognize and correct your own faults first. Many of the issues we think are staff/volunteer problems are actually pastoral leadership problems. We haven’t communicated well. We don’t have proper systems in place. Or we’re chronic complainers over petty issues.

Let’s take care of .

This post first appeared on NewSmallChurch.com and is adapted with permission.

Karl Vaters runs the New Small Church blog, serves as lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California, and is the author of The Grasshopper Myth.

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