Toolbox: leading and managing volunteers and staff


OK, nobody likes talking about this topic, but if we are employing someone in our church or we are an employee working for a church, it is hugely important that we understand how to navigate conflict and problems well. I genuinely believe it is possible to resolve issues and address them if we have good processes and communication in place.

Firstly, before we get into the detail, every church that employs staff (or for that matter has some key volunteers that oversee work that directly involves ministry or activity with people) should have a grievance procedure and disciplinary process in place. It should be part of your staff handbook along with other policies, such as safeguarding and health and safety.

I’m not going to address everything that could happen or might happen that leads to someone bringing a grievance, but I do want to highlight some important values that should form the foundation for policies and procedures. Working from these values can create a generally harmonious atmosphere and a positive environment where everyone feels they can flourish and grow. This creates trust, and trust is essential if problems or issues arise that need addressing.

Honestly, so much rises or falls on how well we do (or don’t) communicate. This isn’t just about words or statements in job descriptions, or a visionary paragraph on your website – it’s about having clarity in what is communicated.

There is no ambiguity, there is agreement about what we are trying to achieve together and everyone takes ownership of what is said. This begins with how a church might communicate at a job interview to perspective candidates, so I would like to suggest that if a church or organisation has adequately thought through the following, many of the roots of grievance can be weeded out before they grow and spread:

What’s the vision for next five years?

Does the church or organisation know where it is going and what it hopes to do over the next period of time? To what extent is the children’s, youth or family ministry essential to this vision. Constantly moving goalposts do not help people feel settled or that what they are doing is valued.

What does it look like to be ‘effective’?

This is really about agreeing some goals. Expectations between church and worker can vary wildly and these need talking through and agreeing. More bums on seats within six months isn’t a realistic aim for a work that is beginning something from scratch in a ‘hard to reach’ community.

What are the work hours?

Not being clear about this can lead to all kinds of issues. For example, what happens when a job description insists that everyone attends the Saturday morning prayer meeting, but Saturday is the youth workers day off? “Ah,” says a church warden, “that’s part of your giving.” Except, if someone is required to be at a meeting, it isn’t their giving, it is part of their work! Hours to be worked need to be clearly laid out and agreed; being vague can lead to people taking advantage or working far too many hours.

What is the budget and how do I claim expenses?

There needs to be an agreed budget for the work and a process for claiming reasonable expenses related to work activity. Employees should not be in a position where they are funding activity out of their own pocket.

What about equipment and space to work?

Here I would say there is something about a duty of care to someone who is employed. It is not ideal for a person to be working from home all the time, especially if they are having to fight for space on the kitchen table with all the other activities taking place in the home. It isn’t healthy and leads to blurred boundaries between home life and ministry.

Unless you are a vicar with a study (many have this as part of their tied property), you will likely need a space where you can work that isn’t in your own home. Equipment and space to work are essentials, not desirables.

“Trust is essential if problems or issues arise that need addressing”

What provision is there for ongoing professional development?

Sometimes problems can arise because there are expectations that can’t be met. Situations change and a worker might need to be upskilled in mental-health awareness, working with children and young people who have additional needs, theological training etc. Where someone’s personal development as a ministry practitioner is invested in, they are more likely to thrive.

What does line management and supervision look like?

When I carried out a survey in to the terms and conditions of salaried workers, when asked the question: “Has your vicar had training in line management and supervision?” 81 percent of the 470 who answered that question said no. Anecdotally, I would suggest that issues that arise for staff that lead to them raising a grievance, or for employing churches or organisations that have the potential to lead to disciplinary action, can be tackled well if good line management and supervision is on place.

If there is clarity in all these areas, then I think a firm foundation for working well together has been developed. That obviously doesn’t mean there won’t be issues that need to be taken down a more formal process, but it does make that less likely!

Here are some general stages that should be worked through for a grievance or issue that needs to be addressed:

1. Raise the problem informally

This is the place to start. We need to keep short accounts, which is about tackling small things when they arise (eg your line manager moves your line management meeting or cancels with short notice). It may be that there are very good reasons (a poorly child, an urgent pastoral matter), but it is important to recognise the inconvenience caused. A one-off when someone is usually reliable probably doesn’t even need a conversation – life happens!

However, if meetings are moved three or four times with very little notice, a pattern is perhaps emerging that needs talking about. Be clear about the problem when you raise it: “My line manager has moved my last three meetings at short notice and this has caused diary problems and I’ve needed to rearrange my day.” That is the detail of your grievance, but in an informal way could a solution be found? It might be that the time and date are tricky, could a more agreeable time be found to meet?

2. Raise the issue formally

This follows stage one if the issue has not been adequately dealt with. When a formal grievance is raised, then a formal procedure needs to be followed and every organisation (however big or small) needs to have one in place.

The documentation related to the procedure should be easy to find and easy to follow. There needs to be a full and fair exploration of the issue (or issues raised), if the case reaches a tribunal, this process and information gathered at this stage will be taken in to account. At this stage the issue needs to investigated to get as much information as possible.

Everyone should have the opportunity to speak before decisions are made about what to do. Actions and decisions should be taken as soon as possible. When things get to this stage it is important that the following are thought about and acted on as appropriate:

  • A grievance procedure can be stressful, particularly stressful when employed by a church. The church is not just a place of work, but the worshipping home of those involved, the community they belong to.
  • The well-being of employees needs to be considered. Support can prevent absence, mental-health issues from arising or existing issues getting worse.
  • Keep talking things through, ensure that everyone involved knows what is happening. Clear, regular and confidential communication is vital.
  • Sensitivity needs to be employed if the grievance is about someone else at work, whether that is a colleague or line manager. Those making decisions about actions to be taken need to be impartial.

3. A grievance meeting

Ideally, when a formal grievance has been raised, a meeting should be held within five working days. There should be time to prepare for a meeting, it should not be sudden or moved without warning. When something is stressful anyway, there needs to clarity and preparation time so that everyone feels they can bring what they need to bring to the meeting.

Notes need to be taken, and it might be helpful to have someone not involved in the grievance there as an independent witness. Information should be considered from all sides and, if a similar grievance has happened previously, then the same procedure should be followed. It is best practice to maybe have someone with you if you are bringing a grievance, a companion who can listen to what is discussed and also make notes.

When the meeting is finished, notes should be made available and the person bringing the grievance should be told when they can expect to get a decision.

4. Making a decision

Once a decision is made it needs to be disseminated as soon as possible, in writing. The decision needs to take in to account what is fair and reasonable, and what the workplace has done in the past when similar grievances have been raised. 


There are challenges with all of the above because we work with people! In Romans we are reminded: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (12:18). Note that we are told here: “If it is possible…” There are times when we have done all that we can to resolve an issue. We have sought to be peacemakers through bringing people together and trying to work things out, but sometimes that just isn’t possible.

This can happen for a variety of reasons: individuals feel trust has been broken irrevocably, the issue isn’t dealt with in the way someone had hoped, the issue resurfaces and because it was addressed previously nothing else is done. Sometimes, what is discovered through a grievance raises serious concerns and these could lead to disciplinary action – which is what we will look at next time!