Ouch. This is one of the toughest assignments you will face if you are the lead worker for children’s, youth or family ministry.
You know, in your gut, you have to cut someone from the team - it’s a horrible job. Before we get in to it, a couple of reasons why you can’t dodge the issue.
- It potentially isn’t safe. Without being too specific about what it means to not be up to scratch. Having someone on the team who, for whatever reason, isn’t up to it might mean that the activity you are running, a small group they are responsible for or the general level of engagement and attention they bring, means when there are issues or challenges - this volunteer might not deal with them well or even notice them. That makes it an unsafe environment for the children or young people and you can’t leave it like that.
- It is a drag on the team. Everyone has their roles / responsibilities but, the team might collectively be needing to pick up the slack from a volunteer who isn’t doing well - this can lead to the team being overstretched, trying to be in spaces and watch out for children and young people who should this volunteer’s responsibility. If it is pretty bad, it can feel like having an extra child or young person rather than a fellow team member, and that’s not good for morale and team cohesion. The team shouldn’t be carrying someone who isn’t up to it.
- It’s not good for them. This is really important to remember - ultimately, it isn’t caring for someone to leave things as they are because you are worried about how they might feel. For whatever reason, they just aren’t cutting it and that needs to be addressed - but, in doing so, you may well uncover some things that will enable them to grow and flourish. For example, they might have been awesome a couple of years ago - but, over time, they have slipped to the point where they can’t continue. What has happened? What might be going on for them - to just “leave it” means the challenges they are facing (possibly elsewhere) remain unresolved or undiscovered until you hit a major crisis - and then it might be too late. What care and support might they need? Why aren’t they cutting it? Just what is going on? You need to ask these questions.
What you also need to do is a bit of self reflection - have you inadvertently created this situation? What I mean by that is - how do you recruit and equip your teams? If, for example, you have occasionally been a bit desperate for team (anyone will do, I just need a warm body in the room!) it might be that there hasn’t been the discernment you would normally apply or the thought applied to the gifting, skills and kind of team member you need. If this was someone recruited under the “anyone will do” model, then this should give you pause. It might be they don’t have a passion for children’s work or youth work, and actually they aren’t cutting it because their heart isn’t in it - they might even be desperate to lay it down, but you were desperate when you asked them so they continue to think they are helping you out. Having the conversation about their involvement might come as a great relief! “I’m so glad we are having this conversation, I didn’t know how to tell you I didn’t want to do it anymore!”
It might be that they are struggling with their role. They aren’t cutting it because they are expected to teach a small group, and that just isn’t their gifting. Relational hanging out on a Friday night youth evening might be more their bag. The cut needs to be about the fit!
Sometimes teams need a refresher to rediscover their ministry mojo. When was the last time you led any training? Could they do with some “up skilling”? Have they been involved in children’s and youth ministry that, whilst they have probably had enough, they don’t know how to finish. It’s been their life and they might know they aren’t cutting it anymore - this conversation in particular needs to be full of love and grace. What a servant they have been, seeing the children’s work through a season of four different salaried workers - but, they are tired and need to retire. Enable them to finish well, thank them for their work, arrange a gift.
Finally, cutting a volunteer is also an opportunity - when we are struggling with team it seems counterintuitive - but, it also opens up a space. This doesn’t necessarily need to filled in the same way, it enables a bit of creativity. Maybe you need to be more flexible moving forward? Maybe there is a sixth former who could get involved? Maybe that passionate, skilled up volunteer you have been praying for is waiting in the wings - they just thought you had a full team and they weren’t needed.
Hard though it can be to cut people from the team, it does enable growth - if they are supported well, the individual might discover their gifting lies elsewhere, they just needed the steer that came with stepping down; you will grow as a leader when you tackle these kind of issues face on and don’t dodge or put them off - and, ultimately, there is a growth impact for the Kingdom of God. Whether you see it or not, enabling people to serve in their gifting, being honest with team when things aren’t working out, showing integrity about how you want the team to function has a ripple effect beyond the decision to “have the talk”.
So if you know you need to do it, or need to do it some day. Don’t leave it too long!