When Volunteers Go Bad

Youth Specialties
October 3rd, 2018

Ministry, especially youth ministry, runs on volunteers. It is no secret that you cannot do everything. There are far too many activities, lessons, and people to connect with than there are hours in a day. Plus, you need time to disconnect and work on some hobbies, or your house, or spend time with your family (because your family takes priority over the ministry you work in).

Even as dependent as youth ministry may be on volunteers, not all volunteers are created equal. There are some volunteers who make great, and I mean GREAT, small group leaders. They connect with students in ways even you can’t, and they have such a read on the culture of the youth ministry that you don’t want to do youth group without them.

There are those volunteers who do an excellent job coming up with and executing games. They get students excited about and engaged in the game time (even those elusive high school kids who just want to sit around and talk).

There are other volunteers who specialize in food prep and snack time. They put things together and you are confident in their ability to put things together well for the students.

But what happens when a leader on the team becomes more of a hindrance than a help? Can you fire a volunteer? What do you do when a volunteer goes bad?

Here are three things I’ve learned, unfortunately, from trial and error. My hope and prayer is there can save you and your students some negative experiences:

One, you must do something.

When a volunteer is becoming a hindrance to your students, something must be done. Many, like me, don’t love conflict or confrontation in circumstances like this. But, for the sake of the ministry and your students, something must be done (and sooner rather than later). It doesn’t always help to wait for a natural ending, like the end of a ministry year. When a volunteer goes bad, you must take the initiative and act. Sometimes it means dismissing the volunteer, other times it may simply mean finding a new place for them on the bus. Either way, you must act.

Two, set the standard from day one.

One of the easiest ways for you to take the initiative is to set the standard from day one. If you have a volunteer/youth leader application with clear guidelines and expectations, when a volunteer goes bad, it is likely they are violating one of more of those. Setting the standard from day one will give you the backing needed to confront a volunteer and take action. This eases some of the stress of the situation and provides a good starting point for the conversation.

Three, don’t leave the students out of the conversation.

Take into the consideration the impact dealing with this leader will have on students. If the particular leader is well liked, or the only one leading a group, or has been there for a long time (or any other complex variable), certain students will be impacted more than others. Consider how best to shepherd students through the difficult conversation and decisions that need to be made when a volunteer goes bad. You don’t have to give them every bit of information, but don’t keep them in the dark either.

It’s never easy when a volunteer goes bad. But, we must be prepared just in case it happens. We’re all in process. Whatever the situation, be certain to handle it with grace and truth.


Ben just recently moved and became the Pastor of Student Ministries at Pathway Church in Beaver Falls, PA. He has a passion for discipling youth and young adults, helping them realize their God-given potential and developing next generation leaders. Ben is married to Connie and they have an almost-two-year-old daughter, Aliya. Ben’s hobbies include kayaking, playing guitar, soccer, and football.

Twitter | @benmarshall3

Instagram | @ben_marshall

Blog | youthpastorben.wordpress.com

Youth Specialties

Youth Specialties exists to elevate the role of youth ministry and the youth worker to grow the faith of the next generation.

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