If you’re a ministry leader, you’re eventually going to create a practice, policy, or procedure that’s not all that popular. And chances are, your volunteers are going to be the ones to enforce that policy on the front lines:
- A leader:student ratio in your kids’ ministry means that there will come a point when a classroom is full, and you can’t take more kids.
- The high school you meet in doesn’t allow food or drinks in the auditorium, and your door greeter has to say “no” to the guest and their newly-purchased Venti Frappuccino.
- The decibel level you’ve chosen for your opening worship set is deemed “too loud” by a worshipper, and that worshipper decides to take out their frustrations on the sound board operator.
- A seating team member asks someone to scoot in so that they can open up more seating space, and the scootee takes exception at being told what to do.
If your volunteers haven’t experienced one of the above scenarios, they will. While it’s true that some policies are dumb, it takes good systems to keep our volunteer teams and weekend services running smoothly. But those systems sometimes run afoul of the way that attendees think things ought to be done. And if the attendee is feeling saucy enough, they might just take matters into their own hands and tell volunteers how to do their job.
So what do you do when one of your volunteers is taking heat on behalf of your team? I think there are four things:
1. Get both sides of the story.
It can be easy to assume the worst about a situation when you don’t know the situation. Gather as many facts as possible before you wade into the deep end: what happened? Who said what? What actions were taken? What was the desired outcome?
2. Affirm the things your volunteer did right.
If they took a bullet while doing what you asked them to do, praise them for it. Remind them of the “why” behind the policy, and use that “why” to bolster their confidence.
3. Get on the same page as your volunteer.
Perhaps you don’t need to put on your cape and swoop in to save the day. Take a quick assessment of how your vol is doing: do they think the situation is resolved? Do they believe further action is necessary? If they brought closure to the crisis, encourage them and move on.
4. Know when to step in.
Under no circumstances should you allow a volunteer to be belittled, berated, or subjected to abusive words or behavior. If a situation is escalating, step in and separate the parties. If a volunteer is upset after an escalation has taken place, reach out to the critic and seek to set things straight. Reinforce the reason behind the policy. Affirm the volunteer. If necessary, call on the critic to make the wrong right.
When you protect your volunteers, you affirm your belief in them and in their ministry. Don’t throw ’em under the bus. Stand up for them and watch them soar.