Letting a Leader Go

One of the hardest moments for any Pastor/Director is the moment you need to let go of a volunteer leader. Moments like this are so hard because of the nature of volunteer leaders. The fact that they are volunteers is hard enough, but most of the time there is also a relational aspect as well. Most of the time we lead with people we know, hangout with, are friends with and sometimes might even be related to.

Why Is This So Hard?
Like I said there is often two factors that make this conversation so hard. The first is that they are a volunteer. Volunteers serve out of a love, calling, desire or experience in a particular ministry area. If they are involved with Youth Ministry it may be because they want to give back or because they feel called to work with teens. Either way they give enormous amounts of time, energy and resources to whatever they are volunteering in. And, no one is making them show up each week. It’s their choice if they come and participate. If all your leaders were employees, this would be easy because there is an accountability. Work equals payment, so if you don’t work you don’t get paid. The problem for us is that we don’t have that with our volunteers. You may have a code of conduct or expectations document (that will come up in a bit) but you really still can’t force anyone to follow it. The only leverage you have is to say, “Thanks but no thanks”.

The second factor is relationship. Ministry on any level is a relationship game. We are all in relationship within the Family of God, but also in relationship with each other and our volunteers are in relationship with the people they lead. If you have to sit down and tell your best friend “Thanks but no thanks” it may impact your relationship. Or if you have to let a leader go that is well loved by your students then you are affecting those relationships and there could be pushback or extra drama from kids and their parents.

Letting a volunteer leader go is extremely hard BUT sometimes you need to make hard ministry choices as the Pastor/Director.

Why Do I Have To Let Them Go?
We know it’s going to be hard, but why do you need to let them go in the first place? Often, I find most things fit into a few categories.

Lack of leadership: Sometimes volunteers just are not leading. They like the title, perks and social aspect of leadership but are not leading. These kinds of volunteers can cause major problems because they are often unreliable.

Moral failure: A volunteer has had a moral failing. This could be a violation of a code of conduct, inappropriate contact with a student/adult, substance abuse and so on. This type of issue may require immediate removal from leadership for legal reasons. To not do so could put you, the program or the church in jeopardy.

Toxic attitude: These can be great volunteers but when it comes to responding to your authority they are toxic, combative, challenging and unwilling to follow. This is not the same as having an opinion. This is about rebellion to you or the church’s leadership.

Personal health: Sometimes you need to tell a leader to take a break because you can see something in the physical, emotional and spiritual health that they do not see. This is hard because it’s often an issue with veteran volunteers and the mentality of “they cannot survive without me” often blocks them from seeing what you see… that they need rest.

NOTE: Your situation may not fit into these categories or they may fit into all of them. Regardless of the “why” there is one step before the “how” that I think is very important.

Stop and Ask
As Pastors/Directors we have been called to Shepard our flock. To care for those God has in trusted to us and that includes our volunteers. We have a responsibility to stop and take a moment to ask a single question, “How’s your heart?”

This simple question can be a gateway into understanding about what’s going on in the life of your volunteer. Years ago, friends of mine were volunteering with my youth group. I was having some “lack of leadership” challenges with them and in a rookie move I didn’t bother to stop. Instead all I did was accuse and call them out public for what I felt was bad leadership at the time. If I had bothered to stop and ask them “how’s your heart?” I would have found out that there was tons of drama and stuff going on at home. That drama effected how they led at youth and was the root cause of all of the frustrations we were all having. If I would have stopped and ask how they were doing a lot of hurt could have been avoided.

So before you ever move on to the “how” always remember to stop and ask.


Jesse Criss is the Grade 11/12 Pastor at Willingdon Church and he recently founded Fresh Ministry Consulting. He is a veteran Youth Pastor with 18 years’ worth of experience, is married and has beautiful twin girls.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS. 

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