When You Have To Ask A Leader To Step Down

by Cory Sullivan

In the pursuit of giving our students and kids the best leaders to help them connect to God, they need leaders who are consistent and competent. As ministry leaders, we need to be stubborn in who we ask to lead and stubborn in making sure they are engaging their role to the best of their ability.

One of the more difficult parts of the job is when we need to ask a leader to step down from their position. There can be many different reasons why we need to ask. A major life change for them has made available time an even bigger constraint. There may be major moral issues that have arisen that require action. When asking a leader to step down, from the beginning, we must be clear on expectations and the process for evaluation. As this can be a difficult situation for both the ministry lead and volunteer, it is wise to make sure you stick to the facts at hand and even seek accountability in the process. I believe, that if leaders can end well then, in many instances, leaders can find a way back into the ministry. Lastly, as the ministry leaders we need to be able to communicate the situation to all stakeholders, especially to kids. While this may not be the most uplifting situation, it is one that is necessary to help students connect with God.

When you have clear expectations and roles in your ministry, it helps leaders to be successful. They are able to know what is required of them to connect with kids and know just what their role is. When a leader is not meeting those expectations, the preset expectations can serve as a reminder during conversations.

I am huge on communication. It is easier when a leader has communicated that they have a crazy upcoming month than a leader who just doesn’t show up. We talk about ways to stay connected to kids and I make sure to check in with them regularly to see how things are going. Even when a leader “slips up” and expectations aren’t met, we are able to review their commitment and expectations. This helps us navigate what exactly they should be doing.

Monthly check-ins, or what Orange calls Coffee-talks, help to see how leaders are doing and what you can do as the ministry leader to help them. As the ministry leader, you should know your leaders and what is going on in their lives to help them lead kids the best. Have expectations in place, review those expectations and know your leaders to be proactive in their lives.

Asking a leader to step down can be a nerve-wracking experience. I don’t think anyone enjoys these conversations. Emotions can rise and frustrations can be seen. During these conversations it is important to stick to the facts. This goes back to having clear expectations and clear roles. When people are not meeting those expectations and roles that they have signed up for, they are a great place to start the conversation. When you throw in random pieces of information that can do more damage than good, this is when the conversation can turn on you. Stick to the facts and the bottom line of why you are asking them to step down. Chances are, if you are having this conversation, the leader realizes something is going on with their commitment level too. There have been times when a tough conversation is anticipated. During these I seek accountability from a supervisor. Just go over with them why the individual needs to step down and seek advice on how to best navigate the situation. In a one-on-one meeting, I can call on a supervisor just to sit in on the meeting. This helps me to stay focused on the facts at hand and can help redirect the conversation if needed.

When leaders make moral choices that undermine the mission, values and damage relationship with students in our ministry it is often a no-brainer about asking them to step down. However, in a situation that has to do with time or commitment I often just call a meeting to touch base with that leader and review some of the expectations. In these meetings we come up with a strategy and plan together for them to continue within the ministry.

I believe that most leaders have potential to come back into their role as a leader with students. I have asked leaders to step down for a few months. If they really want to still serve I am open to that discussion. However, I ask a lot of different questions and I am a lot more stubborn in them stepping back into a role they were asked to step down from. I ask them things that describe how they’ve grown in the past few months, what changes have been made in their lives and how they can make student ministry work this time around. I set up trial periods of a few months to see how they handle the role again. As ministry leaders, we must also try to grow and help our volunteers navigate life. Show them grace over a past mistake and work with them to create a strategy that will allow them to impact the lives of students.

The hardest part about asking a leader to step down is communicating this with students particularly. Students will ask where they have been and what is going on. Giving the leader grace in this moment, and not condemning them for anything is the best route to take. If students are not asking where a leader is or what happened to them, it is a sign that you took a step in the right direction.

For students to get connected to God it helps to have leaders that will engage students to show them the way. Kids need this consistency in their lives. They need someone authentic in their faith that will show up for them. Leaders who are trying to be just like Jesus. When leaders are not consistent with their commitments to kids or create a situation where they are not walking with Jesus, action on our part as leaders is necessary. Make sure you have your expectations set up, stick to the facts in these conversations, extend grace to leaders and help them along their own journey.

Cory Sullivan is the student guy at New Life Christian Church in Chantilly, Virginia. He has served students in various capacities since his time in college. Find him at: www.theconqueringofchaos.com or on Twitter, @big_sully55.

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