How To Lead Difficult Team Members

From your first year as a rookie in ministry until your final farewell tour of a half-century of servanthood, chances are that along your way you will eventually be confronted with a ministry partner (volunteer) that causes some friction either with your ministry team, with your ministry direction, or with you personally. And although there are endless reasons (or excuses) why a team member might not be in sync with the direction of your leadership in ministry; the fact remains, God has placed you in a position of influence and authority for such a time as this.

A team member may become difficult by one or many ways of acting out (which could earn itself an entire blog post). Passive aggressive behavior, gossip, slander, undermining the ministry, or just being a jerk (sorry for my language, grandma, if you’re reading this). Instead of defining the actions of difficult team-members, let’s focus on how to lead difficult team members.

Address the issue/behaviors.

The problem will not fix itself. And although we are people of grace and forgiveness, ministry leaders also need to be shepherds of their flock and protectors of their people. Everyone makes mistakes, and anyone can have a bad day. It happens. An adult may mutter some negative words under their breath when you announce that it’s dodgeball time and they’re as fast as a melting glacier. But I tend to believe that every huge problem starts off as a tiny problem. So be aware of patterns of misbehavior or rebellion, and be prepared to discuss not only that you noticed it, but that you’re concerned about their role as a leader, and their desire to travel in the same direction with the ministry.

Separate the problem from the person.

Understand that as you address the issue, you’re dealing with a specific behavior, not an overall “bad person.” In times of struggle, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts. Hear the heart of the volunteer. Perhaps it’s just a stressful season of life for them, and God will use this as an opportunity for you to gain influence into their life.

Document your interactions.

Be prepared to explain to your lead pastor a) why you had to meet with Mr. Fussy-Pants b) when you met with Mrs. Too-Good-For-Dodgeball, c) what was said during the meeting with Captain Theology, and finally d) how you expect things to change for Mrs. Just-Because-It-Comes-In-The-Form-Of-A-Prayer-Request-Doesn’t-Mean-It’s-Not-Gossip.

In other words: CYA (cover your assimilation process).

Follow up.

After the difficult conversation when you bring up the behavior you’d like to see modified in a clear and factual manner and perhaps even set an important time frame to implement the new plan of action—please revert back to my first two points. Remember, they’re still a person. Do not let your relationship with them suffer because of volunteer-related-behavior.

Three ways to prevent team members from alienating themselves from your team:

1. Cast vision.
The more you talk about “where you’re going” the more opportunity you have to keep your team accountable. Think of it as every time you invest in casting vision, you’re giving your team members oars to row. Just like rafting, it’s easy to tell when someone isn’t pulling their weight in the boat. So keep reminding the team WHY the ministry does what it does FOR others to grow in their authentic faith. Remind your team that serving is not a job, it’s a process that helps OUR faith grow, too.

2. Be consistent with your feedback.
Even if you have to pre-schedule follow-up appointments (or reminders to send emails, texts, or phone calls) on your smart-device’s calendar, be consistent. Don’t allow your voice to be one of only criticism; let them hear you compliment their partnership of investing into the lives of others.

One of the greatest gifts you can give newer ministry partners is by giving them constructive criticism EARLY in their serving. That way they’ll understand that your aim is to help them grow in their leadership, and you WILL help them in the journey. So speak into their serving. Speak up, speak often.

3. Develop them.
Spend time with them, learn about their likes, dislikes, family, and life rhythms. Invest in your volunteer team like you’d like them to invest in your ministry. Look for resources to help them win. Blogs, videos, conferences, trainings; be willing to let them know how important they are to your ministry.

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