Contributor – Stephanie Caro, Senior Consultant with Ministry Architects

The Toxic Volunteer

Oh the drama trauma! Gossip, parking lot conversations, and flying texts – it never seems to stop. All a part of working with high schoolers, you say? No, high school drama I can take. It’s why we were hired, after all. The person I’m talking about is the dreaded dramatist of doom: the toxic volunteer.

See if any of this sounds familiar:

  • They sap all the energy out of every meeting.
  • Nothing is ever positive; it’s all doom and gloom.
  • You spend more time putting out fires lit by volunteer than you do on any student.
  • He/she never comes to you directly with any complaints.
  • Their comments come flying from all sources, often catching you by surprise.
  • You find yourself reviewing the rules with them more than the students.
  • They’re the reason a “Communication Covenant” was created.

Any of this sound familiar? You just may have some toxicity on your team…and it’s never easy to resolve because he/she is ALWAYS related to the pastor, a key church family, or someone on the personnel committee. All you-know-what will break loose when the inevitable conversation has to happen and you don’t want to be the one caught in the crosshairs.

Here are tips for how to handle a toxic volunteer while minimizing the political fall-out:

  • Have all volunteers sign a covenant of communication and expectations; in other words, give each volunteer everything they need to succeed. This will put the toxic volunteer on notice and eliminate some weapons of mass destruction.
  • Trace back any “he/she said” stuff directly back to the person who supposedly said it.
  • Face the toxicity sooner than later. The longer it goes the more damage is done.
  • Remember that a healthy environment for your children and youth comes first and foremost. A toxic volunteer is a severe threat to a safe environment.
  • When talking with an unhealthy volunteer, just state the facts and not anything subjective. Be sure to have someone else with you when face-to-face and always cc your boss when emailing about any problems. Its lays an accountability blanket of protection for you both.
  • If the toxicity continues, ask them to step away from the program for three months, find them another non-children’s/youth ministry spot to use their gifts…and then hurry and replace their spot on your team with someone else.
  • Don’t recruit them in the first place. Its why volunteer applications, covenants, and background checks are a healthy, responsible choice.

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Stephanie has been involved in ministry to youth and youth workers in the local church since…well, a long time – 30+ years.

Her humorous, straightforward style keeps her busy presenting and coaching at conferences, training events, camps, mission trips, retreats, churches, etc. Stephanie’s latest books are, Thriving Youth Ministry in Smaller Churches and 99 Thoughts for the Smaller Church Youth Worker, published by Group/Simply Youth Ministry. Stephanie is a contributing author to several youth ministry resources in addition to her regular column “Smaller Church Youth Ministry” in Group Magazine.

Stephanie is a Senior Consultant for Ministry Architects. She is one of the 6 bloggers at, youth ministry’s most-read blog.

Stephanie and her hubby, Steve, live in Houston, TX. All 7 kids are grown and out – praise God!