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Stopping Toxic Volunteers in Their Tracks

Youth ministries are supposed to be communities where teens discover and embrace the love of Jesus, discover his purpose for their lives, and experience being part of the family of God.

When toxic volunteers, parents, or congregation members enter this equation, we move away from the positive outcomes we strive to provide for teens. There are, however, tools we can use  to protect our communities from negative, hurtful, dead-end conversations or statements.

Toxicity in youth ministry is like a bad rash. From a distance, it seems like everything is fine. But as you get closer, you realize that it’s spreading and becoming horribly uncomfortable and more and more visible.

In my years of ministry, I have discovered that toxic people have the most negative impact when left unchallenged or unaccountable. Toxic people left with the liberty to spread negativity will. Only by the grace of God, I’ve discovered that not every toxic volunteer has to be lost. We want to lead toxic volunteers to a place of healing. Under the hurt, anger, or misunderstanding, is a member of our God family.

Keys to Stopping Toxic Volunteers in Their Tracks:

  1. Shush them with the Truth. Toxic people often become entangled in bad information. They can thrive on the reaction they get when people hear something that is literally unbelievable and become entangled themselves. When we are able to explicitly decipher the truth from  lies, we have the ability to stop these toxic untruths in their tracks.
  2. Give them positive direction. Not all toxic people spread lies. Unfortunately, sometimes they are onto the truth and have a point. It’s not what they know that makes them toxic, but what they do with what they know that makes them toxic. Giving toxic people positive direction can actually make them a force for good. Inspire them to become a part of the solution.
  3. Keep them on task. Bored volunteers can make bad conversation. We all can when we’re bored. Keep your team challenged, inspired, and on task. Invite them to come to youth group and other youth events early so you can give clear instructions and remind them of the mission. Volunteers who are busy accomplishing the mission of ministry do not have time for toxic activities.
  4. Invite them to leave. I know this seems harsh but too many students leave youth communities and all the positive outcomes that come with being involved in a youth community because of the hurt and harm caused by one toxic leader. Ask them to leave. Explain the situation to your direct report and gain the support you need to move in the right direction.

If we have the courage to lead toxic people, I believe less and less teens will walk away from the church hurt or confused.

5 thoughts on “Stopping Toxic Volunteers in Their Tracks

  1. Martin Hanley

    These are all great points, but what about when the toxicity never disappears? For example, toxic volunteer is asked to leave but continues to be toxic after they are gone through a) negative comments to church members, b) negative comments in the community, c) negative comments about the ministry to current youth and their friends while at school sporting events, and d) downright verbally attacking the ministry and other volunteers in face-to-face confrontations? Sadly, I’ve seen all of these. It gets even worse when church leadership does nothing because of friendships with the toxic person even though they know the comments are untrue.

    • Theresa Mazza

      Thanks for bringing some honesty and hard stuff to the surface here. We are dealing with imperfect people as well as our own imperfections. You are so right. We don’t always find support, and things don’t always get resolved, even when we’ve made every effort possible. My prayer is, for all of us youth workers out there, if we find we’ve reached a dead end, that we don’t find ourselves alone. Every ministry dead end I’ve ever reached I’ve found God standing with me. I think we have to be brave enough to walk away from bad situations and trust God with our futures.
      What are your thoughts? -T

  2. davidjwkimani

    I work with teens and it’s tough dealing with negativity. This is so well articulated. I concur with the points you’ve raised. Thanks for sharing this very timely message.

    • Theresa Mazza

      David – Thanks so much for your encouragement. I’ll be praying that God continues to lead you as you lead others. Blessings – T

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Stopping Toxic Volunteers in Their Tr...

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