When People Don’t Cut It

When People Don’t Cut It

The hardest part about leading a team is making tough, sometimes unpopular decisions. Perhaps one of the most difficult is handling people who don’t really cut it in the intensity of inner city, church planting/renovation ministry.

At NCC, I run what I call my ‘core team’, an ‘internship’ and ‘committed volunteers’.

Core Team

This consists of people who have been with me for at least 2 years and have committed themselves to the work for a minimum of 3 years. With one exception, I expect most of them to stay longer. Including my wife and myself there are currently 6 of us. One is moving on in the summer to pursue other ministry outlets.


I currently have 2 interns. These are both men who have an interest in some part of our ministry and have committed to a minimum of 2 years training with us and gaining ministry experience across a range of Church activities. One will be stepping up to the core team in the summer after serving 2 years as an intern.

Committed Volunteers

We have several people in the congregation who have given up their time to serve part-time in a particular ministry area such as James Ramsey House (our supported accommodation) or the youth work. This is not to suggest that our very many other volunteers are not committed, but these particular people are either interested in ministry and/or theological training but are reticent about dipping their toe fully in the water and are therefore looking at service and seeking God’s will in this initial way. We currently have 3 people operating in this capacity.
Now with people come a variety of problems. Below are some common one’s:

  • Personality conflicts
  • Deep rooted sin issues rising under pressure
  • Unrealistic expectations of ministry life
  • Immaturity
  • Laziness
  • Unsuitability
  • Lack of marital stability

The hardest part in the whole process is letting people go. To be brutal, some people just don’t cut it no matter how ‘gifted’ they think they are. That’s not to say that these individuals don’t have a part to play in the life of the local body, it just means that for a number of reasons they would not survive in the heat of full-time church ministry. We operate a pretty intensive feedback system at NCC. So, people meet with a mentor/accountability partner every week, they are given official appraisals every 6 months and we have a ‘covenant renewal’ every 12 months to ensure that people are happy, growing and adapting to any and all ministry changes. But, it is not a foolproof system and it does not account for those who fail to make the grade. Telling an individual(s) that this perhaps is not for them is never easy but it is necessary for (1) the long-term good of the person involved and (2) for the good and harmony of the wider team(s) and church. Very often it becomes clear to many within the system before steps are taken to encourage them to consider other avenues for Christian service. But be prepared for some for the following responses. Here are the top 3:

1. ‘I don’t care what you say, God has given me a ‘vision’.

2. All my friends have told me that I am perfect for Christian ministry

3. The Lord has told me that you are wrong

The Process for letting go (Interns)

1. Usually, when I see a person(s) struggling in an area of ministry, I try to persuade them to consider another area of the church just to see whether it is a ‘gifting’ issue and not an ‘unsuitability’ issue. Many join us thinking they are gifted in one area and find, with opportunities, that God has given them a stronger gift in another area. Many of the core team have ‘moved around’ until they found an area of real strength they could grow and develop into.

2. I usually speak to the person(s) mentoring/discipling the person(s) for feedback. They may have a better overall perspective of the individual’s life and struggles. They may be under performing for personal reasons and sometimes just need more time to settle.

3. I get a sense of things from those around them. So, if they’re in youth work, I want to know how they are relating to young people and church volunteers.

4. I will usually speak to them, raise my concerns and give them at least 3-6 months (depending on individual and circumstances) to pull it together and settle down.

5.We will usually nurse them through their initial 6 months and then if no improvement they will not get an extension on their covenant and if no improvement after that we will tell them in month 9 that we won’t be extending past 12 months.

Step 5 is always the hardest part of the process. No matter how we try to cushion the blow it is often met with anger and bitterness. Don’t get me wrong, I have built teams in Brazil and the UK and it doesn’t always end badly but generally, a sign that I have made the right call, comes in how people respond to you letting them go. They respond with (1) anger and (2) bitterness against team members,  against you  and the church in general. I try to offer ongoing counsel and support but in our culture 90% of these people move on somewhere else to slander you and your ministry. And, sadly, too many churches out there are willing to welcome them with open arms. If you want to be an effective leader and trainer of the next generation, and you cannot face these tough calls, then don’t bother. You will either end up as a one man band or leading generally unhappy people.

Sometimes, rarely in my experience, individuals will see the wisdom of your advice and stay on in the church to grow and learn and serve God’s people in another capacity. This always encourages me , the church and, ultimately, the individual(s) who take this brave step.

Finally, there is a way to not have to face this. Don’t build teams and don’t take risks on people. Play it safe and employ Rupert and send him off to Proc Trust training. They will do a bang up job, he will probably be polite, humble and decent with the Bible. That works for many churches but not for Niddrie. We need risk takers, and my preference is to dig  for coal and see if we can’t knock out a few diamonds along the way. In my 13 years I’ve probably helped more than 3o people into full-time ministry and I have probably let go 6 or 7. That isn’t bad, given the fields I tend to dig around in.

May God help all of us serve Him better and encourage others to do likewise.