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Staff Health

How to Lead Negative Church Staff Members

How can leaders turn around a negative staff member and preserve the unity of their teams?

Every church will have a staff member or volunteer at one time or another who is regularly negative or drags down the morale of the team. For as common as these situations may be, there is no leader who enjoys confronting this kind of behavior. There’s always a risk that a volatile staff member will only cause more trouble in the midst of confrontation. How can leaders turn around a negative staff member and preserve the unity of their teams? 

Here are some of the steps that experienced church leaders and pastors take in the midst of confrontation:

Own Your Role

No one is perfect, and it’s possible that a leader may have neglected responsibility or failed to clarify goals for a team. A negative staff member may be reacting to either a leadership void or a frustration over the goals of the organization. 

Before addressing an employee’s problems, look to your own contributions. Leaders who are willing to own their flaws will be far more effective when addressing them with their team. 

Set Standards

Before confronting negative behavior on staff, leaders need to make sure everyone is following the same play book. Whether you establish a simple staff handbook or you regularly share key vision and mission statements, cast a vision for the kind of workplace you want to have and what your goals are. It’s not enough to expect everyone to work hard. Show them what it looks like to be a positive member of the team. 

Have Regular Conversations with Staff

If your first one-on-one conversation with a staff member concerns that employee’s negative behavior, then you have found the reason why you have negative team members. Regular conversations with staff will help keep them on the same page, smooth over small problems before they grow, and establish a rapport that will come in handy when conflict arises. 

Address the Results of Negativity

It’s not enough to highlight a staff member’s negativity. Leaders need to make it clear that negative behavior is holding back others, alienating staff from each other, and keeping everyone from reaching mutual goals. 

Leaders need to make it clear that everyone is in this together. The faster a leader can move staff toward greater empathy and understanding of each other, the faster everyone can move away from negative behavior. 

Get Their Perspectives

Every conversation with staff should be a two-way exchange. Church leaders who aren’t curious, humble, and willing to listen won’t get very far and will surely create toxic situations. There’s no way to stop the negativity if a leader is closed off from the team. 

Highlight Positive Achievements

No conversation about negativity should overlook the positive aspects of a staff member. Rather than making the conversation a single-dimensional discussion of negativity, work toward a more well-rounded discussion of overall performance. Show that there are areas where growth is needed, but highlight the positives so that the path forward is also clear. 

Prepare to Follow Up 

No one likes to have a difficult conversation about a staff member’s negativity, but it’s especially bad to have the same conversation again! Make a point of following up with a particular project or goal. This doesn’t have to be major conversation, but if there isn’t any follow up, it’s possible that the situation won’t improve. 

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Todd Rhoades

Todd Rhoades

Todd has invested over 30 years in serving churches, having served as a worship pastor for over 15 years, a church elder for more than a decade, and in various ministry leadership roles in both the business and non-profit sectors. As the original founder and developer of ChurchStaffing.com, Todd fundamentally changed the way thousands of churches search for pastors and staff on the internet. Todd is a graduate of Cedarville University, and lives in Bryan, OH with his wife, Dawn.

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