What to do With a Bible Study Leader Who Needs to Step Down

What would you do? What would you do if you had a Bible study leader that needed to step down? That may be putting it politely. Perhaps action needs to be taken to remove the leader because of a serious issue. How do you remove a volunteer? Here is the first of two parts to help you navigate this touchy situation.

Diagnose the severity of the issue

The urgency of any action and the consequences of inappropriate behaviors are not the same in every circumstance. The way in which you should address failure of a teacher to show up one Sunday and a severe moral failure on the part of another teacher will not be the same. Begin by diagnosing the severity of the issue. Consider the following questions to assist in your evaluation:

  1. Is the issue related to the skills of the teacher? Proceed slowly if this is the case. The objective in this situation is to provide instruction, training, and resources to help the teacher develop the needed skills. Keep the leader in place as long as there is willingness and progress in developing the needed skills. Assign a mentor or coach if needed to aid in assisting them in their growth.
  2. Is the issue related to the commitment level of the teacher? Proceed deliberately with deference to your church’s written guidelines and standards in this circumstance. If your church does not have any written guidelines then their actions are not the root of the problem. You have left guidelines to their own interpretation and they may not understand that there is an issue. Meet with the leader to discuss the concerns if the guidelines are being violated and give them opportunity to explain the circumstances, to recommit, or to come to agreement if the issue is negotiable.
  3. Is the issue related to a doctrinal error? Proceed deliberately with deference to your church or denominational doctrinal statements in this circumstance. The Bible itself certainly takes precedent when considering doctrinal concerns. The challenge may be one of interpretation or opinion. A summary of doctrinal beliefs can serve to clarify the understanding and conviction of your church. You should respond immediately if the error contradicts a doctrinal essential such as the deity of Christ or the exclusivity of Christ for salvation. You should respond cautiously if the error is not essential to Christian faith such as timing of events like the rapture or the meaning of symbolism found in the apocalyptic scriptures. You may need to agree to disagree while coming to an understanding that the leader will not deliberately or overtly contradict the local church’s conviction on the issue. You should respond with grace if the issue is related to preference. Believers sometimes take their own experiences or traditions and elevate them to a level of conviction that is not supported by scripture. Be cautious not to alienate a great leader over issues such as music style or preferred furniture for the worship center.
  4. Is the issue related to a severe violation of scripture or moral failure? Take action immediately when a leader is involved in a moral failure or commits a severe violation of scripture. The aim should always be to bring believers to repentance and restoration. However, leaving someone in a role of leadership when they have deliberately chosen to engage in actions in direct violation of scripture can have an adverse effect on the ability of your congregation to minister in your community. Pray for discernment with the understanding that while the error cannot be overlooked an appropriate degree of privacy and confidentiality should be maintained when and if possible.

Work with key leadership through the process

Addressing the problems of volunteers is somewhat different than those who are compensated for their service. Accountability cannot be totally ignored but the leverage for dealing with difficulties is lesser with volunteers. A person who receives compensation may have a designated supervisor or team with the authority to take swift action when difficulties arise. Taking unilateral action to remove a volunteer is not ordinarily acceptable in most volunteer organizations such as a church.

Bringing key leaders into the process has several benefits. First, accountability for evaluating the circumstances with accuracy is enhanced by bringing others into the process. Perhaps other leaders have awareness of information that an individual does not. Secondly, objectivity is maximized by including other leaders. Addressing problems unilaterally may be interpreted to be personal when the actual issue at hand is sincerely the problem. Thirdly, involving others adds gravity to the concern. The fact that a group of leaders has a concern rather than an individual helps the offender understand the seriousness of the concern. Fourthly, bringing in other leaders provides protection for you as the leader of the Sunday school ministry.  Moving from inquiry to potential action may require the endorsement of the pastor or other key leaders to accomplish the task at hand.

To be continued…

This article is taken from my book Sunday School That Really Responds.