4 Things Your Volunteer Won’t Tell You

Even though we work in ministry, we find that people do not always tell the truth. It’s not a malicious thing. It’s habit and it’s reactionary.

Let me share two common examples:

How often do we walk into church and ask Jeremiah, “How’s it going?” You don’t really know him that well. However, you see him each and every week. Jeremiah’s response is predictable. “I’m great! How are you?” You, in turn, respond, “I’m wonderful! Great to see you!”

Okay, let’s be honest here. It’s church. We are coming together to worship God and celebrate the sacraments. What are we supposed to say? “Oh, John. I can’t tell you how terrible life is right now.” No! I don’t hear those responses for two reasons:

1) Sometimes as Christ-followers, we feel that life has to be really good all the time.

2) The person asking “how are you?” is not actually looking for an honest response. It’s chit-chat. So we lie. It’s a habit.

A second example: the priest finishes his homily. You turn towards your spouse, make eye contact, and roll your eyes. It was not his best homily. Okay, it was dreadful.

Church ends and you walk out the door to do the obligatory handshake with the priest. Since you have nothing better to say, you say, “Nice homily.” Another downright lie. Malicious? No. This lie is purely reactionary. He is the leader of the church. I’m not going to outright tell the leader of the church that his homily was terrible. Certainly not right after church in front of everyone.

These types of habitual and reactionary “withholdings of truth” are common. In fact, there are four common things that your volunteers won’t tell you. I need to recognize these four examples so that I can encourage them to be honest with me and tell me the truth.

  • “I need more support.” When I put a volunteer in a leadership position, they usually want to impress me and do their job with excellence, especially since it is for the kingdom of God. That’s great! But many times, I find that my volunteer is floundering and needs more support. My volunteer often won’t tell me that. I have to take the initiative and make sure that my volunteer has all the tools they need to be successful.
  • “No.” Volunteers in ministry often have a hard time saying no. They usually feel guilty because they know that the work they are being asked to do is for God, so they should say yes. The fact is that there are many good reasons for a volunteer to say no. As a leader, we have to give permission for them to say that very powerful and helpful word.
  • “Here’s one thing you need to work on.” My volunteers often have tremendous insight about my leadership skills that will help me become better. But, they don’t tell me. The best way to combat this behavior is to admit my mistakes and failures. When I do this, my volunteers sigh a breath of relief as they think to themselves, “Thank goodness! He does know himself.” It is then that they feel more open to share their insights with me.
  • “I totally disagree with you.” My leadership style determines their response to me. If I lead my ministry with a “like it or leave” mentality, my volunteers are not likely to share their honest thoughts with me. Many decisions need to be collaborative. Do not be an authoritarian leader and allow your volunteer to disagree.


Which one of these do you deal with more frequently? What can you do to make a change?


John Rinaldo

As the Business Manager at St. Catherine Catholic Church in Morgan Hill, CA, Dr. John Rinaldo serves as the administrator over operations and finances for the parish in support of all parish ministries. Previously, John served as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of San Jose, empowering parish communities to minister to the needs of youth and young adults. John is also an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University teaching pastoral ministry courses to graduate students.

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