Do you know who cleans the toilets at your church?
At my church we are fortunate enough to have custodial staff, so when something nasty happens we contact our building manager and merrily go on our way into the service or off to Sunday school. This week, when I was on bathroom duty in my own home, God brought that team to mind. Not just in the ways they diligently serve the church, but in the mighty ways they have affected me though conversations completely unrelated to their official duties. They are quite a unique and perspective-shifting group.
Gary is a recovering alcoholic who didn’t become a Christian until he was an adult. He and his wife have fostered and adopted five children. Lia is from Estonia. She has worked for our church for 26 years, is a single mom who has put two kids through college, and once utterly transfixed me with a story of how her father, a cobbler and evangelist by trade, made her a pair of boots with his own two hands. Emma left her Amish community when she was 21, brought her incredible work ethic with her, and continues to pray fervently that her family members will come to Christ. Fred is another adult convert, so beloved that a mouse pad bearing his image is one of the most sought-after gifts at our white elephant Christmas party. The list goes on.
This group spends their work week setting up chairs. Washing down tables. Cutting grass and planting flowers. Vacuuming. Painting. Patching holes. Making coffee. Cleaning up coffee. And yes, cleaning toilets. Whatever the size of your church, there is likely someone doing all the stuff that no-one else has the time or desire to do.
The people servicing your church building are not the first ones mentioned in any conversation. In fact, one of the signs that they are doing their job well is that you don’t notice them! But as I was thinking about them this week, I began to wonder if we unintentionally leave them out of our grand plans to move our congregations to the right (to make progress as disciples of Christ). In my zeal for forward motion, do I overlook an entire body of believers who are a vital part of the whole?
Being in community with other believers takes me outside myself and broadens my perspective. God has infinite ways of bringing people to him; knowing the story of these particular staff members proves that. Some of the most significant moving to the right may well be accomplished in and through these rarely noticed members. They use their skills and abilities in service to a body of believers. Their diligent work means all the other gospel work is easier... and cleaner! And, as a part of the body, they themselves are growing and discipling.
My childhood church was, in many ways, unlike the church I attend today. It was tiny, rural, quiet. There our custodians were a dear couple named Richard and Lois. They loved the Lord, loved our church, and were likely paid a pittance. Richard was a slight man with a kind voice and was a ham radio operator. Lois had big glasses, had her hair ‘set’ each week, and played the organ with gusto. They served us in many ways, not the least of which was in how they cared for our building. I can now see clearly that their service moved me to the right before I even knew that was a thing.
Get to know who is on the building and custodial staff at your church... not because you feel sorry for them or because you want to make yourself feel better about “not ignoring the little people”—that’s patronizing and somehow worse than if you never talked to them at all! Find out who they are so that you can pray for them. Ask that they will find joy in their work and they will be matured and strengthened in their faith as they make our spaces ready for other people who are learning to do the same. Thank God that he has brought them to you. Because moving people to the right isn’t just about how we do that for other people; who we surround ourselves with will move us.