I am convinced that every pastor needs to do the custodial duties in his or her church for a few weeks. Nothing gives someone a greater appreciation for the church than to clean up after a busy week of worship, fellowship, and discipleship.
I had the distinct privilege of being Trinity’s custodian last month when we were in between custodial staff. For two Friday nights in a row, I spent hours vacuuming, scrubbing, mopping, sweeping, wiping, and heavy-lifting. It was hard work, but it was quite rewarding.
I’m not new to this kind of labor at church. We pastors have to be gifted plumbers, electricians, and carpenters if we are to be effective stewards of our places of worship. In fact, most of my handiwork experience came from the church: its where I learned how to change faucets, repair drywall, paint, and even build a few visitors signs.
On those two Friday evenings, however, I quickly learned that custodial is a whole other ballgame. Cleaning an entire church, even one as small as Trinity, requires patience, concentration, and humility. Patience because no vacuum is ever large enough to clean the sanctuary quickly; concentration because being alone with one’s thoughts can drive a person mad; and humility because you are forced to clean places you never knew (and never want to know) existed.
The experience also gave me a greater appreciation for church, the ministry that takes place there, and the ministers that fill its spaces. The first night I spent cleaning the church, I thought about the custodians we had in the past ten years.
One long-time custodian was a first-rate minister and friend (he resigned and moved to New York). He was a Vietnam veteran, lived in poverty on the streets of New York, recovered from alcohol and drug addiction, knew Christ in a powerful way thanks to his ever-faithful (and prophet!) wife, and was one of Trinity’s best deacons. He started our NA program and ministered to countless families in the process.
The next custodians were a couple who spent hours (they were only paid for three hours, but always worked an average of six to eight) every weekend making sure that the church was not only clean, but a sacred space safe for people of every age.
While cleaning, they sang praises, lifted up people (by name!) in prayer, and prayed over every chair and room in preparation for Sunday worship.
On some Friday evenings, I’d even get a text from them simply stating, “I am praying for you.” That kind of prayer can make a difference in the life of the church, and every time a guest or parishioner commented that the Holy Spirit was present on any given Sunday, I often credited the prayers of these faithful stewards.
On other occasions, when being pastor was difficult, I couldn’t help but wander to the sanctuary and simply reflect on the prayers of this team. No wonder, then, that when my last deacon retired from the position, I asked one of these custodians (one of them has been a deacon for over a year) to be my deacon. To be held in the prayers of another is a priceless gift.
The second time I cleaned the church, I found myself inspired to pray like the last custodians did. I prayed for people, I prayed for our church, I prayed with gratitude of serving such a wonderful community of faith.
I prayed that the often-neglected and often-overlooked position of custodian wouldn’t bring me prestige, but would simply be a blessing for so many people who come to church and worship God unhindered by an unkempt house of prayer.
Yes, pastors need to be custodians once in a while. It’s a reminder that the church is there for others and that God’s agenda is much larger than any single pastor’s. It’s a blessing to help make sacred that which would simply be brick and mortar otherwise.