Should a pastor preach or clean toilets?

Preach, of course.  At least, that is how I would have answered almost 8 years ago when I first came to my current church.  The problem was there was so much more to do than just preach and no one to do it.  I came to an 80 year old church about to close its doors.  What remained was an old, run down, but beautiful building and about 30 faithful, elderly members who could no longer care for its growing needs.  Probably the portion of the church building that had been let go for the longest time were the restrooms. I think we would all agree that the restrooms are a bad place to “let things go.”

This is a good time to mention that I have a phobia about cleaning bathrooms, so much so that I worked out an agreement with my wife once we were married to serve her in whatever way she needed as long as she never asked me to clean the bathroom.  She graciously agreed.  What I realized was that although not everyone has a “phobia” about bathrooms, most everyone is turned off by smelly, dirty ones.  I knew that was the greatest regular need to get our church building to a place to welcome visitors.

As the new pastor and no one else young enough or physically able to serve in this way, that task fell to me.  I was not happy about it.  My associate pastor’s wife (both who came to the church with us), out of mercy, agreed to rotate weeks and share the burden with me (she is still dear to my heart because of that).  For the next 3 years this would be one of my pastoral weekly duties and I sinned often in my heart as I did it. The Lord in His grace taught me some of the most valuable lessons about humility, faithful pastoral ministry, and what it truly means to serve Christ and His church while cleaning toilets.  Here are two of the more important lessons:

All tasks are ultimately the pastor’s responsibility.  Whether we like it or not, the buck stops with us. We may not like it.  It may not seem fair.  But that is just the way it is.  The sooner we as pastors accept this reality, the more equipped we will be to do what we need to do so that we don’t carry the burden to accomplish every single task in the church ourselves.  For me, that was training up leaders to serve in these everyday roles (deacons – 1 Timothy 3:8-15) and to raise up other biblically qualified men to carry the burdens of the church with me (pastors – 1 Timothy 3:1-7)).

If you are not willing to clean toilets, you should not be preaching. Jesus teaches to be great in the kingdom of God we must first be a servant (Mark 10:43).  God pierced my heart one day as I was cleaning the bathrooms in our church (with a bad attitude) and helped me realize if I was not willing to serve Christ in this way, I was not worthy to have the most public, visible, and high profile role in the church in preaching God’s Word.  I also learned how much more our people were eager for me to serve them in preaching when they knew I had served them by scrubbing the toilets the day before. 

I no longer clean toilets as a pastoral weekly duty.  I have a dear, faithful servant in our church who now takes on that task and many others like it to allow me to address other pastoral needs.  But after doing so for 3 years, I am grateful I did and what I learned.  I now manage my heart in such a way that I would be willing at any time to do it again if there was a need to do so.  The lessons about pastoral ministry I learned from being on my hands and knees scrubbing toilets in the church restrooms although unexpected, have been immeasurable in value. 

Most importantly, in God’s kind and all-wise providence…I no longer have a phobia about cleaning toilets.

Posted in Preaching, The Pastor's Soul
22 comments on “Should a pastor preach or clean toilets?
  1. Ryan Bebee says:

    Of course, the flipside of the sin struggle is when we clean toilets to show our people what great “servant leaders” we are. The heart is indeed deceitful!

  2. AE says:

    For what it’s worth, I changed the roll of toilet paper in the “missionary” restroom this morning. 🙂

    Thanks for being a servant to us at ABC, Brian.

  3. Phillip Morrison says:

    Classic personal quote: “This is a good time to mention that I have a phobia about cleaning bathrooms” hahahahaha, wow I had a good laugh reading this. Amen brother, I’ve been down on my knees cleaning public toilets as well day after day & it is a beast one must experience. One bull I do not like grabbing by the horns, you know? Thank you for serving ABC in the pulpit, studying through the book of John & humbly scrubbing the john. God gives grace to the humble.

  4. Jody Gates says:

    I have been a pastor’s wife for 25+ years and have watched my pastor/husband serve his people in many ways, not just preaching and teaching. I believe servant leadership begins with leaders and sometimes that means cleaning toilets, helping at funeral dinners in the kitchen, helping with the babies, etc. He has been and continues to be my example. The buck always stops with those in leadership. Thanks for this post. I’ve often had the same thoughts as Ive cleaned our own bathrooms at home, always trying to do everything to the glory of God.

  5. anthny m . "matt" robbins says:

    I have cleaned many “toilets.” It was not fun at the time, but God used and still uses them to humble me. It is continuing to growing as a man of God.

  6. Adam Shields says:

    I am not a pastor, but I am a pastor’s kid, and grandkid, and 4 uncles are pastors, and my brother is a pastor. And I went to seminary so I have lots of friends that are pastors.

    I think in general, most pastors do the toilet cleaning (and many pastor’s kid’s first jobs are church janitors).

    I think the problems come when there are a disconnect between what pastors do and what people think pastors should do. Communication often helps with this, but not always. I have had more than one friend fired from a church because they were not doing what the powers that be in the church thought was most important. In all those cases, the pastors were refusing to do what I think should have been the work of the church as a whole, not the work of the pastor. When the pastor called the people to do the work of the church, they were fired.

    I have no issues with pastors cleaning toilets. But I do think that pastors need to equip people to the work of the church. Sometimes that means the pastor needs to clean toilets so the people of the church can take the lead on other things. But sometimes equipping the church means that the pastor has to stop cleaning the toilets.

    • briancroft says:

      Well said.

    • Greg Demme says:

      Yes, both the original post and this comment are very well said. I am blessed to have a wonderful church and a wonderful pastor, but my pastor’s sin tendency is towards workaholism (he knows of it and speaks of it openly). If our church fell down on its job of doing other things, he would work himself to death, which would not honor God or his family or the church.

      I know the case at my church is not the case everywhere, and certainly there are men who need to learn humility in service, but I also concur with with Adam that in our culture, churchgoers have been allowed to nurse the attitude of spectators rather than ministers themselves.

  7. This is powerful. Humility is a marked trait of Jesus, but it is one of the hardest for we humans to grow into. Not always because we think we’re “above” menial tasks, but often because they’re just plain hard. Thanks for your example in cleaning toilets anyway, and for sharing your story to help us grow.

  8. Fred warren says:

    Is there anything in today’s western culture closer to washing feet than scrubbing toilets? I see the willingness to do the job as imperative. Good post.

  9. Joe F. says:

    I had a friend of mine who went to the A29 bootcamp in Seattle last year. He recounts a moment when he went into the bathroom and Driscoll was in there. Everyone has their opinion about what Driscoll is like but it is mostly based on what they see up front or hear. My friend told me how this mega-church pastor wiped down the sink, fixtures, and counter before he left. I thought that spoke volumes.

  10. Aaron C says:

    Thanks for the post! Perhaps a slight morph on this post could also go under your file of “How a Pastor can show biblical love to his wife”: some week, send her out with a few friends to a coffee/tea shop while you watch the kids and clean the bathroom, maybe even throw a few dishes in there too. The look on her face, the love in her eyes–has been and will be worth it, not to mention eternal reward and unhindered prayer (1 pet 3:7).

    • Jeremy says:

      My wife would sure appreciate this, except maybe the part about throwing a few dishes into the bathroom. 😉

  11. Ariel L. says:

    I’m a program director of a Christian school and I clean toilets! I come early to open up the school. We lease a small space in this building where other people use it at nights and weekends. The task can be horrifying at times. I really don’t mind for as long as I have my iPod!!! While cleaning, I listen to good sermons, Christian radio podcasts, debates, etc. I have learned a lot (from listening). My husband also used to intern at a church and he likewise cleaned toilets. He says he managed to hear tons of good preachings while he doing this… I guess to make cleaning “enjoyable” maybe listen to Spurgeon on your mp3 player… =P

    • Aaron C says:

      I’m currently a janitor/pastoral intern who also listens to sermons while cleaning toilets. I prefer to listen to more teaching-geared messages rather than preaching, if I’m not making too great a division between those categories. I’ve heard that originally Pastor D. M. Loyd-Jones was a bit aghast at the idea that people could be sitting at home listening to sermons on tapes in a more or less relaxing atmosphere. If I recall correctly, he didn’t think people would easily respond correctly to the conviction of the Spirit through the proclaiming of the Word. I understand some of where he’s coming from: if I hear 15 hours worth of sermons in a week, I’m a little less prone to respond to each of them. But on the flipside, it helps me be under the word of God and good teaching while working. It helps me have the right attitude as I work for Him. The long-term effect of having a better knowledge of Scripture seems well worth it. Even while working, there have been numerous times where my heart has been pricked, and I am broken under the sound of the Word rightly expounded.

  12. JB says:

    awesome post! feeding the Lord’s sheep may some times mean preaching AND cleaning toilets.

  13. Ben says:

    It seems to me that Brian started out cleaning the toilets because he was serving an elderly congregation and was the only person able to do it. It also seems to me that he was cleaning the toilets not because he was a pastor, but because he is a Christian and was called to serve others. Making toilets-cleaning a model for truly humble pastoral ministry is misguided. The problem with most of our churches is that we consider our pastors as hired men. We pay them for them to serve us and do everything. We can join in as “volunteers” if and when we want to. But it is the job of the pastor and his family to slave for us. That attitude is very unscriptural. The whole concept of volunteerism is also very unscriptural. If a pastor is in a situation where he is the only one physically able to clean toilets, then, by all means Christ is calling him to do so with joy. However, if he is in a situation where there are other people in the church able to do it, his job is to teach them to do the works of ministry, and not do everything. Cleaning toilets might seem a very humble thing to do, but it might turn out to be pride, seeking people’s attention and admiration as a “toilets-cleaning pastor.” I think the statement “If you are not willing to clean toilets, you should not be preaching” is quite wrong and not Biblical. Where will you as a pastor draw the line? Maybe you should change all the babies diapers every Sunday, prepare and serve refreshments, take up the offering, arrange flowers, do the sound, play drums, guitar, piano and organ at the same time, clean the church, fix the lights, repair the heating system, clean the windows, greet people at the door, and do everything that is considered humble. Christ only washed His disciples’ feet once in order to teach them to be humble. It was not part of role. Maybe our pastors are suffering from an identity crisis because of the expectations laid on them by us who “pay their salaries”. If my pastor ever cleaned toilets it will be a clear sign of his failure as a leader and my failure as God’s child. Read Acts 6 and you will soon realise that church leaders are primarily called to devote themselves to the Word of God and Prayer. May we love and support them as they do so.

  14. Mike says:

    Ha… I was drawn to this article by the title. I am a bi-vocational pastor. I have started my own janitor service in the evenings. I clean a LOT of toilets 🙂 I clean them in the church as well…..Not all the time though.

    We are servants of God and we identify with God’s people many of whom labour in work like this. It’s an honor!

    I don’t listen to sermons though… it slows me down. 🙂

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