Treating Your Janitor Well: Removing Stains 101
“Hey, Jess!? How do I get this mustard out?”
“Sweetheart!? Is there something I should put on this grease spot?”
“Umm, should I use cold water or warm water for this taco sauce?”
Sheepishly, those are just a small handful of my after-dinner “conversations” with my wife! I spill. I spill a lot. I hate to admit it, but it is a simple fact of life. Honestly, spilling wouldn’t be so terrible if I only spilled water or the occasional glass of milk! But when I spill, I spill the big guns: the foods that inevitably lead to stains! Stains are incredibly destructive! They destroy relationships with my favorite pairs of shorts, Sunday-morning ties, casual lounge clothes and damage my collection of free youth retreat t-shirts!
Messiness in Youth Ministry
I’ve been a youth pastor for 10 years. Over the years, I have seen many stains destroy relationships. I’m no longer talking about my favorite flannel, but rather real relationships with real people. I’m talking about the janitor!” (other titles include: custodian, groundskeeper, custodial manager).
How many events have we managed to hold where a can of Mountain Dew hasn’t spilled on the carpet? Or the greasy chip that falls to the ground, that everyone sees, but refuses to pick up until finally the one unsuspecting student steps on it obliterating it into hundreds of grease staining agents? Or, be honest, the pepperoni under the couch cushion (even after 10 years, I still don’t know how they end up under the cushions)?
As I encountered those various stains over the years, my go-to mode was simply grabbing a paper towel, splashing a little water on the spot, giving it a quick wipe, and calling it good. If I’m honest with you, I even thought to myself, “No biggie! The janitor will clean it up! After all, that’s their job!”
Putting Others’ Interests Above Our Own
How arrogant of me! Thankfully, God continues to grow my heart and forgive my shortcomings! Over the last couple of years of ministry, I have been incredibly intentional about trying to eliminate work for our janitor! I make it my personal goal to leave our youth space better than the condition I found it! I guarantee you it is not always convenient. It adds time to my night, time away from my wife and three kids. It adds to an already long day of ministry.
But it is worth it. It is absolutely worth it. Why? Because stains are destructive. Our efforts of haphazard cleaning, our attitudes of being above the work, our selfish motives of ignoring the mess are simply stains that begin to destroy a potentially healthy and life-giving relationship with the janitor!
This goes way beyond simply cleaning up after ourselves to make somebody else’s job a little bit easier. Rather, this is living into our very identity as the body of Christ! This is displaying humility by considering others’ interests above our own (Phil 2)! This is allowing our love to be sincere as we devote ourselves to one another in brotherly love; honoring one another above ourselves (Romans 12:9-11)! This is serving one another in love (Gal 5:13) and loving each other deeply from the heart (1 Peter 3:8)!
Spills Lead to Stains
When I spill, the stains are legit. And the problem with my stains is that my clothes are not salvageable. My wife has tried every product, every old wives’ tale, mustered every ounce of elbow grease to no avail. I have simply learned that when I stain my clothes, the damage is real and there isn’t much that can be done. They’ll get cleaned, and the stain may fade, but there remains a permanent mark.
When we treat our janitors (or anyone for that matter) with an unloving, uncaring, even indifferent attitude, we are leaving behind lasting, filthy stains. Perhaps the dirty condition of the youth room is brought up at the next staff meeting and conflict arises. You can talk through the event, even apologize, but the stain will remain.
That is why I have moved into preventative mode. My kids follow suit! Spaghetti night means we eat with our shirts off! On these nice, early-summer days that call for grilling some hamburgers and hot dogs, we make sure our black or navy blue shirts are on. And yes, I will even bust out the classic napkin-bib if the food calls for it!
When it comes to our relationships with our janitors, I too have found it to be incredibly life-giving to go into preventative mode. I prevent the stains by taking the initiative and communicating my love, appreciation and admiration for them as a person and as a co-laborer in ministry! Sometimes I’ll have our students write a thank-you card and put it in the Janitor’s church mailbox. Other times we’ll take one of our small groups to the dollar store and have them purchase one item that conveys their appreciation! Recently, I’ve invited our students and adult leaders into the process of helping me clean after our youth group gatherings while intentionally reminding them of how we are showing Christ’s love to our janitor in the process!
What would it take for you to prevent future, relational stains with your janitor? How can you go into prevention mode and begin to affirm and encourage them as a dearly-loved ally in ministry? Cast a wider net and invite your students and leaders to creatively engage with the process of showering your janitor with random acts of kindness! Perhaps rather than re-upping your dodgeball quota with the remaining dollars in your youth budget, purchase a gift card for your janitor and have the students deliver it at their door! The sky is the limit!
Stains are ugly because they destroy. May you and I begin the process of stain-prevention this season by living into our identity as the body of Christ as we intentionally communicate love and appreciation to our janitors! I’d love to hear your creative ideas of how you intend to show love to your janitors!
BENJAMIN dE WAARD is a youth & worship pastor in the beautiful Pacific Northwest! He loves Jesus, his family of five, roasting his own coffee beans, playing music, riding his motorcycle, and the Toronto Maple Leafs (although admittedly not always in the proper order)!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.