A Worship Leader’s Guide to Cleaning Toilets

From worship star to janitor in one day

“Learn the lesson that, if you are to do the work of a prophet,
what you need is not a scepter but a hoe.”
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There is a deep transformation that happens when cleaning up the waste of those you are leading in worship. This is my story of going from worship star to janitor in one day.

My story of going from worship star to janitor in one day. Click To Tweet

A couple of years ago, when I was about to finish up my prestigious Master’s degree in Worship Studies, I got word that our church was making some cuts and had to let the cleaning company go and they put me in charge of all church janitor duties. 15,000 square feet of carpet to vacuum, tile to mop, walls to dust, 20 trash cans to empty, and yes, 11 toilets to clean. I thought for sure I would have written a hit worship song by now or maybe have an assistant after all these years, but nope… I’m a 40-year-old janitor/worship leader for a resource-strapped church. Sweet. Dream come true.

Here’s the thing. I know most worship leaders know the right answers. We are like trained ponies. “It’s not about me, it’s about Him”, “I’m here to serve”, and “We’re not here to perform” are common mantras in the worship world; we can rattle them off even when we are literally behaving in opposite fashion. Many of us, myself included simply drift because we have found our identity being on that stage. I’ve done several symbolic foot washings, sung songs about getting into the pit with the poor and living a truly humble, justice-seeking life, but here God was calling my bluff.

Hours of vacuuming communion crumbs, dusting unseen spaces and scrubbing toilets for my church taught me some valuable lessons. Jesus is always cleaning toilets. He hasn’t stopped washing feet. He does it for the least deserving. He is a God that literally gets down in the dirt with the lowest of lows. It’s hard to remember the power of incarnation when we’ve been on the stage for so long. Stages big and small still elevate and separate us; we must from time to time step back and recalibrate.

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Matthew 20:26b-28 

The blogosphere is obsessed with telling us how to look and act while ON THE CHURCH STAGE, but I believe the true test is how our heart responds to challenges unique to worship musicians:

  • When was the last time you just showed up to church to worship without working? 
  • How do you respond when others more gifted than you want to serve? 
  • Are you training up others to do what you do?
  • How do you respond when asked by a pastor to lead a song you don’t like?
  • Do you tithe, surrendering control of a portion of your money to the leaders of the church?
  • How do you respond when you don’t get your way or you are asked to change something last minute?
  • Do you hold doors and greet each member of your worship team or is it all business from minute one?
  • Are you present and attentive during a sermon each service?
  • How do you talk to your sound and tech teams? 
  • Have you confessed thoughts of envy, pride, insecurity, and jealousy of other’s gifts or opportunities?
If you could NEVER be on church stage again, would the body of Christ still hold value for you? Click To Tweet

It might not feel like it, especially if you are a volunteer or underpaid, but being on that stage year after year can erode your previously pure motives. Is it time for a heart calibration? Do we need a season of cleaning toilets? Serving off stage? We have no less or more value than those we lead – we go to Jesus, our ultimate example of humility, together.


My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring worship leaders and teams. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Find out more how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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14 thoughts on “A Worship Leader’s Guide to Cleaning Toilets

  1. Great observations, Mike-o. True story. I used to have a pastor that, when someone approached him about playing on stage, he would say: “Why don’t you come by on Tuesday. We could use some help cleaning the bathrooms.” I don’t recall if anyone ever took him up on it!

  2. At one point, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary was hired as our janitor, as that was the only job opening we had. When we eventually ordained him and hired him as assistant pastor, we literally gilded a toilet brush with gold paint, and ceremonially handed it to him as a scepter. Maybe you had to be there, but it was intended to honor the fact that that he had humbly served, as well as to celebrate the fact that his role had finally changed.

  3. Hmm, I wonder if God calls bluff even when someone is doing what he desires just to see if they’ll prove the bluff call wrong. I love getting to work those people you know would hop off the stage in a second to go help with whatever is needed!

  4. In my story, my first job after getting a college degree was as a toilet cleaner for a janitorial company. For some time, I had the opportunity to clean about 1000 toilets a month. There’s no kudos in it, but I found that it was one of the few jobs that provided uncluttered, even profound, clarity to my mind as I worked (no, it wasn’t the chemical fumes). Relating and doing are different things. Many of us have learned the art of empathizing (or at least faking empathizing) with the humble situations, activities, lives and worldview of others– but to actually be in the role a servant role is a different thing. Thanks for the reminder of this, Mike.

  5. Dude, I love this so much.

    There was a time I was janitor for one church and worship leader for another. And now, like you, I am a worship leader who also leads a group of volunteers who serve as the ‘clean team’, myself included in the cleaning rotation.

    Cleaning the church is a great way to exercise your servants heart and become more like Jesus. Thank you for writing this, man!

  6. I’m glad to know we aren’t the only ones! One of the churches we moved from Orlando, FL (What were we thinking?) to Jackson, TN for my husband to be youth pastor. We really felt we should go. We seemed to get along well with the pastor/wife, and staff though we only met with them briefly (should have been a clue). Two months after we sold everything, left our jobs, and moved there, the pastor who had signed the contracts with us left. So, we went to the church board and asked about some of the things that were included in the contract. They cut our salary in half, took away the housing allowance, requested that I become the Interim Praise & Worship leader, no health insurance as promised (I have a chronic medical condition that is quite expensive.), and that my husband do all landscaping and janitorial/maintenance needs. It was quite comical because my husband is not a handyman or landscaper; he doesn’t even do it our house, so if nothing else, it was an opportunity to learn new things. We certainly weren’t great, and we also had to recruit help from our daughter, and my husband’s parents who lived in the area. It was a great learning experience for sure. (The church hopefully saved a LOT of money because they paid us about 1/2 what they paid the previous youth pastor who didn’t do the extra stuff, plus they got me for free for 2 years too.) God taught us lots of things during that time, and we grew from it if nothing else came out of it.

  7. Hi Mike,

    Thank you for listening to God in this lesson and for listening to Him to write about it. I serve in popping those ever ready words up on the screen at church & my husband and I also do clean the church toilets and I learnt & reflected with God as I read your message. I also would love to sing, but don’t feel this is my gifting (I think!?!?), and I’m ok with that, but from a completely different angle I learned, grew & agree with your beautiful message. God bless & thank You for your beautiful honesty. From a sister in Christ in Country Victoria , Australia.