“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did to me.’” –Jesus, Matthew 25:40 (ESV)
“(But) Jesus called to them to him and said, ‘You know that the rules of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. 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 and as a ransom for many.’” –Matthew 20:25-28, ESV
One of the fieldwork students I was blessed to work with during the 2013-2014 school year asked me what the most important thing I learned about DCE church work in college was that I regularly put into practice. After much thought, I remembered my DCE program director teaching us that if you are only going to have good relationships with two people in your church, it had best be your church secretary and your church janitor. (What Dr. Blanke actually passed down was that his father, a pastor, told him that if you have a good working relationship with the church musician and the janitor, you will do well in church work.) Now, obviously, we hope to have good relationships with everyone, and know that practically, we will not! And obviously, it is incredibly important to have a good relationship with your senior pastor (which is probably actually the most important professional relationship for any church worker to nurture and respect). But it is also so important to have good relationships with others on staff!
I don’t actually think that church secretaries, trustees, janitors or support staff are the “least of these,” or “the least,” or “the last.” But I do think that in our sinful nature, we do inadvertently rank people. We cannot afford, as professionals, to look down on non-called, commissioned or ordained servants in the church as less than called, commissioned or ordained servants. And we cannot afford, as children of God, as believers in Jesus, to rank people or their importance to us, Jesus or the Kingdom of Heaven at all, and certainly not by worldly standards like rank, title or paycheck.
I remembered slightly incorrectly what Dr. Mark Blanke actually joked as, “If there are two people you never want to upset in your church, it’s your church secretary and whoever sets up the chairs.” (“Actually, my dad (a pastor) is the one who said, ‘If you have a good relationship with your janitor and your music director, you’ll have a good ministry.’” –Dr. Mark Blanke, Concordia, Seward, NE.) These are people who help and support us in our service to the church, and assist our ability to lead and administrate programs in our churches. I will be honest, this is practical advice that I have worked to put into place in my church life that has practically paid off! But I think that it has theological implications for us, too: don’t try to impress the congregational president, the senior pastor, the boss. Treat whomever is actually or perceived as the “least of these” in your congregation as you would treat Jesus, as Jesus would treat them. This is truly good advice (that I did learn from Dr. Blanke, she said with a smile.)