by Amber Mann Riggs
Is this what I’m destined to become?
Recoiling with disgust at the abject prospect, I now eyed these women with cynical wariness. Yes, they seemed normal. And up to that moment, they had triumphed as beautiful, intelligent, thoughtful, interesting pillars of womanhood.
But now, all of this faded in the shadow of their complete obsession with potty-training.
Trapped in a conversation circle in which these women wielded complete control, I found myself an unwilling captive of the no-longer-secret Society of the Hiney-Wipers.
The conversation was not just teetering on a precipice overlooking a sewage treatment plant. Even worse, it. was. boring.
Foreshadowing can be a dreadful, dreadful thing. Case in point: please allow me to impress upon you my aptitude to bore anyone not yet inducted into the glamorous world of pint-sized bodily function management.
For the past 2732 days (and counting), I have had at least one child in diapers. Although three of them can now properly sit on a commode on their own initiative (though wiping may be another story), that’s about 8.5 years worth of diapers, wipes, pull-ups, wet underwear, and poop. In every size, shape, and consistency imaginable.
Like many of you, I am an expert.
So why waste words on such carnality when there are much more interesting and exciting things to talk about?
And yet that, my sisters and brothers, is exactly why we must.
No, not about the finer details of how-tos, whens, and reward charts, while such grand conversations legitimately have their place among desperate parents.
I’m talking about the sanctified, Jesus-glorifying ministry of cleaning up poop, diaper changing, and potty training.
Cleaning up poop is ministry, too.
It’s so far from what our view of ministry is that it is rarely acknowledged as a ministry, even by those of us who engage in it. No, if we were to put a face on ministry, it would be the face of a pastor or a missionary.
However, as Israel Steinmetz puts it, “Ministry happens anytime the grace of God empowers you to serve someone else. And like Paul said, we need to shine a light on those ministries that don’t get the spotlight to make sure everyone knows that they are necessary too.”
Strange as it may seem, diaper changing and potty training – along with a wide array of other dazzling activities involving small children – are serving someone else, often when we would much rather be doing something much more enjoyable. But we do so anyhow because we are conduits of God’s love.
Shortly after our first daughter was born, wisdom came pouring out of my husband’s mouth in the form of this thought: Cleaning pooh off of someone who cannot do it for themselves is one of the kindest things you can do for anyone.
(Cue meditative music suitable for deep thoughts.)
It’s true. They are at our mercy for cleanliness and health, and this one kind act says something that words cannot. Despite their often furious protests. And even when it appears they would rather pee or poop their pants than take a break from playing to visit the bathroom.
The need is real.
The ministry you shouldn’t do (right now)
I don’t think any of us want applause for changing our kids’ diapers. That’s not what this is about.
This is about the scores of us who sit in pews (or linking chairs) week after week and feel guilty about the ministry that we can’t or even shouldn’t do during this season of our lives.
The guilt is there when Joe is sharing about his extensive ministry with the homeless community. Or when Sally is sharing about the amazing conversations she had with local college students through a campus ministry. It’s there when volunteers are being recruited for a neighborhood cleanup outreach. It’s there when we pray over the group going on the short-term mission trip.
It’s there when the pastor asks you to lead a weekly Bible study at a low income apartment complex…and you can’t even manage to wrangle your own kids to be still for a 5 minute Bible story at night. And the thought of adding one more thing to your plate makes you want to cry. But what kind of Christian says no to something like this?
Except that ministry happens anytime you serve someone else out of love for God.
Serving God where we are
God does call each of us to ministry. But God doesn’t call all of us to every ministry. More realistically, He calls each of us to open our eyes to the people we see each day so that we can be conduits of His love in the course of our normal lives.
The pattern woven into the beautiful tapestry of the Kingdom of God is one in which the Body of Christ spreads out to work together to cover bases of ministry that we cannot cover alone. This is what happens when Jesus-followers embrace everyday leadership in their arenas of influence.
Sometimes it is more enticing to go out of our way to serve God than it is to serve Him where we are at. It is often easier to check ministry off of a to-do list and feel good about ourselves than it is to live it in our interactions with the people we see so often that we can be “ourselves” around them.
Now, it may be that God IS calling you to serve in ways that are new to you. Be open to this and follow His leading!
But sometimes saying ‘yes’ to a new ministry means that you would have to say no to a ministry that you are already called to, engaged in, and poised to take to a deeper level.
Because it could also be that He simply wants you to serve Him deeper where you are.
My primary ministry
I have a part-time job in vocational ministry, serving in a leadership role with Artios Christian College. I am also a volunteer worship leader in my church congregation and have taught kids’ classes. I love doing these things.
And yet, there came a time last year when my part-time ministry job had to become even more part-time and that I had to take a sabbatical from leading worship – because they were keeping me from going to the depths that I knew God wanted me to go in my primary ministry.
My primary ministry is training my children to follow Jesus. My kids are small now, a reality as fleeting as a Popsicle on a summer day. It’s a season to savor its sweet purpose before it melts away.
My husband and I can’t delegate this job to anyone else. We welcome the help of our church and our family, yes. But the primary responsibility falls to us. There is no one else who can serve this particular role in our kids’ lives in the way that we can.
It’s not selfish. It’s small group discipleship at its most intense.
It means communicating God’s love to our kids in words and actions and inviting them into His Story. Often in quiet, unassuming ways that fall under the radar of what we often consider ministry.
Like positively engaging with them as we change their diapers. And patiently cleaning up after them when they (once again) forget to use the toilet.
It doesn’t mean that we don’t engage in ministry outside of our families. It means that we look for meaningful ways to serve people alongside our kids, in smaller chunks of time that allow them to do more active participation in ministry than observation.
Minister to your kids. Minister with your kids.
Everyday Christian leadership at home
Show your kids what serving God looks like as you fold laundry, wash dishes, tuck them into bed at night, feed them breakfast in the morning. Show them what serving God is like when you are wiping their bottoms.
There is a reason why poop (or its more common synonym) is hailed as a metaphor for the parts of life that stink and we don’t want to touch with a 10 foot pole.
So show them what serving God looks like when your eyes reflect poop.
Because that is the real face of ministry.