Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lessons From the Wash and Wag

By Christy Foldenauer

I’ll never forget pulling into a small, one stoplight town for a ministry engagement. I coasted up to the church address, bewildered. The sign on the building read “Wash & Wag.”

Pictures of adorable, groomed canines peeked through the glass at me. Must have the wrong address I thought. Then, I saw it. Right in front of me, in plain daylight—my striking ministry glossy. It was tacked to an A-frame built from two pieces of wood, with the words: This Sunday, Christy Foldenhaur! As I felt my cheeks flush, I whispered thanks that the church misspelled my name. Then I came to the startling conclusion, “This church meets…in a Wash & Wag.” Slinking back down into the driver’s seat of my car, I shook my head, unsure of whether to laugh or cry.

I argued with God. I pleaded for humility and grace in the moment. Finally, I conceded that if he wanted to use me in a Wash & Wag, I would bring my best. I went to meet my host and settled into her basement for the night.

The next morning, I preached on limiting labels. The smell of wet dog permeated the air. Yet, in a very untraditional space, something remarkable happened. People arrived with open and responsive hearts, and God did a work among them. He also began a fresh work in me.

It’s been almost two years since my Wash & Wag experience. Several days ago I stumbled on a book by Henri Nouwen that put words to the heart work that began for me that weekend. In The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life, Nouwen describes the humility of Christ and asserts, “The divine way is indeed the downward way.”

As Nouwen speaks of the downward pull of the Christian life and the call to humbly serve others, he speaks directly to my own heart. Just like the business world, ministry can quickly become a climb to better and better speaking engagements, places of ministry, and crowds. But following Jesus means being willing to meet at the Wash & Wag where ministry happens for sixty, not six hundred. Humble situation, humble place, humble hearts. . . sounds like Jesus would be right at home. The question is, can I follow his example and become downwardly mobile in my own ministry and life? Can I be as excited about a pulpit the size of a postage stamp as I am about a larger platform?

At the Wash & Wag, I realized that ministry should not be an upward climb. I must embrace downward mobility if I am emulating Jesus. Turns out my ministry glossy never looked better. I took a picture of it all just so I’d never forget the lesson.

Maybe, I’ll get the opportunity to go back there and minister again. I’ve learned this: it would be a great privilege.

Christy Foldenauer is a speaker whose passion is helping others find spiritual wholeness through Christ and influencing women to walk fully in their giftedness. She is pursuing a M.A. in Theological Studies at Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA, while raising three young children with the love of her life. Read her blog and follow her ministry here.


  1. Christy, Great post! I can smell wet dog and I am smiling! I think we Americans don't realize how "clean" our environments are. We think it is normal. Humans are messy creatures, physically, emotionally and spiritually. If we are going to be effective ministers for Jesus we need to not mind at all (and as you do, see it as a privilege) getting messed up ourselves.

  2. Thanks for the reminder! I have recently begun to see the 'payoff' of years of attending various meetings and conferences where people I desperately wanted to learn from were speaking. Often I got personal face time with them as well.

    Almost every time however - I left there wondering what the actual purpose was - why was I so sure God wanted me to attend, only to go back to my own ministry wondering if it had really been worth it.

    Years later in several cases the contacts I made are offering not me but my kids some amazing opportunities! God works in mysterious ways for sure. Although I am largely left to serve downward - I couldn't be happier about it! Thanks for the article!

  3. Jane, the more I minister, the more I find the "messes" to be the places of greatest blessing. Lori, I can relate to your feelings as well, and it's encouraging to hear that your investment has brought about opportunities for your kids. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!