Coming and Going

How confusing this must seem to small children, I was thinking the other day. To them, it must feel like we are just throwing all of our stuff in a truck, to be driven at some future time by SOMEONE, to SOMEWHERE; and then piling in the car and getting somewhere, eventually, and then maybe finding a place to live and unload our beds and our books and our stuffed dinosaurs when we get there.

And then I thought…wait a sec. That is exactly what we’re doing. And really, it doesn’t seem so crazy at all.

We’ve been talking through the logistics for so long that the kids actually seem to understand what’s going on. (Except, in the Phoenix hotel room last night, Silas wanted to know “Is THIS Kansincity??” He’s in for a long couple of days in the car.)

I was discussing with the girl child yesterday about how our church people are having a good-bye party for us tomorrow. That got her attention. Cause she hears ‘party’ and think ‘cake.’ (Really, don’t we all?) “Why do we have a good-bye party?” she wants to know. “Well…because our people love us, and they’re sad we’re leaving, but they’re also excited for our new adventure. Just like we’re sad to leave, but we’re excited for our new adventure too.” Then, for the first time since this whole business started, she said… “I don’t want to go.”

“Well,” I said, feeling like a PBS special, “it will be sad to leave our people. BUT… the people at our new church are WAITING For us. And they’re excited we’re coming. And when we get there, they’ll have a party too.”

“A HELLO PARTY???” She said. Again with the cake… this kid will go anywhere for cake.

“Yes,” I said. “A hello party.”

Coming and going. A time for everything, and all just as it should be.

When I first came to Foothills, (7 years ago) I looked around at this little church in the urban desert, and I knew that God had called me here. About that, I am still certain. However, I was mistaken about the ‘why’ of my call. In the beginning, and for many years after, I thought I was called here to be a builder. Literally and figuratively. I thought that I would build all the great programs that bring in ‘young children and families;’ that I would help build an actual new building, and get us out of our tents in the wilderness; that I would build an administrative structure that would make everything run like clockwork, forever.

But somewhere in the last seven years, I’ve totally changed how I think about  ministry. I’ve learned that programs aren’t the goal, that a building doesn’t go up overnight, and that the best ‘structure’ is one that is flexible and organic and lends itself to meeting the needs of any given time and place.

And sometime in the last year, I realized that I was called here not to build, but to take down.

Even though Foothills has grown considerably in my time here, that wasn’t my work. Growth is the work of the Spirit. My work was to take apart that which was keeping us small. To scrap the old committee-structure that had thrown the church into a ‘death-by-meeting’ sort of situation. To tear down the survival-minded, inward-looking focus and start talking about the neighbors; to stop being afraid of scarcity and start living into abundance; to let things die that were trying to die, and free up some air and light in the space that remained; to stop holding onto the long term vision plans that were all about staff and buildings and music programs and line item budgets, and to start living a better story.

The ‘building’ stuff might be the work of the next pastor, but growth is the work of the Spirit. The best a leader can do is to tear down whatever’s in the way, and then stand the heck back and watch the good stuff happen.

There’s a time for everything. I think I’ve heard that somewhere before…

A time to be born, a time to die/ A time to plant, a time to harvest,

A time to seek, a time to lose/ A time to tear down and a time to build…

There’s a time for goodbye, and a time for hello,

and a time to drive off into the sunset, singing at the top of your lungs that all is right with the world.

And a time for cake. There’s always time for cake.




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  • Stacy Kearney

    What is her favorite flavor of cake, and how does she prefer her frosting?

    • Erin Smallwood Wathen

      any cake will do, folks. Any cake at all 🙂

  • Courtney Clayton

    Oh the tears

  • Jay Mulligan

    There will be cake. So much cake.

  • Heather Entrekin

    We look forward to welcoming you to Kansas City, Erin. You will find friends and community eager to celebrate you and your family with cake and more at Central Baptist Seminary.


    So well said, Erin – looking forward to reading about your ministry at St. A.