Unglued Church

Long Illusions

God’s miracles are all around us

By Sarah Robbins


Sometimes it takes too long to be able to see what’s going on.

I am an impatient person. Having something block my vision or distort what is really going on always feels like a big waste of time to me. I get annoyed. I know that I shouldn’t because there is learning to be done as things become more clear.

If you’re like me, impatient for results, certain situations in the church  can be a real test. Especially churches that give the illusion of wanting to change.

On paper, many struggling churches have all the things they need to reinvent and redevelop their ministry in the neighborhood: a great location, space to share and rent, potential profits from the sale of property that could be used to start again. There are session meetings  filled with conversations about what should be done next and who should be doing it and what could happen as a result.

We can be blinded by the array of possibilities and run around pursuing every option with earnest. We can bring information back as to what that path might look like. We tend to take action and not spend enough time really and truly listening to what the messages from the leadership really are. Their words and amount of time in discussion could give  the illusion that they want to redevelop and become a ‘new’ church.

But if we were to truly listen, we would see the illusion. We would understand they were giving the answers everyone expected to hear when what they needed was permission to stop giving the “right” answers and give the honest ones.

If they could do that, it would be  like the mud being wiped from their eyes, from our eyes. A way forward could become much clearer.

It’s hard not to think about this Sunday’s passage from John 9. Jesus performs a miracle and the questions that circle him and the one he gives sight to create an illusion about what’s important and what is at stake. It’s a smoke screen for the fear of acknowledging what is happening all around them—that God’s kingdom is full of miracles.

We do this to ourselves as leaders of congregations all the time. We see an opening, or something that needs to be fixed, or a commotion is created that prevents us from seeing things clearly. We tend to want to offer resources and money and time if a congregation says its ready to make a plan to reinvent itself. We can tend to take the emotions and the urgency and end up asking all the wrong questions.

Miracles can happen when congregations are asked questions that lead to permission to do the unthinkable.

Miracles can happen when congregations are told they can stop what they are doing and change directions, or just stop altogether.

Using up time and resources when a congregation is not actually willing to make all things new is a distraction and creates an illusion that the kingdom of God won’t keep moving and being if they stop their status quo.

Sometimes my impatience about making a decision or the wrong questions being asked, has led me to miss some miracles too. I almost missed seeing congregations choose to leave a legacy behind that has changed people’s lives, but with other hands. I’ve almost missed seeing congregations finally come to consensus on their mission and vision. It meant a full stop on the way they were currently being the Church, and embracing something new.

The long illusion we all have to grapple with is the need to continue on in the way we have, but do it better. Miracles change us and we are forever different. God’s kingdom is full of them. Embraced or not, they are all around us.


Rev. Sarah Robbins is an at-large teaching elder in Pittsburgh Presbytery. She has served as pastor to two churches and currently serves on the Presbytery’s COM. Sarah is also part of the leadership of the Unglued Church Project. She is married to another teaching elder. Together they have one child and two basset hounds.