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  • Writer's pictureTim Hill

A Church Split, A Mop Bucket & The Bridge To Reconciliation

Updated: Mar 12


A Church Split, A Mop Bucket, An The Bridge To Reconciliation

I went into my second pastorate when I had just turned 29. When asked, I wouldn’t even tell people my age until I got into my 30’s. In my mind at least, 30 just sounded better. When people would ask my age, I always responded with “I’m old enough to get the job done.” Now that I’m in my mid 60’s, that concern is not an issue any more. Back then I would often pray this prayer, “Lord, give me the wisdom of a man twice my age with twice my experience.” Of course if I prayed that now, I’d have the wisdom of a man 130 years old.


I inherited a church split that no one at any level of leadership had informed me of until I arrived in town.  More than 300 attenders had left the church only weeks before my family moved in and damaged and irreparable feelings were strong among the 250 that remained. After unloading the truck and moving into the parsonage, I went immediately to work sorting through issues and searching for a temporary reprieve from the unending difficulties facing the congregation, including bills that couldn’t be paid and salaries that could not be met. Looking through files and listening to dozens of audio recordings, I did a deep dive into the conflict that had literally split the church apart almost overnight. The one thing that became very apparent to me, was the lack of willingness to abide by the reconciliation principles set forth in Matthew 18: 15-17. While listening to the recordings of the various proceedings, my eyes would well up with tears as I listened to good people attempting to function and make their case in such a difficult arena of conflict. Families and relationships were torn apart. Trust was broken and the church was distracted from its vision. The congregation had been polarized as factions were formed making harmonious worship a difficult task.


The only thing the 29 year old pastor knew to do was to try his best not to choose sides, remain objective and preach a lot about Jesus and love. I remember walking into restaurants and impulsively pulling tables together forcing opposing groups to sit together while I occupied a place in the middle so as not to show favoritism to either one.


I recall one elder’s meeting when after a breakthrough in prayer, I sent the church custodian to locate  some water basins for a spontaneous feet-washing moment among men who had not spoken with one another in months. He came back and reported that there were none to be found. I looked at him and said, “Then go bring me your mop bucket.” He did and the next thing I knew, men’s socks were flung across the floor, feet got wet and so did the shirts of grown men crying on one another’s shoulders. Apologies were made. Wrongs that could or couldn’t be righted were at least forgiven.


I admit, it took a while for trust to fully return. Some people didn’t exchange Christmas cards for a long time, but they did move past their walls of offense and found a way to walk together on bridges of unity. That old mop bucket helped build a bridge to healing that night. It was a bridge that helped our church cross over to a very fruitful season of ministry.


It reminds me of a story you may have already heard.


Once there were two brothers who lived on adjoining farms and they fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift they had in their 40 years of farming side by side. For all of those years, they had shared machinery and traded labor and goods as needed without a hitch. Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with one offense and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.


One morning there was a knock on one brothers door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter's toolbox. "I'm looking for a few days work" the carpenter said. "Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?"


"Yes," said the older brother. I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That's my neighbor, in fact it's my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I'll go him one better. See that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a fence-an 8-foot fence-so I won't need to see his place anymore.”


The carpenter said, "I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I'll be able to do a job that pleases you.”


The older brother had to go to town for supplies, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing and nailing. About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer's eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge. A bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work, with handrails and all. And the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched. "You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I've said and done."


The two brothers met at the middle of the bridge, taking each other's hand. They then turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. "No, wait! Stay a few days. I have a lot of other projects for you," said the older brother.


"I'd love to stay on," the carpenter said, "but I have so many other bridges to build."

Bridges, old mop buckets or words of reconciliation. God uses them all when we let Him.

Admittedly, there are relationships that are beyond repair, but most of the time that’s not the case. We have to ask ourself, “How does one manage the repair process of a broken relationship brought about by offense?”


Follow this advise:

Remember the Good

Quit focusing on what went wrong. Instead, focus on the good things, the good times, and the relationship that was.


Reach Out

Don’t let pride tell you that they need to make the first move. It may never happen, and it’s too important not to be the one that steps up.


Apologize

True, you may not have been the initiator, or the difficult one, but you can’t say you did everything right. No one does. So tell them you’re sorry!


Talk

Talk about the  problem if need be, about the good times, about the future. Beginning a new conversation is imperative to rebuilding your relationship.


Follow Up

Relationship rebuilding will take time, attention, and commitment.

Reach out today. Reach out next week. Work up the courage and just reach out. Each relationship repaired will be an added treasure that’s been refined, polished, and perfected in this thing we call life.


Tim Hill

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