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Synod of the Covenant webinar explores a third model for preachers

The Rev. Dr. Aimee Moiso of the Louisville Institute adds relational preaching to the traditional tools of prophetic and pastoral preaching

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Aimee Moiso

LOUISVILLE — “Preaching and Conflict” was the topic of the Rev. Dr. Aimee Moiso’s Equipping Preachers webinar for the Synod of the Covenant last week, and participants came away with a third preaching model — relational preaching — to add to the traditional models of prophetic and pastoral preaching.

Moiso, who earned a doctorate in homiletics and is the associate director of the Louisville Institute, was the guest of the Rev. Dr. Chip Hardwick, executive of the Synod of the Covenant. Watch her engaging 94-minute presentation here.

Christians “tend to believe conflict is a sin. Why?” Moiso asked. Conflict “often feels bad,” and, since “we were made to be connected to each other,” we often fear disconnection, and conflict threatens our connection. Conflict also “evokes a lot of emotions that don’t feel great,” she said, including confusion, fear, loneliness, anger and suspicion. “We tend to believe that things that feel bad are bad.”

If we believe conflict is bad or a sin, we’re more likely to avoid it, fix it fast, paper over it, pretend it’s fixed when it isn’t, or just try to win “because we have the truth,” Moiso told preachers. “When you have a deeply held conviction, it’s hard not to get polarized from the other person.”

The Bible has plenty of advice about conflict, and Moiso pointed out three spots: Eph. 4:25-26 and 29, James 4:1-3, and Luke 18:3-4, Luke’s version of the Parable of the Persistent Widow and the Unjust Judge, “a woman causing conflict by demanding justice,” Moiso said. “It might be necessary conflict to make change. The system as it is is not working.”

Like preaching, context matters in the Bible. Texts from the epistles, “which frequently emphasized community cohesion, were often written to divided communities,” Moiso said. “Jesus doesn’t speak unilaterally against conflict but recognizes that it is part of daily life and necessary for transformation and change.”

Cause matters too. “Conflicts born out of self-serving impulses, lies, pettiness and false teachings are rejected. That’s not who God is about,” Moiso said. “Conflict is tension that results when we encounter difference. We’ve got to become more comfortable with the discomfort.”

“We actually believe difference and diversity are good. We believe they are gifts from God,” Moiso said. “When we say diversity is good and conflict is bad, it sends a mixed message to our congregations and the people we work with.”

Conflict can be constructive when it’s oriented toward growth, honesty, discovery, change or repair, Moiso noted. It can be destructive when it’s rigid, polarizing, unjust, violent and enemy forming. People engaged in conflict have choices: they can make space for humility, listening, openness, compassion, vulnerability and imagination. They can resist rushing to judgment, avoidance, defensiveness, hostility, othering, and disconnection.

“Instead of asking, ‘How do we resolve this conflict or disagreement,’ what if we asked, ‘What kind of relationship do we want to have?’” Moiso asked. Constructive conflict “requires willing participants,” and it can take a lot of time, she said. “It focuses on strengthening the relationship, not just resolving the issue or winning an argument. This is the theological basis of all this.”

So, what about preaching?

Most preachers were taught two kinds of preaching, Moiso said: prophetic, in which the preacher talks about “what we’re doing wrong and what’s wrong with the world”; and pastoral, where the pastor acts like a therapist, with messages including “Let’s all get along” and “Let’s all feel good.”

Moiso’s third model is relational preaching, which focuses “on the kinds of relationships we want to build in the family of Christ.”

“Relational preaching helps normalize the realities of conflict and tension by speaking openly about them to ask, ‘How do we faithfully respond to the differences this issue brings up?’” Moiso said. Relational preaching encourages “opportunities for self-understanding, emotional intelligence and connection across disagreement and conflict. It’s saying, ‘We are going to learn together how to take this moment of conflict for self-understanding.”

It becomes part of the sermon moment, she said. The preacher can even stop the sermon and ask hearers to speak to one another, or the preacher can talk during the week ahead of the sermon and weave some of those responses into the sermon.

“Relational preaching broadens our encounters with others, using diverse voices and sources, perspectives, experiences and ways of thinking,” Moiso said. “It helps people hear themselves in the sermon so [the preacher’s] is not the only voice being heard.”

Moiso had a few other suggestions for preachers:

  • Instead of authority and answer-giving, focus on shared vulnerability. “It’s OK to train your congregation not to expect you have all the answers,” she said.
  • Instead of control over what happens, focus on trust of and within the community.
  • Instead of unity, which can gloss over differences, focus on interconnectedness. “How are we better together even though we are not in agreement?” Moiso asked. “That’s different from unity.”
  • Instead of peace, which can avoid conflict, focus on compassion, “instead of pretending it’s not happening,” Moiso said.

“Long-term thinking helps reinforce our shared responsibility and our interdependence,” Moiso said. “Given that, if we cannot come to agreement, what choices can we make now that will help our grandchildren and great-grandchildren live well together?”

The Synod of the Covenant’s Equipping Preachers webinars are open to preachers living outside of synod’s boundaries. View the upcoming schedule or register here.

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