ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot, responds to questions about the benefits and problems of AI for pastors and the church.
By Aaron Earls
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and conversational agents, like ChatGPT, have been transforming various industries and professions, including the religious sector. For pastors and churches, AI technology can be a game-changer, enhancing their ability to connect with and support their congregants.
However, the adoption of artificial intelligence in the church also raises concerns about the potential loss of human connection, ethical issues surrounding the use of AI, and the need for churches to adapt to the changing landscape of technology. In this article, we will explore how ChatGPT and AI could be both beneficial and problematic for pastors and churches and what steps they can take to navigate this new terrain.
Can I be honest? I didn’t write those first two paragraphs. I asked ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot that responds to questions and prompts from users, to write a lead to an article about how it and AI could be beneficial but also problematic for pastors and the church.
Churches have long used technology to help spread their message, but they’ve often not thought about how the new medium shapes (and distorts) that message. With the expansion and advancement of virtual reality tech, some congregations have opened digital campuses in an early version of the metaverse.
The issue of artificial intelligence is a live question that will only become more pressing for pastors, parents, and society as a whole. Some churches are already implementing a form of AI to help track attendance, identify guests, and help with security. More than likely AI is affecting your life right now without you even realizing it.
A recent Associated Press story asked pastors their thoughts on using AI chatbots like ChatGPT to craft sermons. Hershael York, a Kentucky pastor and professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, summed up the thoughts of most of the religious leaders: “It lacks a soul – I don’t know how else to say it.”
To get the other side of the story, I asked ChatGPT what it thought about pastors using it for sermon preparation and in ministry. Perhaps surprisingly, it agrees with York.
The answers by ChatGPT have not been edited.
How could pastors best use ChatGPT in their ministry?
As an AI language model, I can provide some suggestions on how pastors could potentially use ChatGPT in their ministry:
Sermon preparation: ChatGPT could potentially be used as a resource for pastors to generate ideas and inspiration for their sermons. The pastor could input a topic or theme they want to preach on, and ChatGPT could provide suggestions, quotes, and insights to help the pastor craft their message.
Bible study and research: ChatGPT could be a helpful tool for pastors to conduct research on specific biblical passages, themes, or concepts. By inputting a query or question, pastors could receive a response from ChatGPT that provides relevant passages, commentary, and analysis to help deepen their understanding of the Bible.
Pastoral counseling and support: ChatGPT could potentially be used to provide pastoral counseling and support to members of the congregation who may be struggling with personal or spiritual issues. By interacting with ChatGPT, individuals could receive guidance, encouragement, and advice that is grounded in biblical teachings and pastoral wisdom.
Outreach and evangelism: ChatGPT could potentially be used as a tool for outreach and evangelism, allowing pastors to engage with a broader audience beyond their physical congregation. By leveraging ChatGPT’s language capabilities, pastors could reach individuals who speak different languages or who may be hesitant to engage with traditional forms of outreach.
It’s worth noting that while ChatGPT can be a helpful resource, it is not a substitute for traditional forms of pastoral ministry, such as prayer, worship, and personal connection. Ultimately, the most effective pastoral ministry is built on relationships and a deep understanding of the needs and challenges of the congregation. ChatGPT can be a helpful tool to supplement traditional forms of ministry, but it should not be relied upon as a replacement.“It's worth noting that while ChatGPT can be a helpful resource, it is not a substitute for traditional forms of pastoral ministry, such as prayer, worship, and personal connection.” — ChatGPT Click To Tweet
What could be a drawback to a pastor using AI to prepare sermons?
One of the potential drawbacks of using AI to prepare sermons is the risk of creating a homogenous and impersonal message. While AI can be useful in generating ideas and insights based on a large database of information, it may not have the same capacity as a human pastor to tailor the message to the specific needs and concerns of the congregation. Sermons that are generated solely by AI may lack the emotional and personal touch that comes from a pastor who has spent time listening to and understanding the unique experiences of their congregation.
Another drawback could be the potential for pastors to become overly reliant on AI-generated content, which could lead to a lack of originality and creativity in their preaching. If pastors rely too heavily on the ideas and messages generated by AI, they may lose their ability to think independently and bring their own perspective to the sermon.“Sermons that are generated solely by AI may lack the emotional and personal touch that comes from a pastor who has spent time listening to and understanding the unique experiences of their congregation.” — ChatGPT Click To Tweet
Additionally, there are ethical considerations when it comes to the use of AI in the church. Some may argue that relying on a machine to generate religious messages could be seen as disrespectful or even sacrilegious. The use of AI in the church must be approached with careful consideration and respect for the values and beliefs of the congregation.
What could be the benefits for a pastor using AI to prepare sermons?
There are several potential benefits of using AI to prepare sermons. First, AI technology can provide pastors with a vast amount of information and resources to draw from when preparing sermons. With AI, pastors can quickly access a broad range of biblical texts, commentaries, historical context, and other relevant information, enabling them to craft more informed and well-rounded messages.
Second, AI can help pastors save time and reduce the workload associated with preparing sermons. By using AI to automate some of the more time-consuming aspects of research and preparation, pastors can focus their efforts on other important aspects of their ministry, such as counseling, outreach, and community engagement.
Third, AI can provide a fresh perspective and new insights into biblical texts and themes. By analyzing vast amounts of data, AI can identify patterns, connections, and themes that may not be immediately apparent to human interpreters. This can help pastors approach familiar topics in new and exciting ways, creating a more engaging and thought-provoking sermon for their congregation.
Finally, AI can help pastors reach a broader audience by making their sermons more accessible. With AI-powered translation tools, pastors can quickly and easily translate their sermons into multiple languages, enabling them to reach a wider audience around the world. Additionally, AI-powered voice assistants and chatbots can make sermons available to people who may not be able to attend church in person or may have difficulty accessing traditional forms of media.
How might AI impact faith practices in the future?
AI has the potential to significantly impact faith practices in the future in a variety of ways. Here are a few possibilities:
More personalized religious experiences: AI-powered tools and chatbots could provide more personalized and customized religious experiences to people, such as tailored prayers, meditations, and other spiritual practices based on individual needs and preferences.
Enhanced religious education: AI could improve the quality and accessibility of religious education, making it easier for people to learn about their faith through interactive learning tools, chatbots, and virtual assistants.
Increased diversity and inclusivity: AI-powered translation tools and chatbots could help break down language barriers, making religious practices more accessible to people of different cultures and nationalities. Additionally, AI could be used to create more inclusive and diverse religious experiences that better reflect the experiences and perspectives of different communities.
Ethical concerns: As AI becomes more integrated into faith practices, there will be ethical concerns to consider, such as the use of AI in religious decision-making and the potential for AI to reinforce biases and inequalities.
Potential shifts in religious authority: As AI becomes more advanced, it may challenge traditional religious authorities and hierarchies, particularly as more people turn to AI-powered spiritual tools for guidance and advice.
Overall, the impact of AI on faith practices in the future will depend on how it is integrated and used by religious communities and how it adapts to the unique needs and values of different faith traditions.
Could AI be used as an evangelistic tool to spread one’s faith to others?
Yes, AI could be used as an evangelistic tool to spread one’s faith to others. With AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants, it is possible to create interactive experiences that can engage people in conversations about faith, answer their questions, and provide resources for learning and exploration.
One potential advantage of using AI as an evangelistic tool is that it can reach a wider audience than traditional forms of evangelism, such as in-person events or door-to-door visits. Chatbots and virtual assistants can be available 24/7 and can be accessed from anywhere in the world, making it easier to connect with people who may not have had previous exposure to a particular faith.“It is important to carefully consider the potential benefits and risks of using AI in evangelism and to use it in a way that is respectful, ethical, and in line with the values of the faith being shared.” — ChatGPT Click To Tweet
AI could also be used to create personalized evangelistic experiences, tailoring the message and content to the individual needs and interests of each user. This could help make evangelism more relevant and engaging to people, increasing the chances of conversion.
However, there are also potential drawbacks and ethical considerations to using AI as an evangelistic tool. For example, there is the risk of reinforcing biases and inequalities in the content and messaging delivered by AI-powered tools. Additionally, some people may be uncomfortable with the idea of using technology to spread religious messages, seeing it as impersonal or inappropriate.
Overall, the use of AI as an evangelistic tool will depend on the approach taken and the values and priorities of each faith community. It is important to carefully consider the potential benefits and risks of using AI in evangelism and to use it in a way that is respectful, ethical, and in line with the values of the faith being shared.
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.