This article is written by Josh Burnett, CEO of Sermons.tech.
The era of Artificial Intelligence is here.
Once confined to the realms of sci-fi novels and Hollywood movies, AI has officially entered the church. And from AI chatbots claiming to let you talk to the Apostle Paul, to claims that AI is a sign of the apocalypse, there is plenty of hyperbole.
Five Things Pastors Need to Know about AI
You may not know it, but you are already interacting with AI every single day. With the right mindset, you can utilize this tool to help your church be more effective in its mission.
1. AI Probably Isn’t What You Think it is.
You’ve seen the movies where the robots become aware and decide to overthrow their human creators; that’s not AI. That is actually AGI or Artificial General Intelligence.
AI is Artificial Intelligence, and despite only being different by a single word, there is a world of difference between AI and AGI. The most significant difference is that AI exists, and AGI does not (at least as far as I know!).
There are numerous branches within the realm of AI, but the one making headlines today is the LLM or Large Language Model. The most famous example of this is ChatGPT.
This particular type of AI imitates human intelligence by analyzing vast amounts of text to generate content that feels human because it was trained on content created by humans. It’s the result of massive data processing, yet it operates only within its set parameters.
So, while there are reasons to be concerned about AI and the potential dangers it could bring, you do not need to fear your vacuum coming to life and killing you in your sleep because of AI.
2. You Already Use AI in Your Daily Life.
You may never have ventured into ChatGPT or conversed with Claude. Nevertheless, you are already using AI.
Here are a few examples of how:
- Social Media: The often discussed “algorithm” that controls what you see is driven by AI.
- Digital Assistants: Siri and Alexa are forms of AI. Not very good ones, in my opinion.
- Texting: When you text on your phone and the next word pops up before you type it, that’s AI.
- Maps: When you use maps on your phone to drive somewhere, AI is working behind the scenes.
3. AI Can Take a Pile of Ministry Tasks Off Your Plate.
A great example is research.
AI is designed to be conversational, so you can talk to it like you would a research assistant.
Here are some simple steps to get you started.
- Pick a Topic. Of course, the first step is deciding what you want to discuss or research. In this example, we’ll use the concept of forgiveness.
- Start Talking. Ask the AI to give examples of biblical stories about forgiveness.
- Ask Follow Up Questions. Next, ask the AI to give you famous quotes from Christian thought leaders on forgiveness. Congratulations, you now have a research assistant who can instantly answer your questions.
And it’s not just sermon prep that this research assistant can help you with.
- Create content and marketing to (re)launch your small groups
- Writing a reply to a difficult email you received
- Outreach ideas for your community
4. AI is Very Convincing but Not Always Right.
Sometimes AI will make up information, which AI researchers call “hallucinating.” AI is more likely to hallucinate in more complex scenarios.
For example, I told ChatGPT the title of a book I assumed it knew and asked it to summarize. To my delight, it spit out a very detailed summary, complete with quotes and analysis.
The issue? It wasn’t about a real book. If I didn’t already know the book, I would have been convinced. Now that I think about it, I might use it as an outline for a future book.
The lesson is that you need to validate what the AI is saying before you blindly trust it. The more you use it, the easier it will become to spot the hallucinations.
5. AI’s Theological Neutrality.
Chatbots aren’t Reformed, Catholic, Orthodox, or any other theological flavor.
AI is trained on a large and diverse set of sources. Basically, AI has read the internet, and as a result, it doesn’t align with a specific theological background. It’s not designed to have a firm opinion unless you tell it to.
So there are two ways to get the sort of perspective you want.
First, treat it like a person who has no context and have a conversation. For example, ChatGPT has a decent amount of memory, so you can even teach it things as you go.
Or second, Remind it of what it knows. For example, you can say, “Hi ChatGPT, can you tell me the major differences between Lutherans and Catholics?” Then if you’re satisfied with the answer, you can say something like, “Great, with those core differences in mind, please write a communion meditation from the Lutheran perspective.”
AI Ultimately Means More Time with Your People
Ultimately the opportunity AI presents to you as a pastor is to spend more time with your congregation and do something AI cannot; pastor them.
So, embrace AI to make your ministry more incarnational and more human. Get out of the office and into the homes of your congregants. Eat meals together. Laugh and cry together. Do the human stuff together.
Your congregation needs you to be present; there is not and will never be artificial presence.
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