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Tools for Gospel Ministry

The Church and AI: part three

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This is the third and final article in our series exploring Artificial Intelligence and the Church. If you missed reading the previous two articles, here are parts one and two

In the previous two articles, we’ve explored a theology of technology and reflected on five questions we should ask ourselves about artificial intelligence (AI). A larger question remains: can AI help us fulfill our call to gospel ministry as pastors, leaders and churches? The answer is a conditional yes.

AI is an incredible tool, but it is not the only tool we have available. Whether we use AI will depend on our gifts, skills and interests. Depending on the individual and the congregation, AI may be an aid that will enhance gospel ministry, while others may be effective already and AI would serve as a distraction. There is also the possibility that ministry leaders will avoid AI for various reasons, intentionally not using it, even if it could broaden or enhance their gospel ministry.

For the purposes of this article, unless otherwise mentioned, all AI used is through the ChatGPT interface (www.chatgpt.com). ChatGPT uses text prompts to generate content. The more detailed and specific you are in your request, the better the result. To learn more about shaping your prompts, explore AI Prompt Engineering online.

What follows are a number of areas where we may see potential benefit from using AI — while not compromising creativity or reliance on the Holy Spirit. Here are five areas where AI may be useful in ministry.

1. Brainstorming and Drafting

AI has a wonderful ability to generate ideas when prompted. Whether sermon series, prayers, sermon outlines, letters, or social media posts, AI can create a starting point to work with.

Whenever I draft a sermon series, I often research what other pastors have done on the topic or passage. I have now added AI to my research process; I will ask AI to draft two or three sermon series from a specific text or book of the Bible over a set duration. I ask it to provide titles, scripture references and a short outline. My goal is not to use the AI content, but to allow that generated content to stimulate my creativity and help me put my mind in the context of the task at hand. Along the way, I may refer to what AI generated and see if there is anything fitting. The key to using AI for brainstorming and drafting is to use it as a catalyst — not as a finished product.

2. Summarizing

ChatGPT does an incredible job of summarizing published books, historical events or even content you upload into ChatGPT. Using a tool called sembly.ai I have used AI to summarize meetings, as well as provide to-do lists and notes on the meeting. Lengthy emails can be easily pasted into ChatGPT and asked to be summarized.

I also use summaries in AI to do something different — I use it to summarize my sermon. I will ask AI several questions for my sermon after I have written it. (I even asked these questions for this article.)

The questions include:

1. Please provide a concise summary of my sermon
2. Please provide a 5-7 point outline of my sermon
3. Please evaluate the logical consistency of my arguments
4. Please suggest titles for PowerPoint slides with a maximum length of 15 words

Why would I summarize my own work? Because I want to know how clearly I am communicating, what points stand out and if anything is being misunderstood. This summarizing allows me to evaluate my message prior to preaching to see if there is anything that needs to be refined.

3. Editing

Along with summarizing, I use AI to regularly edit documents, including my sermon. Considering the message we proclaim is the most important message in the world, any tool that can assist with the clarity of that message is valuable. I’ve used ChatGPT to do some editing, but rely mostly on a tool called Grammarly that has AI integration. This tool helps me communicate better in my writing. However, it’s not perfect. This is something to remember about AI — it is not intelligent, it is programmed. So as “intelligent” as it may seem, the suggested edits do not always understand the tone I wish to convey. However we use AI, we need to be discerning, understanding the results that it generates may contain errors and mistakes.

4. Translation

Translation is where AI has made the largest impact in the ministry of our community of faith. Our church has used AI to translate sermon slides into multiple languages. People in our church who do not know English have used Google Translate to understand the sermon. And now our church is implementing live simultaneous translation via AI in our Sunday services. This enables people of different languages to either read or listen to the sermon in their preferred language via their cell phones. We will also include English as a language for those who need assisted listening devices.

As a church we are intentionally limiting the translation program to the scripture reading and the sermon. We value how relationships are built as we learn to communicate, but wish to balance that with a sermon that can be understood. In our context, the ability to bridge the language barrier is such a valuable tool, and truly a gift from God. We desire for our church to reflect the eschatological people of God found in Revelation 5:9, where we see the sacrifice of Jesus is for “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” We want the Holy Spirit and our love for Jesus to bind us together and desire to remove language as a barrier to that.

If you are interested in live translation, the service we are using is oneaccord.ai. Please contact me for more information and how to access preferential pricing if this is of interest to you.

5. Content Presentation

One of my hobbies is graphic design, so my use of AI in this area is fairly limited as I express my creativity in this way already. However, I want to be clear: the creativity is just as much in the content on the slide as the design. Those who are not adept at design may find AI useful in helping display and communicate their creative content.

I was recently working with a team of people to promote an upcoming event, and the graphic they described when brainstorming was very precise. I then used AI to create that image. The quality overall was good (though not perfect), but it worked for our application. There are many different tools available online for content presentation. You can use AI to create videos, images and PowerPoint slides. When it comes to visual communication, the effective display of sermon content should be a priority — it should be of high quality. Yet, few pastors have a basic understanding of design principles. Using AI for this may help accentuate our creativity in effectively communicating the gospel message.

Should we or shouldn’t we?

As AI continues to develop, people will explore and develop new ways to use AI in ministry. Some will be positive, others may be less so. Part of learning something new is trial and error.

When it comes to AI, we should continue to ask ourselves about how intentional we are, and whether AI is enhancing or detracting from our ministry and the work of the Holy Spirit in the church.

The lesson from Genesis 1-11 shows us, through the story of Noah’s ark, how we can embrace technology such as AI to give glory to God through our work. That same passage provides the caution of the tower of Babel — that technology can be used to put the focus on ourselves, not God.

We must heed these lessons as we engage with AI. We need to ask: does using AI glorify God, or ourselves? Does it remove our reliance on God? Does AI enhance our ministry without compromising our creativity? Or does using it remove the leading of the Holy Spirit?

If we can see ways for AI to glorify God, or help us live to the potential God has given us, then there is potential for its place in ministry. Where AI glorifies ourselves or takes the Holy Spirit out of the equation, breaks down community or has other negative impacts, we need to be thoughtful and intentional in choosing whether or not to use it.

Like many technologies that have come before AI, we are seeing its potential for Kingdom impact. I pray we use it for the glory of God.

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