Can AI disrupt the role of pastors?

With the recent release of ChatGPT, anyone can use artificial intelligence to produce papers or sermons. What does this mean for the art of sermon writing and for the work of pastors, wonders RJ Kang?

ChatGPT, released in November 2022, is the first Artificial Intelligence (AI) language processing tool that allows human-like conversations with a chatbot. Since its release, it has impacted all aspects of life including education and religious sectors. Recently, church leaders have been discussing the use of ChatGPT. In March 2023, Axios conducted an interview with pastors of all denominations regarding AI-written sermons versus sermons written by trained and educated religious leaders. The interviewees all seem to agree that sermons written by AI lack passion, interpersonal connection, and the presence of the Spirit. However, one interviewee wrote that an AI-generated sermon was better than some sermons they had heard in the past.

Can AI replace religious leaders’ sermon writing? To address this question I asked ChatGPT directly, and below is its response.

As an AI language model, I can generate text on a given topic, including writing sermons. However, I cannot replace the role of a pastor in crafting and delivering sermons that are tailored to the specific needs and interests of their congregation.

A pastor’s sermon is a deeply personal and unique expression of their faith, wisdom, and understanding of their community. It reflects their own experiences, struggles, and insights, as well as their deep connection with the divine.

While AI can certainly assist pastors in sermon writing by providing inspiration, ideas, and even a framework for structuring their message, it cannot replicate the personal touch and authenticity that comes from a pastor’s own voice and perspective.

Moreover, a pastor’s role involves much more than just sermon writing. Pastors are spiritual leaders who provide guidance, counsel, and support to their congregation, and this requires a level of personal connection and presence that cannot be replaced by technology.

In short, while AI can be a valuable tool for pastors in preparing and delivering sermons, it cannot replace the essential role of the pastor in guiding and shepherding their congregation.

While artificial intelligence (AI) is a great tool, it can only be just that, a tool.

Personally, as a pastor, I love the process of writing a sermon. It is a difficult process that involves vulnerability, being led by the Spirit, deep discernment, hours of study, and connecting myself to God’s message. Then, I have to distill all the information, story and personal connection into a few pages. It is a process that promotes growth, deeper faith and spiritual connection to my vocation.

While asking AI any pertinent question about historical context, commentary or definition may seem like we no longer need the Anchor Bible Dictionary or other resources, it is important to note that sources are critical. Understanding how commentaries draw certain understandings is pertinent as we need to decipher if they are in line with reformed theology.

AI cannot understand the sermon writer’s perspective. AI’s approach to Scripture is based on the information learned from its database. For Presbyterians, we believe Scripture is the Living Word that speaks to us in our personal context as well as the context of the world and in the world.

As an immigrant child, when I read Jesus’ parable of “the Land Owner,” my sermon was from the perspective of minorities in a denomination that is predominantly Anglican. When Jesus paid the same wage at the end, it was reassuring to know that we belong in the denomination as much as those who have been members for generations. Inspired by the parable, I preached about the legitimacy of American immigrants. You can be American and say the Pledge of Allegiance in a different language, I preached, in the same way that you can be Christian and say the Lord’s Prayer in your mother tongue.

AI cannot decipher such personal theology as well as spiritual and reformed understanding. So, the question is, where does AI belong in the pastor’s role? It is a resource and can be a very effective resource. However, like anything else, when used to put off work, it is a form of abuse and may even be considered an insult to our calling.

I agree that technology, including AI, has brought many conveniences to our lives. However, as a minister, it’s essential to remember that our primary responsibility is to follow God’s guidance in our ministry. While AI can be a helpful tool, we must be careful not to rely on it as a replacement for the discernment that comes from prayer and seeking God’s will.

As we lead our ministries, we should fully lean on God and allow God to guide us in our decision-making processes. While AI may provide us with data and insights, we must ensure that we are using it as a tool to help us make informed decisions and not as a replacement for the discernment that comes from God’s leadership.

Ultimately, as ministers, we need to reflect deeply on what it means to be called and how we can best serve God’s purposes. We should use technology, including AI, to assist us in our work, but always in conjunction with prayer and discernment, seeking God’s guidance in all things.