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Generative AI: Its innovation, implications and use in the Christian world

Eric Nolin speaks to people in ministry who are finding innovative ways to use AI faithfully in the Christian world.

Photo by Maximalfocus on Unsplash

Artificial intelligence has sparked a lot of questions since it started making headlines a few years ago. What is ChatGPT? How does it work? Are computers taking over?

For Christians, there are added speculations about AI replacing things like sermon writing, thoughtful exegesis, or even pastoral care. While these are things to consider, it is worth remembering that generative artificial intelligence is still simply a tool, dependent on human insight and intuition. And with any new tool, we get the opportunity to consider its implications for the kingdom of God. As we’ve found ways to use telephones for prayer chains and social media for event planning, AI may be the next technological advancement worthy of our attention.

In this article, you will find the stories of individuals who are considering such developments as they pioneer creative uses of artificial intelligence for ministry.


Kutter Callaway, Associate Professor of Theology and Culture, Fuller Theological Seminary

Kutter Calloway has been thinking a lot about AI and its implications for the Christian world. In his pastoral work, he has used ChatGPT as an intentional illustrative companion for his sermons and teachings to raise awareness about these tools’ strengths and limitations as well as to demythologize some concerns people may have about AI. While AI can be a powerful assistant, it is still clunky, requiring human oversight and discretion. But as these technological tools advance, he is considering their theological implications for the future.

To that effect, Callaway and other theologians are organizing a conference on AI to explore these issues. In doing so, they have experimented with using tools like ChatGPT for brainstorming. They are also using a tool called Midjourney – an image-generating AI – to create artwork for the conference. For a previous symposium about fear in film, Callaway and his colleagues used Midjourney and similar programs, like DALL-E, to generate images for a storyboard plus art for the event. They hope this upcoming conference will provide a space to consider the theological implications of AI and reflect on what it means for the future.

Callaway also sees how AI-assisted research might measure the effectiveness of academic courses. In one course he teaches, Kutter requires students to write two reflective essays: one at the start of the course and one at the end. Linguistic AI could compare each student’s two essays to generate analytic data, which Kutter could then use to measure the course’s effectiveness, assess students’ intrapersonal growth, and then tweak the course for better results over time.

Beyond these examples, AI can offer a helpful starting point for brainstorming. Kutter conducts interviews for the various initiatives he supports, and sometimes ChatGPT generates discussion questions that he finds extremely valuable. He rarely uses exactly what ChatGPT gives him; instead, it offers a starting point for him to consider different trains of thought or domains of questions that he had not considered.


Jonathan Beyer, Chief Information Officer, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

03.28.18 – Chicago, Illinois – Headshots of Jon Beyer, Executive for Information Technology of the ELCA

Jonathan Beyer and his team are growing the ELCA by making its operations more efficient through technological innovation. Jon is responsible for finding technology solutions to facilitate churchwide governance, administration and fundraising. He and his team have been carefully considering AI and its implications for the ministry of the ELCA.

Before the recent surge of interest in generative AI, Beyer and his team were already using machine learning tools to supplement administrative functions and productivity. Tools like BlackBaud CRM, with built-in analytic software, help the fundraising team improve their efforts and interactions with donors. The organization has also held meetings with Microsoft Teams, which has a built-in AI notetaker that uses transcription to compile meeting notes and highlight key action items.

With the explosion of generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Beyer is thinking about the future of these technologies and their implications for the church. The team is developing policies to support and educate the church and its members as they grow alongside AI advances, starting with an AI readiness assessment. Internally, the team is also exploring how generative AI and chat AI can either augment or replace traditional website searches. The team is developing and testing tools to gauge their usefulness for the denomination.


Giovanny Panginda, Youth Pastor and Social Media Lead, Fuller Youth Institute

As a youth pastor for several communities in    Southern California, Geo Panginda uses generative AI to support his ministry. He likens ChatGPT to “the guy in the chair” who supports the main character in a spy film or story (think Jarvis from the Ironman movies). That is, while the main character is out doing the work, they are often in touch with “the guy in the chair” back at base, someone they can call for support with their mission. For pastors, generative AI tools like ChatGPT can offer a helpful resource for the long work of ministry.

The other thing to consider when using tools like ChatGPT is that their usefulness highly depends on us. These tools can only work with what we give them, and the more we tell them, the better they can help us. When writing prompts, specificity and clear parameters are key ingredients for maximizing the usefulness of a tool like ChatGPT.

Panginda has used AI tools to help him plan youth retreats, generate discussion questions, create itineraries and brainstorm fundraising activities. Take youth retreat planning as an example. Panginda prompted ChatGPT to create an outline for a retreat. By setting clear, specific parameters, Panginda used ChatGPT to generate an outline, complete with catchy titles, relevant Bible verses and discussion questions for retreatants. Instead of getting bogged down in formatting a perfect outline, Panginda focused on crafting meaningful lessons for each retreat session. He saved several hours of work, hours that he can now pour back into relational ministry with his students.

ChatGPT can also help rephrase written material intended for different age groups. A lesson on the Trinity for high schoolers lands differently with seven-year-olds, or even with adults on a Sunday morning. Panginda can quickly upload his material to ChatGPT and get suggestions about rephrasing the content for different audiences and demographics. When we are preaching, we always need to keep our audience in mind. ChatGPT can provide useful insights to help us better connect with the communities we serve.

Finally, at the Fuller Youth Institute, Panginda and the team have used tools like Zoom’s captioning service to increase accessibility during meetings, as well as the transcription functions within Adobe Premier for videos and Photoshop’s generative AI to create images for social media posts.


Kyle Walker, Stated Clerk, Grace Presbytery, Texas

Kyle Walker is an integral leadership figure for his presbytery, facilitating meetings, archiving records, serving as parliamentarian and interpreting and upholding the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Walker has successfully used Fireflies.ai – a virtual notetaking assistant – to manage meetings for the presbytery. Fireflies.ai can be added to video conference tools like Zoom to generate a transcript and compile comprehensive notes from each meeting. Walker still keeps a pen and notebook on his desk so he can take many notes by hand, but Fireflies.ai has caught things he might have missed. Walker can then compare the notes after each meeting to make sure nothing is left out for the records.

One of the biggest advantages of Fireflies.ai is that Walker can easily see which participants talk the most during a meeting. Fireflies.ai can quickly compute each attendee’s percentage of speaking time, and Walker uses this information in future meetings to make certain that all attendees have equal opportunity to participate. This use helps Walker create a more equitable environment across the presbytery, although Walker has not yet experimented with it for in-person meetings.


Shawn Kang, Pastor and Central & Western Region Associate, 1001 New Worshiping Communities, Presbyterian Mission Agency, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Shawn Kang is always looking for ways to build connections. In his work as a pastor, Kang has been experimenting with generative AI, finding helpful resources that support the growing network of connections in the kingdom of God.

Tools like Descript can simplify video or podcast editing, such as formatting scenes, fine-tuning audio and performing translation and captioning, all to streamline content creation. Goblin Tools breaks down big projects into small, manageable tasks that can be clearly delegated across a team. Slide shows and educational materials can be developed and formatted seamlessly through tools like Curipod and Gamma. Finally, AI applications like HeyGen and ElevenLabs offer intuitive text-to-speech tools, with additional translation and captioning services. These tools incorporate “AI avatars” to give a human face to the educational or instructional material.

Kang has also been brainstorming ways to employ AI tools on a corporate or churchwide level. Websites with integrated AI chatbots can quickly and intuitively help people find what they are looking for. AI can enhance PDF files; large documents, training resources or manuals can come embedded with an AI search feature to assist users in navigating the PDF by making static material more user-friendly. AI avatars and translation services are also highly compelling, offering potential opportunities for participation, engagement and access in any language.

While his team has not yet implemented any of these large-scale uses, Kang is paying close attention to AI developments and carefully evaluating how these tools might enhance connection in the future.


Lorenzo Lebrija, Executive Director, TryTank Experimental Lab; Chief Innovation Officer, Virginia Theological Seminary

As a trained futurist, Lorenzo Lebrija keeps his eyes on the horizon. He applies his forward-thinking innovative vigor to experimenting with the technological tools of the future, as part of a commitment to finding creative solutions for the “challenges facing the Episcopal church.”

Lebrija and his team are developing several creative AI tools that he hopes will support the ministry of the Episcopal church. The first is Cathy AI. Like ChatGPT, Cathy AI is built on a large-language model (LLM) that processes and predicts natural language to generate responses. ChatGPT draws on a wide range of information, but Cathy AI will be seeded with only Episcopal theology. Any query typed into Cathy AI will then generate an Episcopalian faith-based answer.

Lebrija offers the helpful analogy of a bookshelf to explain. ChatGPT has a really big bookshelf, filled with books and writings from around the world. As a result, faith-based questions typed into ChatGPT are likely to receive answers cobbled from a variety of faith sources. But Cathy AI’s “bookshelf” will contain only books and writings from an Episcopal perspective. Any query typed into Cathy AI will receive a response based entirely on Episcopal theology.

The hope is that Cathy AI may become a touchstone for people who are curious about faith but don’t necessarily have the resources to pursue that curiosity. Cathy AI offers a safe, virtual place for people to explore theological questions. Ultimately, in Lebrija’s vision, Cathy AI will connect users who lack a church home with priests, pastors or mental health services in their area, so they can receive additional support for their questions and needs.

Lebrija’s second tool, also still in development, is more historiographical. Generative AI has the potential to simplify how the Episcopal church records and accesses resolutions going back many years. A chatbot AI could easily retrieve desired material with just a few keystrokes and then compile the data into a comprehensive and readable report.

While these Episcopal church-specific tools are still in development, Lebrija highlights several other generative AI tools available now that can streamline the administrative process of pastoral work. Tools like ChatGPT can assist in brainstorming ministry plans; Axios HQ’s Smart Brevity can enhance the readability of written material; and Grammarly can edit and improve writing. These and similar resources are available now to supplement a variety of ministry needs.


Christopher Lim & Natasha Lim, Co-founders of TheoTech

At TheoTech, Chris and Natasha Lim have developed a product called spf.io: “an all-in-one software for real-time captioning and translation.”

After working in the tech industry, Chris Lim felt called to use AI technology for the Gospel. He writes, “Using AI, [we] created a software platform that promotes language accessibility for Christian communities, providing translation of live events, videos and written content and even personal conversations.”

One of TheoTech’s clients, a church plant, uses spf.io to reach a congregation representing 12 different language groups. Twelve! And all the pastor needs to do is prepare the sermon manuscript in English. The software translates and captions the manuscript, enabling people to worship together in their own language. Spf.io can also do real-time translation and captioning. Using live audio from a pastor or worship leader’s microphone, spf.io can create closed captions for what is being said, or even generate new audio in different languages. The translation software gives people access to a familiar and comfortable vernacular, enabling them to be part of the body of Christ in a multilingual worship setting. The goals are accessibility and inclusivity, regardless of linguistic background.

Spf.io can support more than worship settings. The Presbytery of the Pacific used spf.io for a presbytery meeting with multilingual voting. Delegates could read each voting item in the language most familiar to them, and the community voted on the issues together. Spf.io can even be used to facilitate one-on-one conversations, breaking down language barriers.

Because spf.io uses adaptive AI, the translations can be improved over time, providing better results with each use. As a Presbyterian-sourced tool, spf.io can be programmed with Presbyterian material like the Book of Order, as well as general Christian language, to make translations more accurate in specific contexts. And the more spf.io is deployed in a specific context, congregation or group, the more it evolves in that context, picking up and translating colloquialisms or unique turns of phrase.

As a leader in the Presbyterian church, Chris Lim is committed to helping worshiping communities “create belonging in [their churches] across cultures, languages, abilities and generations.” With tools like spf.io, meeting that commitment becomes more possible every day, as people from various linguistic backgrounds worship together as one.


Editor’s note: Did you notice that most people featured in this article are men? So did we. You may want to read the associated article, “Tech disparities in the Christian world.”

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