Artificial Intelligence and Ministry
The rapid advancement of technology over the last several decades has brought many new and pressing issues to the forefront. No one ever heard of television until less than 100 years ago and radio is less than 125 years old. Many new technologies have had both positive and negative impacts on the world. Our role as Christians is to steward every tool well using it with great wisdom and care. One such discussion that has arisen recently is the subject of pastors using artificial intelligence for sermon preparation. Christianity Today recently published a piece by YI-LI LIN where they discuss the supposed helps for pastoral ministry that they believe ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence tool could offer. Citing the lack of time for sermon preparation is one cornerstone of the piece:
“For many pastors, there is never enough time for sermon preparation. When I was in seminary, one of my classes required students to draw up a schedule of a typical week in a pastor’s life. The professor critiqued the schedule I submitted as having ‘too much time for sermon preparation.’ Indeed, after researching and writing a sermon and dealing with all the administrative work, leading additional ministries, serving as an official of our presbytery, and continuing my education, I find my time for actual pastoral care is very limited.”1
Balancing life is a key component for any person, especially pastors. It is part of their basic calling that they are to be invested in multiple different realms (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Administrative duties, pastoral care, counseling, sermon preparation, and others have characterized pastoral ministry since the beginning. As a pastor myself, I do not deny there can be difficult seasons that are crunched for time, that comes along with the calling. Yet, the solution that this piece from Christianity Today offers is frankly chilling:
“Some of us may have already experienced entering a text into ChatGPT and asking it to generate a short sermon or sermon outline of 500–800 words. (One option is the AI Sermon Outline Generator available on the OpenBible website.) If necessary, users can expand from the outline option to a full sermon that is at least moderately accurate and free of errors. Obviously, however, a 100 percent AI-generated sermon would miss the context of the speaker and the congregation.”2
Supposedly, pastors need to allow AI to generate a bulk of their sermons affording them the opportunity for more time. Should pastoral ministry go this direction? I will give a resounding no to that question stating outrightly that the suggestion of implementing such an idea is an embarrassment and degradation to the noble office of pastoral ministry.
A Flawed View of Ministry and Preaching
I believe that we get to the heart of the issue when LIN writes his theology of what a pastor is actually to do in preaching. He states:
“What, then, is the role of the preacher? According to Danish bishop Marianne Gaarden, preachers merely provide their own voices as vehicles for the Holy Spirit to move their congregations to receive the Word individually. In her qualitative research, Gaarden found that when a sermon is given, the church enters a ‘Third Room … where the listener’s own experiences are met with the words of the preacher.’
Preaching—be it preparing a sermon or delivering the words to a congregation—is a process that currently involves a speaker, the influence of numerous people living and dead, and the Holy Spirit. I believe that within these actions, there is room for the work of AI too.”3
This is a disastrous view of the role of a preacher. The role of the preacher is not to add his voice as a vehicle. Neither is the objective for the preacher’s words to meet the listeners ears. Scripture is abundantly clear that the role of the pastor is to “preach the Word” of the living and true God (2 Timothy 4:1-2)! The congregation does not need my ideas or opinions, the congregation needs the Word of God Almighty. How can a preacher deliver the Word of God unless they know it? How can they know it if they are not making time to dive into it? How can they be changed in their souls to deliver a Christ-exalting, Gospel-saturated, Spirit-driven, exegetically-sound, sermon unless they know and are changed by the text? LIN’s definition of preaching falls woefully short of the biblical one found in the pages of Scripture. To put it bluntly, he cites a woman’s definition of preaching who is clearly not qualified for pastoral ministry given the stipulations of 1 Timothy 2:11-12. It is tragic to see such faulty views of pastoral ministry and preaching in broad “evangelical” circles today.
We Must Labor Well
ChatGPT could never work for sermon preparation. Saying it can demonstrates a woeful view of the sufficiency of Scripture. Indeed, LIN even says that he could “ask ChatGPT to write a story of Jesus riding a motorcycle into town based on Scripture and then can add more context and continue to adjust the plot to make my point.”4 Brethren, your sermons do not need made up stories of Jesus on a motorcycle. They need text after text, line after line, truth after truth mined from the Word of God. Pastors are commanded to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).” You and I are commanded to give ourselves fully in this task and glorious calling that Christ has given to us. We are to immerse ourselves so that our progress may be apparent to all (1 Timothy 4:15-16). Our mandate before God is to work hard at all of life, and that certainly includes both preaching and sermon preparation. Saying a pastor could use ChatGPT for sermon preparation is like stating that a professional athlete could have someone else train for them. It just doesn’t work! Indeed, it is against the fundamental calling of a pastor.
Christianity Today apparently recognized the lack of an ability for AI to generate sermons back in January of this year saying:
“The best moments of the sermon preparations aren’t when the commentaries are opened or the Greek or Hebrew words have been accurately translated, but when the pastor’s life is opened up in the presence of the Living Christ and His Spirit does what only the Spirit can do in restoring and transforming the pastor’s life more and more into the likeness of Christ. Until this happens, there’s no sermon. There are only words.
The Word must be in the pastor. The Word must be in the sermon – otherwise, it’s not preaching.
And honestly, AI will never be able to do that.”5
Sadly, Christianity Today, like many institutions has often wavered on many key points. Let us not waver being tossed to and fro, let us stand strong on the Word of God. May we preach biblically and entrust the results to the Lord. He works by His Spirit through His Word in the hearts of men. Let us study, labor, preach, and live in a way that testifies that Christ is worth all of our effort. May we run the race according to the rules He has set for us so that we might not be disqualified from the race!