The church, specifically pastors and others preparing sermons or resources, faces a new dilemma. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now capable of quickly creating these materials and in just about any format or style that a person would want.
Let me give an example. While eating dinner recently with a few USMB pastors, we started talking about ChatGPT, a general-purpose chatbot that uses artificial intelligence to generate text after a user enters a prompt. We decided to ask ChatGPT to create a sermon from an evangelical perspective on a passage of Scripture. We entered these prompts, and Chat GPT immediately produced a sermon that would probably require about 30 minutes to present orally. Input criteria—boom, product! Pretty cool. Well, maybe. But also, a little troubling.
Chatbots have brought the dilemma of an easy out for pastors who have had a long week, with perhaps an unexpected funeral or intense counseling. It’s Friday and the sermon isn’t written. Why not, just this once, put in the criteria needed and, voila, an instant sermon. The problem with this is that it isn’t from a pastor’s heart. The sermon that ChatGPT spit out to those of us at that table was okay, but in my view, it lacked depth and emotion.
“It lacks a soul – I don’t know how else to say it,” says Hershael York, dean of the school of theology and a professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in an Associated Press interview about AI-generated sermons.
I’ve not ever thought about a sermon having “soul,” but I get what York is saying. When I was pastor at Pine Acres Church in Weatherford, Okla., I enjoyed preparing messages, and in particular a series of sermons that I felt the church family needed at that time. I believe those messages had a purpose even if perhaps they weren’t on par with great preachers of the day.
Don’t worry, I’m not saying your pastor is using ChatGPT to create messages. But how AI will ultimately affect the church is yet to be seen. What does this mean for the church? How can AI be used in a way that benefits the church? Should it even be used at all? How do we know when it is being used?
Thinking about this subject, I did a sneaky test with Christian Leader editor Connie Faber. I sent her a draft of this essay with intentional misquotes and text from a published article presented as my own words. Connie quickly picked up on it. She’s a great editor, and that’s what great editors do. But not everyone is going to check on a column’s veracity or whether a sermon came from the pastor and not a chatbot. Most often it’s up to us to be honorable.
So, a caution to our USMB pastors. Your people want to hear from God through you, not a machine. It might be tempting to skip sermon prep, especially if you’re having a tough week. But a machine can’t capture your heart for your congregation. Your people need your words—inspired by time that you’ve spent with God and the Bible.
Listen to LEAD Pod episode 71 about ChatGPT at https://www.buzzsprout.com/972541/12217707.
Don Morris is the USMB national director. He and his wife, Janna, live in Edmond, Oklahoma, where they attend Cross Timbers Church.