February 7, 2024

AI in Church: What to Know About AI and How It Can Assist in Sermon Preparation

In today’s blog, we will be discussing some of the controversies of AI, how it can be helpful, and how pastors can use AI for sermon preparation. 

Stephen Altrogge

Since the first industrial revolution, mankind has wrestled with the cost and benefits of machines taking the place of human skill and labor. It’s a tale as old as the legend of John Henry, and as popular as the ‘80s classic Terminator. The conversation around man vs. machine becomes evermore present in today’s world with the rise in prominence of Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

For every benefit that AI offers, there seems to be another question raised about the ethics and regulation of AI. AI raises questions across all industries, including pastors in full-time ministry. While pastors may be faced with the ethics of artificial intelligence in the Church, AI can also be used to an advantage –– without compromise to faith.

In today’s blog, I will be discussing some of the controversies of AI, how it can be helpful, and how pastors can use AI for sermon preparation. 

What Exactly Is Artificial Intelligence?

There’s a good chance you may have heard about artificial intelligence, but perhaps you’re still not quite sure what it is. Let’s start by defining AI. 

Machines have historically been invented to simplify or replace physical tasks for the sake of convenience and/or efficiency. For example: (a) using an electric mixer at home instead of whisking cookie dough by hand, or (b) taking public transit instead of commuting by foot. 

With the arrival of computers, machines began taking on tasks of thinking like a human –– such as solving math equations or finding answers to questions. Artificial intelligence is the next step in the evolution of computers. 

According to leading software company BMI, “Artificial intelligence leverages computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.”

Artificial intelligence uses computer science and large sets of data to not only problem solve, but to continually learn and develop new ways of solving problems. AI can be programmed for a variety of uses, such as writing code for software developers, language processing (I.E. writing sentences, human-like responding), making product recommendations (I.E. recommending a shirt that goes with the pants you just ordered online), task management (I.E. monitoring banking information for fraud risk), or even developing digital art. The more data information AI has to work with, the more accurate and efficient it performs.  

If you’re interested in learning more about how artificial intelligence works, you can find out more here

Skepticism Surrounding Artificial Intelligence 

While artificial intelligence certainly has a versatility of practical and efficient uses, why do people still show skepticism toward AI? Well, this has to do with (a) AI’s many capabilities/what can be done with those capabilities, and (b) AI’s limitations due to its reliance on sets of data.

The Ethics and Limitations of Artificial Intelligence

According to international agency UNESCO –– because of artificial intelligence’s reliance on already existing data, there can be a cause for bias over impartiality. The example UNESCO uses is the difference between image searching the keywords “school girl” and “school boy,” using AI. Because of gender stereotypes, the search for “school girl” leads to objectifying images of girls in inappropriate school uniforms. On the other hand, the search for “school boy” “will mostly show ordinary young school boys.” 

Along these lines, UNESCO points out that artificial intelligence in the judicial system can serve as an unbiased judge, but can also lack human discretion and have decisions that are “susceptible to inaccuracies, discriminatory outcomes, embedded or inserted bias.”

Artificial intelligence raises other ethical dilemmas when it comes to deciding human safety. In relation to self-driving cars, UNESCO asks the question of whether or not AI would have enough information to mitigate damage or injury in the face of an unpreventable accident/driving error.

Dilemmas are also raised over AI art, deep fakes, and voice mimicking. AI is able to create original images, videos, stories, and dialogue based on compiled information of already existing art, images, videos, and movies. Additionally, using images of people’s faces and audio recordings –– AI can even create “deep fakes” (computer generating someone’s face onto another person) and create audio that mimics other people’s voices. Because of this, questions are raised over AI promoting propaganda or misinformation, using deceased actor’s likenesses for movies, or creating artificial art. Some of this controversy has been cause for the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike

Lastly it’s worth noting that a major limitation to artificial intelligence is that –– even though it’s able to compute vast datasets of information, AI is still capable of making errors, and isn’t able to perfectly replicate human speech or behavior. 

Why AI Doesn’t Have to Replace Human Creativity, Intuition or Innovation, But Can Help Your Workflow

While some controversies swirl around artificial intelligence and its role in creating, discourse can get caught up in focusing on the ways AI might stunt innovation (as it creates based on already existing data), take the integrity out of art or communication, or reach a developmental point of superintelligence

While these are all valid concerns worth addressing, it’s also worth noting ways artificial intelligence can be used as a tool to assist in any creative or developmental process.  

Rather than doing the creative work itself, AI can be used as a tool to ease the process. In the way that emotional intelligence might complement logical thinking — humans can still innovate creatively and intuitively, while using AI as a tool for efficiency (I.E. the way an accountant might use a spreadsheet to calculate and organize numbers). 

A few examples to explain this dynamic might be: a copywriter has a lot of projects to handle and uses AI to correct grammar and punctuation. Perhaps someone doing research needs to get a general sense of a topic and uses AI to generate a list of ideas worth looking into. Lastly, maybe a pastor is balancing multiple responsibilities within ministry and needs assistance in sermon preparation.

How Pastors Can Use AI for Sermon Preparation

At this point you might be asking yourself, “hold on, how can artificial intelligence help sermon writing?” Before you ball your fist at me, I want to make clear that I’m not suggesting that AI should write the message.

In the same way that artificial intelligence can serve as a tool to ease other profession’s development process or work flow, pastors can use AI to simplify the sermon writing process. 

With the help of AI-led sermon preparation applications, pastors can generate sermon outlines, find relevant verses or stories in the Bible for a given topic, conduct research, develop character studies and even come up with modern day examples of biblical teachings. 

Pastors are still called to have a personal relationship with Jesus, studying God’s Word, and preparing a God-inspired message, with sound doctrine, for the congregation. AI sermon preparation applications simply ease the process of organizing that sermon, providing faster research, and coming up with relevant examples and ideas to strengthen that message. 

Artificial Intelligence Can be An Advantageous Tool

With an invention of technology as advanced as artificial intelligence, it’s worth considering the ethics of how it might be used. Although, AI also has a lot to offer — even for pastors. While AI shouldn’t take the job of writing the sermon itself, it can certainly provide convenience and efficiency in the writing process.

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