September 22, 2023

How AI Can Help Benefit the Church: Preventing “Pastor Burnout”

Between addressing current events, leading the church team, staying in touch with members of the congregation, fund raising, spending time with God, as well as developing and delivering a weekly sermon, it’s easy to see why many pastors experience burnout.

Noah Cecil

With modern, advanced technology, we certainly live in a time that looks a lot different than it did in the days of the early Church. 

Because of the vast channels of information coming at us on a daily basis, life can perhaps start to feel overwhelming. Some might even argue that the immediacy of such mass communication, whether at our fingertips or in the world that surrounds us, confronts the Church with more distractions from God than ever before. 

As technology further advances, society as a whole is now learning to grasp with the development of Artificial Intelligence.


While to some this concept may raise concern, stirring some communities of the Church to grapple with the role that a man-made intelligence may play in our devotional lives, we’re here to shed light on how AI can actually be used to benefit the Church. 

Pastors Are Faced With a Problem

Whether pastoring a small, local church, a mega-church or any size in between, pastoral leadership is a role that requires many different hats. Between addressing current events, leading the church team, staying in touch with members of the congregation, fund raising, spending time with God, as well as developing and delivering a weekly sermon, it’s easy to see why many pastors experience burnout. 

In fact, surveys show that from 2015 to 2022 those who felt their job as a pastor to be “very satisfying” has dropped from 72% to 52%. As Western North Carolina Conference puts it, “Between emotional exhaustion, chronic stress, and the ramp-up in pastors experiencing burnout, ministry has never felt more difficult,” noting that, “the crisis is more acute with younger church leaders than it is with older pastors.”

This can be a sign of concern for the Church. According to the church coaching ministry, Gravity Leadership, “Because the health of a leader impacts the health of a church, we’ll see a ripple effect of pastoral exhaustion that could damage churches for years to come.”

What is Pastor Burnout?

What exactly is “pastor burnout”? Gravity Leadership further explains that “Experts define pastor burnout [...] as a complex set of symptoms that includes emotional exhaustion, a high degree of depersonalization exhibited in negative and detached reactions, and a low sense of personal accomplishment.”

Burnout prevention specialist and former pastor Bonita Eby, asserts that “Overwhelming ministry stress is at the heart of burnout among the clergy. The daily pressures of carrying vast amounts of responsibility, often with inadequate resources, can leave pastors feeling exhausted,” specifying that “This can be true at all levels whether the person is a senior pastor or in youth ministry.”

It’s clear that in such a time as this, pastors can use all the help they can get. In this blog, we’ll be showing how AI can provide that help. 

2 Ways That Sermonly Helps to Prevent Pastor Burnout

Developed by pastors for pastors, Sermon.ly has developed an AI tool that streamlines the process of creating weekly sermons. Through AI, pastors are able to conduct research, develop outlines and character studies, and relate biblical topics to modern day examples in a smart and efficient way. 

Sermon.ly helps pastors to fully express the word that God has put on their hearts, giving them the tools to tackle the message directly. 

#1: Saving Time in Sermon Prep

The Church has many moving pieces in which the pastor must be aware of, in order to ensure the congruence of the ministry’s culture and values. Though one of the pastor’s most substantial tasks is (of course) to write and deliver a weekly sermon to the congregation. 

While those in pastoral positions have the unique gift of interpreting and communicating God’s word in an inspiring, informative or prophetic way, it can be time consuming. When preparing a sermon, it takes a seasoned pastor 10 to 18 hours on average and, again –– that’s a seasoned pastor, which means that number may skew higher for budding pastors. By this standard, pastors are spending approximately 400 to 720 hours a year in sermon preparation alone. 

For this reason, the relationship between pastor and AI, acting as architect and foreman, can be a means for cutting down prep time. Where it’s the pastor’s duty to seek the Lord and discover the kind of  message that God is placing on their heart –– i.e., “the blueprint,” the function of AI is to assist the pastor in the process of structuring and building that message –– i.e., “the assembly.”

How to Use AI for Research

When it comes to best practice for preparing a sermon, the pastor should do a formal study surrounding the message in order to give a well rounded view of what others may have discussed on the topic –– such as textual evidence, original language translations, sermons, articles or commentaries. 

The more diverse the range of data is, whether it’s informing differing opinions on the message’s topic or supporting the evidence of what’s being taught, the more effective the sermon may be. Understandably, gathering relevant data from a variety of different sources isn’t quite time-cost efficient when it comes to sermon prep. With the advantage of AI, pastors now have a more accessible, simplified option of compiling research in a more efficient, timely manner. 

With the mechanics of an AI system such as Sermon.ly, pastors have an easier way of planning out and structuring their sermons, weeks –– even months ahead. This is especially helpful when putting together an ongoing sermon series. Using AI to generate outlines for the pastor’s teaching cuts down on organizational prep time, allowing the pastor to focus on the bigger picture. 

#2: Creating a Relatable Message

AI not only assists in the process of research and outlining, but it can even go as far as building character studies and relating biblical topics to modern day examples. Contextualizing biblical topics and characters to a modern day audience is an effective way of developing a universal pathos that the congregation is able to connect with. 

Impacting lives through a relatable message can especially be essential for youth ministry. Education expert Mia Finch asserts, ”kids are engaged to learn by creating a connection between what they learn in the classroom, its value, and how to apply it in the real world.” 

AI for Youth Pastors

When it comes to raising up the next generation of believers in an engaging, thoughtful and influential way, the role of youth pastor is no simple calling. Aside from the administrative side of organizing events, working with a team of youth leaders, preparing sermons, games and ice-breaker activities, youth pastors must also actively engage with students –– observing relationships, imparting wisdom, giving advice and checking in, while establishing a level of trust and authority. This of course can be demanding, requiring both physical and mental energy. 

For this reason, the practicality of AI is just as necessary for someone in a youth pastor position as it is for a senior pastor. As stated earlier, burnout affects both types of pastors –– especially younger leaders in the Church.

Conclusion

As leaders, called to steward the kingdom of God by guiding its congregations through spiritual mentorship, teachings and advice in accordance with the Word of God, pastors are pivotal to the livelihood of the Church. Between addressing the issues of the world, teaching the Bible and running the moving parts of the Church, it’s easy to see how AI can act as a necessary resource for assisting the pastor and thus sustaining the health of the Church.

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