Preaching In The Age Of AI

Preaching In The Age Of AI

Brent Pollard

While scrolling through a social media site, I stumbled upon a post by a concerned brother claiming that the latest AI technology would threaten the preaching profession. Although I have heard similar complaints from artists and writers, I was surprised to hear this argument from a preacher.

Artificial intelligence has caused much hysteria; some individuals have even linked its presence to their eschatological beliefs. Others fear Hollywood-like plots of machines subjugating humanity. These responses perplex me, as people will always find a way to misuse technology. Therefore, shouldn’t the same concerns be applied consistently to other tools that improve a preacher’s ability to research and communicate?

For instance, did anyone anticipate preachers becoming lazy once word processors became affordable? Did the brethren scorn those preachers who created books of sermon outlines for other preachers and Bible teachers or innovative creators of computer resources such as Mark Copeland’s “Executable Outlines”? If not, why not?

What makes AI so different from these tools that it would make preachers lazy and turn their preparation into copy-and-paste endeavors? We should not view AI’s potential for automating specific tasks and removing additional steps differently. The hyperbolic language surrounding AI technology is unjustified, and we should not dismiss the potential benefits of AI without proper consideration.

So, how should a minister or Bible school teacher use artificial intelligence ethically? For starters, AI is good at presenting summaries of online articles. If you are researching and unsure whether you can use a specific lengthy article in your preparation, artificial intelligence can quickly provide the “TL;DR version.” This step will tell you whether you should spend time reading an article and gleaning points to use as illustrations or to support your points.

Second, AI is capable of assisting you with grammar and syntax. Though lacking the interface of AIs like Bard or ChatGPT, AI tools like Quillbot can help you paraphrase your sentences in various voices, from fluent to creative. You can use these AIs to make the sentences more concise or straightforward. When combining your writing with Grammarly’s AI, you can correct yourself when you use passive voice or split infinitives.

Third, AI can potentially be a fantastic tool for expository preaching. ChatGPT and Bard are two examples of AI language models. Programmers train these language models using a large corpus of text from various sources. At the moment, ChatGPT is using the GPT-3.5 architecture. Developers train these AI on a vast dataset that includes billions of words from multiple sources, such as books, articles, web pages, and social media. The Bible is one of the texts that programmers use to train AI language models because specific translations, such as the King James Version, are in the public domain.

When you ask ChatGPT to generate an expository outline from a passage, you should double-check the results, but it does an excellent job of clarifying the context in which a Scripture appears. And, if you’re careful with your prompts, you can ask ChatGPT to provide a literal interpretation free of man’s erroneous interpretations. For example, when I inquired about Acts 2.38, it responded that baptism was for the remission of sins. (Had I only asked what Acts 2.38 means, ChatGPT would have provided various ecumenical interpretations.) 

There are other beneficial applications, to be sure, but it would be remiss of me not to include this caveat. If you want to be lazy and have AI do your lesson prep, remember that AI cannot assist you in your most important role. As Paul reminds Titus, “….show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech that is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2.7-8 NASB1995).

AI lacks emotion and real-world experience. In comparison, preaching is a highly relational profession. As a result, artificial intelligence cannot replace preachers’ personal connection and example to their congregations. Any minister who thinks he can get away with abusing any tool as a shortcut to fulfilling his task will quickly find himself called out on the carpet by those in leadership.

In closing, artificial intelligence is not a threat to the preaching profession but a valuable tool that can enhance a minister’s effectiveness. By using AI ethically to summarize articles, improve grammar and syntax, and assist with expository preaching, ministers can save time and increase the quality of their messages.However, it is essential to remember that AI cannot replace the personal connection and guidance ministers provide to their congregations. Ministers should use AI as a tool to assist and support them rather than as a replacement for the vital human element of ministry. By using AI responsibly, ministers can continue to fulfill their essential role with excellence and effectiveness.

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