Should Pastors Use AI in Sermon Preparation?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a field of computer science that focuses on creating machines or systems that can perform tasks that normally require human intelligence. AI has been used in a wide range of fields and industries, including:
Healthcare: AI has been used to develop tools for disease diagnosis, drug discovery, and medical imaging analysis. It can help doctors and researchers to analyze vast amounts of patient data and identify patterns that may be difficult for humans to detect.
Finance: AI is used to detect fraud, to make investment decisions, and to automate routine tasks such as loan approvals or credit assessments. AI-powered chatbots are also used to assist customers with their financial needs.
Transportation: AI is being used to develop self-driving cars, traffic management systems, and predictive maintenance for vehicles. It can help reduce traffic congestion, accidents, and improve the overall safety of transportation systems.
Retail: AI is used to provide personalized recommendations to customers based on their shopping history, preferences, and behavior. It can also help with inventory management and supply chain optimization.
Education: AI is used to develop personalized learning tools, chatbots for student support, and to automate grading and assessment tasks. It can help educators to identify areas of improvement and adjust teaching methods to suit individual student needs.
These are just a few examples of the many fields and industries that have seen the adoption of AI in recent years. AI has the potential to transform how we work, live, and interact with the world around us. However, as with any new technology, it is important to carefully consider the benefits and risks of its use, and to ensure that it is used ethically and responsibly.
This brings us to the point of this article. I am not concerned so much about whether AI can be used in Sermon Preparation – I know that it can – but should it? Let’s consider the advantages and disadvantages.
- Time-saving: One of the most significant advantages of using AI to write sermons is the time it saves. An AI-powered sermon preparation tool can quickly analyze vast amounts of data, including scripture passages, theological texts, and historical sermons, to identify themes and generate outlines. This can save pastors a significant amount of time that they can then allocate to other tasks, such as counseling, community outreach, or worship planning.
- Consistency: Another benefit of using AI to write sermons is the consistency it provides. AI algorithms can analyze patterns in language, tone, and delivery, and generate sermons that are consistent with a particular style or message. This can be particularly useful in churches with multiple pastors or rotating speakers, as it ensures that the message is consistent across different sermons.
- Improved organization: AI-powered sermon preparation tools can help pastors to better organize their sermons, by generating outlines or suggesting relevant scripture passages. This can help pastors to structure their sermons in a more logical and compelling way, and to ensure that they cover all the necessary topics or themes. It can also help pastors to stay on track during their sermons and avoid meandering or disorganized delivery.
- Better use of data and analytics: AI can help pastors to make better use of data and analytics in their sermon preparation. For example, an AI-powered tool can analyze data on congregational demographics, preferences, or feedback, and suggest sermon topics or themes that are most relevant or compelling to the congregation. This can help pastors to tailor their sermons to the needs and interests of their congregation, and to ensure that their message is received positively.
- Enhanced creativity: Finally, AI can enhance a pastor's creativity by generating new ideas or perspectives that they may not have considered otherwise. By analyzing data and identifying patterns, AI can suggest connections between seemingly disparate themes or passages, and help pastors to develop fresh and innovative sermon content. This can help pastors to stay engaged and energized in their work, and to continually challenge themselves and their congregation.
- Lack of personal touch: One of the main disadvantages of using AI to write sermons is that it can lack the personal touch and individuality that a pastor's own voice and experiences bring to a sermon. AI-generated sermons may lack the nuance, emotional depth, and personal connection that pastors can bring to their sermons, which can make them less impactful and less relatable to the congregation.
- Inability to incorporate specific congregational needs: Another potential disadvantage of using AI to write sermons is the inability to incorporate specific congregational needs. An AI-powered tool may not be able to account for the unique needs, experiences, and concerns of a particular congregation, which can make sermons feel disconnected or irrelevant. A pastor's own knowledge of the congregation and their experiences can be essential in crafting a sermon that resonates with their audience.
- Potential ethical concerns: There are also ethical concerns with using AI to write sermons. If the use of AI results in a reduction in human involvement in sermon preparation, this may have an impact on job security for pastors and the nature of their vocation. Why should the congregation be paying you a salary if you are dependent on AI to do your research and preparation for you? In addition, how does the congregation feel about having a sermon preached to them that was mainly written by a computer?
- Questionable theological accuracy: AI-generated sermons may not always be theologically accurate or align with the pastor's own beliefs. This is because the AI algorithm is only as good as the data it is fed and the assumptions it makes, which may be influenced by bias or a lack of contextual understanding. Pastors need to be able to critically assess the sermon content that the AI tool generates and ensure it aligns with their theological beliefs. In my testing of two of the most popular AI systems (ChatGPT and Jasper) I found that I had to check each scripture reference to make sure it was accurate. It was about 90% of the time. I also noticed it sometimes leaned heavily towards Calvinism in some cases, and Arminianism in others.
- Lack of authenticity: Finally, using AI to write sermons may lead to a lack of authenticity in the sermon delivery. Sermons are not just about the content, but also the delivery, and using an AI-generated script may feel inauthentic or stilted. It can be challenging for a pastor to communicate the passion, energy, and personal connection that are essential to delivering a meaningful sermon when using an AI-generated script. At the very least the pastor will need to go over the outline or manuscript and rewrite portions of it to have a more human touch.
It is important to consider these potential drawbacks when weighing the decision to use AI for sermon preparation. Ultimately, pastors must carefully weigh the pros and cons of using AI and decide if it aligns with their goals for their sermons and ministry.
- The role of the pastor as a messenger: The use of AI to write sermons raises important questions about the role of the pastor as a messenger of God's Word. While AI-generated sermons may be efficient and effective, they lack the personal connection and spiritual authority that comes from a pastor speaking from their own experiences and faith and reliance on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is important for pastors to consider how their use of AI for sermon preparation may impact their own spiritual authority and their ability to serve as a conduit for God's message.
- The impact on congregational engagement: The use of AI to write sermons may also have an impact on congregational engagement. A pastor's ability to connect with their congregation is essential to creating a meaningful and transformative worship experience. AI-generated sermons may not be able to achieve the same level of engagement and connection as a sermon crafted by a pastor who understands their congregation's unique needs and perspectives.
- The importance of preaching in Christian tradition: Preaching has been a central component of Christian worship since the earliest days of the church. It is seen as a way to communicate God's word to the congregation and to inspire and challenge them in their faith. The use of AI to write sermons may call into question the importance of preaching in Christian tradition, and how technology may be changing the way that the message of the church is communicated.
- Balancing technological advancements with spiritual growth: Finally, the use of AI to write sermons highlights the ongoing need for churches to balance technological advancements with spiritual growth. While technology can be a useful tool for pastors and congregations, it is important to ensure that it is used in a way that supports, rather than undermines, spiritual growth and the mission of the church. This requires careful consideration of the ethical and theological implications of using AI for sermon preparation, as well as a commitment to maintaining the human connections and spiritual values that are essential to Christian worship.
Here are some examples of commands I used for ChatGPT, and the actual sermon outlines that it produced:
Command: Write a detailed sermon outline based on John 1:1-3. Use the English Standard Version of the Bible for Reference. Include an Introduction, Main Points, and a Conclusion.
Sermon Outline: In the Beginning Was the Word
Introduce the text: John 1:1-3
Highlight the importance of the opening verses of John's Gospel
Explain the concept of the Word (logos)
Preview the main points of the sermon
I. The Word was with God (John 1:1)
- Emphasize the pre-existence of the Word
- Highlight the intimate relationship between the Word and God
- Provide Scriptural support for the relationship between the Word and God (Proverbs 8:22-30, John 17:5)
- Emphasize the divinity of the Word
- Explain the concept of the Trinity
- Provide Scriptural support for the divinity of the Word (Isaiah 9:6, John 20:28, Colossians 1:15-20)
III. The Word was the Creator (John 1:2-3)
- Highlight the creative power of the Word
- Explain the significance of the Word's creative activity
- Provide Scriptural support for the creative power of the Word (Genesis 1:1-3, Psalm 33:6, Colossians 1:16)
Command: Write a detailed sermon outline based on the topic, LIVING A LIFE OF INTEGRITY. Use the English Standard Version of the Bible for Reference. Place Scripture references in parentheses. Include an Introduction, Main Points, and a Conclusion.
Sermon Outline: Living a Life of Integrity
Introduce the topic: Living a Life of Integrity
Highlight the importance of integrity in the Christian life
Provide a definition of integrity
Preview the main points of the sermon
Main Points:I. The Definition of Integrity (Proverbs 11:3)
- Explain the meaning of integrity
- Highlight the importance of living a life of integrity
- Provide Scriptural support for the importance of integrity
- Emphasize the benefits of living a life of integrity
- Explain the relationship between integrity and trust
- Provide Scriptural support for the benefits of integrity
III. The Challenges to Living a Life of Integrity (1 Peter 2:12)
- Acknowledge the challenges to living a life of integrity
- Highlight the importance of perseverance in maintaining integrity
- Provide Scriptural support for the challenges of integrity
- Highlight the ultimate example of integrity in the life of Jesus
- Explain how Jesus demonstrated integrity in his life and ministry
- Provide Scriptural support for the example of Jesus
While AI produces some tremendous benefits for sermon preparation, I would recommend that you use it sparingly. I think it is a great tool to come up with new ideas, and even sermon outlines, but based on everything I have learned and stated above, the main writer of your sermon should be you. If you have adequately studied and are relying on the guidance of the Spirit, you should be fully capable of preparing your own messages.
While you should use helps such as commentaries, other reference sources, and if needed, sermon outline books, the final product should be yours. Even though our website offers full manuscript sermons for sale, it was always with the intention that the minister would take those sermons and rewrite, edit them, etc… until they became their own.
The bottom line is really up to you. What are your thoughts? I’d love to see your comments below.