Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is a hot topic these days. A.I. language software has demonstrated the ability to answer legal exam questions that fooled the examiner, write a speech for the Prime Minister, which he accepted, and produce a successful proposal for many new projects. Could A.I. ever replace the sermon?
Like it or not, A.I. is here to stay, provoking heavy-weight discussions within world governments, including the UN regarding its use and potential misuse (who can forget the dangers of Skynet becoming conscious in the Terminator film franchise!) A.I. could offer many possibilities and potential for the future, but like so many things, it is open to perversion, manipulation, and abuse. Our media has covered the images of the Pentagon on fire, the Pope in a fur coat just to name a couple of misuses that I can recall. I believe we need to take A.I. seriously as Christians, and it may be a gift; I simply worry that we are blindly and uncritically accepting it.
There are ethical implications we need to consider, implications of AI in areas like the study of salvation and the study of the end times. The church should engage in thoughtful reflection to navigate such issues. A.I. could be a tool for good, but we need to be aware of its pitfalls, the potential for inequality, manipulation, and control. How many of us are aware of the investment of billions of dollars by Microsoft, and the plans to integrate it into the next Office software release, the tool so many of us use daily without question. Does this not pose us a moral dilemma?
A.I. does have the capacity to create short sermons or reflections that others can read if you are short of a speaker on a Sunday, but who checks the theology? Could this new technology become a tool for reaching countless souls for Christ or a medium for the enemy to spread false information? I’m not sure I have reached a conclusion, but I think there is a real need for a serious debate.
For those who may doubt the ability of a computer to replace a leader in the church, let me share a question I asked A.I. ‘How can we share the gospel in a rural context?’ Here is the reply:
“Sharing the gospel in a rural context can involve a unique set of considerations. Here are some practical suggestions for effectively sharing the message of the gospel in rural communities:
1. Build Relationships: In rural settings, building genuine relationships is often highly valued. Take the time to get to know individuals, listen to their stories, and show interest in their lives. By establishing trust and demonstrating care, you can create opportunities for gospel conversations.
2. Engage in Community Activities: Participate in local community activities and events. Attend local festivals, agricultural fairs, or community gatherings. Engaging in these activities allows you to connect with people, understand their context, and build bridges for sharing the gospel naturally.
3. Be Present and Available: Spend time within the community and be available for conversations. Frequent local gathering places, such as cafes, general stores, or parks, where people tend to gather and socialize. Be open to discussions and sensitive to opportunities to share the gospel as relationships develop.
4. Share Personal Testimonies: Personal testimonies are powerful in rural contexts. Share how your faith has impacted your life and brought about positive change. People in rural communities often appreciate authenticity and relatability, so sharing personal stories can resonate deeply.
5. Utilise Relevant Illustrations: Utilise examples and illustrations that are relatable to rural life. Connect the principles of the gospel with agricultural imagery, nature, or everyday experiences that people in rural settings can easily understand and relate to.
6. Host Small Group Bible Studies: Create opportunities for small group Bible studies or discussion groups. These gatherings can take place in homes, community centres, or even outdoor settings. Focus on topics relevant to rural life and provide a safe space for questions, discussions, and exploration of faith.
7. Show Practical Love and Care: Demonstrate the love of Christ through practical acts of service and care. Offer assistance to those in need, whether it's helping with chores, providing practical support, or offering a listening ear. Such acts of kindness can open doors for sharing the gospel and show the tangible impact of Christ's love.
Remember to approach sharing the gospel with humility, respect for local customs and traditions, and a willingness to learn from the community. By genuinely engaging with people, demonstrating God's love through actions, and sharing the message of hope in ways that resonate with their rural context, you can make a meaningful impact.”
Theologically and strategically, there is not a lot that I could argue with this. Might A.I. help us to reach others with the Good News of Jesus? Might it offer us a way to free up clergy time in multi parish settings for pastoral and missional engagement? Or will it simply feed our over-reliance on technology so that we no longer rely on the Holy Spirit? I have so many questions and am nervous about us sleep-walking into a future that is not ‘of God.’ What do you think? I’d love to know, and perhaps be part of a bigger conversation on this one.
P.S. The image above was also designed by A.I. when I asked it to create a picture of a rural church!
Simon Mattholie CEO Rural Ministries