While the pastoral calling remains enduring and sacred, pastoral ministry is quickly evolving.
AI has broken free from science fiction, and some pastors, rightly, feel a little wary. They fear for the privacy of their congregations, they doubt the accuracy of such a new tool, and they wonder if embracing AI means shirking the patient, honorable work of study that has shaped church ministry for centuries.
But it may be possible for even the most hesitant pastor to appreciate, and even embrace, how AI can amplify a church’s impact. We sat down with Josh Burnett, founder of CHURCH.TECH, a platform that leverages AI to maximize church leaders’ ministry, to learn more.
1. Making Room for Ministry
The demands of the pastorate are many, from scheduling a campus clean-up day to planning the next prayer breakfast, with research and sermon preparation sprinkled in between. Church leaders understand the importance of praying, learning, counseling, and ministering, yet needless distractions often consume hours that could be devoted to nurturing souls.
AI offers pastors the gift of time. Administrative tasks, weekly reports, emails and study guides, and church database management can all be streamlined with AI. The time spent creating sermon summaries for the livestream page and sending out reminders about the church softball sign-ups can instead be invested in relationship building and congregational care. An hour planning social media posts is now spent over coffee with a new visitor. In the time it previously took to lay out the church bulletin, a pastor is able to connect with a bereaved congregant.
“AI has the potential to save pastors a tremendous amount of time and effort,” says Burnett. “It allows them to focus on what they excel at: making disciples who can in turn discipline others." AI is, at its best, making more room for actual ministry.
2. Prioritizing Divine Revelation
The heart of pastoral ministry lies in divine revelation: the unwavering commitment to seek God's guidance through his Word and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Some may fear that AI could replace this sacred connection, reducing pastors from shepherds to machine operators.
But “there's a fine line between painstaking research and meaningful engagement with scripture,” says Burnett. While the pastorate shouldn’t require proficiency in translating all the biblical languages, “it's about mastery in understanding and applying the Bible's teachings to the congregation.”
AI will never be able to replace pastors. It can never replicate the personal, empathetic, and spiritual connections with congregations. It can never change course unexpectedly based on promptings of the Holy Spirit. It can never be informed by prayer and meditation.
There are so many things that only a pastor can do for a congregation and in church ministry, so why then, can’t we help lift the burden of those responsibilities that can be shared? AI is a tool to facilitate a pastor’s mastery and connection, not undermine them.
3. Respecting the Guardrails
"There's no one-size-fits-all approach to AI governance in churches,” says Burnett. “The real safeguard lies in the character of the pastor and the oversight of a vigilant elder board.”
AI has the potential to be an invaluable aid, supplying additional context and content distillation. In just a few minutes, it can provide pages of information on the people of Thessalonica, compile every Bible verse on money and generosity, and then summarize and compare dissertations on allusions found in Job. But, as Burnett implies, AI can also be a disreputable source, offering fictionalized accounts, biased results, and incorrect references.
Ultimately, each user is responsible for evaluating the AI’s output and determining how and if that content is valid, just as pastors would consider any other resource. In this way, “technology is to be a servant, not a master,” says Burnett. AI presents a bottomless well of information, and it cannot protect a pastor against error. But the discerning hand of church leadership, guided by the wisdom of Scripture and the Holy Spirit, can ensure the accuracy and validity of the content.
4. Creating Deeper Connections
Pastoral ministry thrives on connection, which many fear AI can devalue or dissolve. In reality, AI can create sets of information that give pastors so much information about their congregants. This data can be used to better understand the issues facing their communities. A pastor likely cannot manage a daily or weekly check in with each of their congregants. They wouldn’t know the average amount a member spends on groceries each month, nor would they be able to accurately anticipate the economy’s impact on different groups within the church.
But AI can provide this information, and in handing these tools to the pastor, it equips them to better understand and reach their congregants. With this information, pastors can cater sermon series, after-church Q&As, outreach events, and children’s programs to address the specific needs of their people, exponentially multiplying their effort and impact.
5. Embracing AI with Reservation and Excitement
Just as the printing press revolutionized the church and the role of the pastor, so too will AI. Technology, no matter the form, holds incredible promise–but only when wielded responsibly.
Pastors and church leaders stand at the intersection of tradition and innovation. The path forward is not one of fear but of thoughtful consideration as AI presents itself as a partner in pastoral ministry. If you’re interested in learning more about how AI can transform your church ministry, check out new tools from CHURCH.TECH.