The Implications of AI in Christian Ministry: Key Questions


Artificial Intelligence is an unavoidable reality for every area of human endeavor and interaction— whether business, transportation, military, education, or even ministry. And while a great many articles, books, and blogs are already underway around this growing trend, I want to pull back and simply ask some specific questions related to my own primary field—Christian ministry. I have a theory: Over the coming decades, AI won’t replace ministry leaders or churches; but leaders and churches who use AI will replace those who don’t. AI has deep and direct implications even in the field of Christian ministry and how churches seek to affect change in the hearts and homes of our people. The conversation around AI is an ocean, this is a puddle. Please, help me make the puddle deeper…

  1. Legendary Professor of innovation at Harvard Business School, Michael Tushman, writes this in Lead & Disrupt, “Organizations faced with disruption need to somehow compete in mature businesses where continued improvement and cost reduction are often the keys to success [exploitation] and pursue new technologies and business models that require experimentation and innovation [exploration]” (emphasis mine; p.14—summarizing Clayton Christensen’s conclusions in The Innovator’s Dilemma). For example, the “disruptions” of steam power and electricity transformed industry and therefore society (i.e., railroad, automobiles, manufacturing, etc.). AI is fast becoming a disruption. Even at this early point, the emerging technological advances of Artificial Intelligence look to enjoy unimaginable and radical industry and societal transformation. How can futuristic church leaders most effectively incorporate AI into ministry—leveraging the impact of new technology to “make the most of every opportunity” to fulfill our biblical mission of making more disciples of Jesus Christ?
  2. Experts are predicting that AI will have tectonic plate shift impact on every industry—even comparing it to the Cambrian explosion (“Big Bang”) which, some believe, was the genesis of new life. But what about the spiritual realm or religious “industry”? More specifically, is Christian spiritual growth or Christian ministry beyond the reach of AI transformation?
  3. Certainly, AI could be used to advance certain forms of spiritual growth? But can/should it be used to advance certain functions? Ought present leaders and futurists pause long enough to ask the question of not just CAN we but SHOULD we fully leverage AI in ministry? And what factors should be a part of that decision-making process?
  4. What are the spiritual and ethical implications of incorporating AI into ministry?
  5. What impact would AI automation of various Christian ministry services and function have on various professional offices of ministry currently, such as teachers, preachers, ministry directors? Would you want your kids in children’s ministry areas taught by a robot? Would you want to be led by a Worship Pastor robot? Would a team entrust the development of vision and strategies to a StratOp robot?
  6. What other ministry applications could AI intersect? What about using AI for online prayer bots? Would those prayers be effectual if they are generated by a computer? Would they be effectual since those computers/programs/algorithms were created by humans?
  7. Consider inputting thousands of messages from world-class preachers and asking the AI machine to create biblical, clear, creative, compelling, on-demand messages on issues hitting high felt needs— including applications that involve a specific context and a specific response. Is that possible? Wouldn’t that be unbiblical or ungodly? Don’t you need the spiritual gift of preaching to create a message that has transformative value? And what does this imply regarding the power of the Word of God for the individual’s heart that is connecting with it if it was gathered and applied by a computer? What if AI was simply used to help teachers create and critique stronger messages? Would that be better? Why or why not?
  8. What about the use of holograms for history’s greatest teachers so that all future generations can be able to hear the best messages in the best preacher’s voices in hologram form long after those teachers have left the scene?
  9. Could AI be used to teach young preachers how to structure an audience-focused (authority), Text-centered (relevance) message including when/how to use humor, and how to build a tension-based, biblically-grounded argument that is summarized in a single, clever, compelling, clear big idea? (likely we are a long way from this due to Polanyi’s Paradox—the fact that we all know more than we can tell, which specifically places restrictions on our ability to endow machines with intelligence)
  10. What about worship service order creation where data from instruments that have measured the loudness of singing and applause in previous services can be used to select and connect the most popular and most engaging worship songs?
  11. What about using something like WOEBOT—a mental health chat bot that has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety in users after 2 weeks of conversation—in pastoral care?
  12. How could AI be used to solve some of the toughest problems of humanity when it comes to spiritual growth? (anxiety, depression, fear, busyness, hurry-sickness, isolation, guilt, shame, regret, consumerism, selfishness, un-generosity, local church attendance…) How could even considering these questions perhaps spark new ideas and approaches to more effective ministry?
  13. How can visionary, futuristic churches, leaders, and teams more proactively experiment with AI in order to maximize its benefits and minimize its detriments/risks? How can the Church leverage AI to become more nimble and adaptable to better fulfill Her mission? (1 Co 9:19-23; 1 Ch 12:32) If Christian ministry is not creating AI, how can it capitalize on the areas of our lives that are changing because of it? For example, the rise of driverless cars will give individuals/families the gift of 1+ hour/day to potentially connect and grow spiritually. How can the Church leverage this?
  14. With the recent proliferation of online resources, the greatest challenge will not be content creation but content curation. What partnerships could there be with regard to data acquisition with other churches or Christian resource organizations? How could churches leverage the open platform of IBM’s WATSON in these exploratory endeavors?
  15. Could the introduction of AI into Christian ministry slow or even extinguish the potential for evil AI as depicted in future dystopia, post-apocalyptic films and literature?
  16. What could be the evangelistic implications for Christian AI pre- and even post-Rapture?
  17. If ministry automation or spiritual AI could make certain professional roles obsolete (i.e., consider the impact AI is already having on cardiologists and will certainly one day have on truck drivers [w/driverless cars/trucks]), should there be transitional income given to those individuals? Should it be conditional or unconditional? Conditional transitional income would be given if someone is doing something valuable to learn about or assist the transition.
  18. Would it be possible to master and move on from supervised learning systems (which requires human data input for AI output—where the machine is given lots of examples of the correct answer to a particular problem to help it learn how to eventually do it itself) into unsupervised learning systems with AI (i.e., deep learning) (where the AI is capable of learning about how to accomplish a task on its own)? What new ethical, spiritual questions should that move ignite?

If this topic interests you, check out a fantastic collection of fresh articles called “The Business of Artificial Intelligence” in the July 2017 edition of the Harvard Business Review.

If you’re joining us from a Christian perspective, what other questions would you add that need to be discussed? Or do you have any initial responses to the questions above?

If you’re joining us from a different non-profit or for-profit realm, what key questions does AI surface for you?


  1. David Carhart


    There’s a lot there to think about.

    I like the idea of building a deep AI to maximize Kingdom goals but skeptical that it can be done without negative unintended consequences.

    My personal inclination is to look around for good and bad implementations of AI.

    The good seem to be mostly in the category of specific problem solving tasks; WOEBOT, Nest, navigation and medical diagnosis are a few examples. The more of that we can implement, the better.

    The bad (maybe not specifically AI but related) Twitter and Facebook. It’s telling that both Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook articulate an idealism about how radical sharing of information will transform society for the good. It’s turned out to be more of a mixed bag and those platforms fall way short of their ideals and their stated vision. Why is that? The CEOs claim they just need to keep tweaking the bugs and all will be well. Is it that the platforms are corrupted by commercial incentives? I think that’s part of it. Are they flawed by design, such as being incentivized to maximize time-of-engagement rather than something constructive (another commercial incentive)? I think that’s also part of it.

    I recently listened to an interview with Jack Dorsey where he suggested that broad, open, inclusive conversation is the key solving society’s problems. The more conversation the better. He also admitted that that’s not what Twitter is right now. My observation is that Twitter enables and encourages the worst behavior in a relatively small group of people and sometimes feeds the dark side in everyone else’s nature. Dorsey’s assertion is that if all voices are heard (and respected) the result will be harmony. But the biblical world view acknowledges the profound presence of evil in the world and more importantly in every individual. Jeremiah 17:9 etc. Check out the comments on Twitter.

    Somehow the fallen nature in us all and our hope for transformation by the power of Jesus has to be part of the equation. What would it look like if a conversation platform had some built-in assumptions about the sinful nature of people and welcomed users who want to ‘opt in’ to fight against their inner darkness and nurture transformation? How would a culturally relevant expression of Philippians 4:8 or Galatians 5:13-26 look in a phone app?

    Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

  2. Marcus Bieschke

    Dave, such great quality thoughts! Thank you for taking the time to share these.

    You’ve given a fascinating (and, I think, quite accurate) diagnosis of modern tech and how even the best intentions of using tech for good can so often fall short, especially if constant intentionality toward goodness isn’t driven through the tool from design through implementation. And, honestly, I believe you’re correct that while commercial incentives certainly prevent this from happening, the problem of evil is the primary blockade.

    You’re moving us in the direction of a Theology of Innovation, which I think will be tremendously valuable and enriching. Please stay tuned for future posts that will seek to make that crucial conversation all it can be.

    Until then, I really like the idea of some type of culturally relevant app that would take into account key tensions that we all face in day-to-day life and help one another think about positive, good, noble, pure, excellent things. Eager to further discuss how the concept of redemption can even invade the realm of technology to help show that the problem of evil can be solved and that goodness can be spread more virally than we can possibly yet imagine.

  3. Doug Murphy

    I apologize for my lateness in catching up with these interesting posts. I think one of the first issues to consider is how to define AI. AI considered as a collection of ever-‘learning’ algorithms (as compared to a truly disruptive sci-fi-ish self-aware ‘service’) can have an immediate impacts on congregation-facing ‘transactional’ services if only because they parallel what’s already available in customer-service functionality.

    As to some of the other points, there’s some interesting copyright issues for reusing content in #7. Versions of #8 have already been used in all sorts of conference and static ‘museum’ or learning experience settings. The lack of accurate congregational (e.g. user) data still hampers the potential of #14. We do not really know our congregants at larger churches because of historical and structural limitations to gathering (and using) that data. There’s a fair amount of experimenting in learning management systems re #18. This is fun to speculated about…

    • Marcus Bieschke

      Fun indeed! And I cannot wait for the Church to go beyond speculation to experimentation in the AI area. What barriers do you think exist to us getting that far? Finances? Fears? Theological risks? Apathy?


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