Preaching is a crucial aspect of religious worship. It is a time when faith leaders get to impart theological and moral guidance to their congregation. The act of preaching is a profound one that requires an emotional connection between the preacher and the audience. However, with the recent advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI), some faith leaders have started to explore the idea of using AI to write sermons. This blog post will look at the evolving consensus among clergy on AI sermon writing, the benefits and limitations of AI in writing sermons, and the future of preaching.

According to a recent report, AI sermon writing has generated fascination and unease among sermon writers. While AI can write a passably competent sermon, it cannot replicate the passion and soul of actual preaching. As Hershael York, a pastor and professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary puts it, “It lacks a soul.” Sermons are meant to be the core of a worship service, and often, they are a faith leader’s best weekly shot at grabbing their congregation’s attention. The evolving consensus among clergy is that while AI can be used for sermon writing, it should not be a replacement for actual preaching.

Rabbi Joshua Franklin of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, in a recent sermon, revealed that he used a Chatbot AI, ChatGPT, to write a 1,000-word sermon related to that week’s lesson from the Torah. While the sermon was great at sounding intelligent, Rabbi Franklin pointed out that AI has yet to develop empathy, compassion, and love. These are the attributes that bring people together, and AI sermon writing lacks the human warmth that is needed for a sermon to be convincing.

In an experiment similar to Rabbi Franklin’s, Pastor Rachael Keefe of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis posted an AI-written sermon in her online Pastoral Notes. While the essay was factually correct, there was something deeper missing. As one of her congregation members, Douglas Federhart, put it, “It’s not terrible, but yes, I agree. Rather generic and a little bit eerie.” This highlights a limitation of AI sermon writing; it cannot understand community and inclusivity and how important these things are in creating a church.

Despite the limitations of AI in sermon writing, some pastors have been impressed by the quality of sermons written by AI. Todd Brewer, a New Testament scholar, and managing editor of the Christian website Mockingbird, requested ChatGPT to write a Christmas sermon based on Luke’s birth narrative with quotations from Karl Barth, Martin Luther, Irenaeus of Lyon, and Barack Obama. He was surprised when the AI-generated sermon met his criteria and was better than several Christmas sermons he had heard over the years. However, the ChatGPT sermon lacked any human warmth, making it hard to sympathize with the human plight.

AI sermon writing is still in its infancy, and as such, it is difficult to predict its impact on preaching. However, one thing is clear: AI can only generate sermons based on pre-existing data. The data used to generate the sermon may not necessarily align with the preacher’s theological and moral beliefs. The gospel is more than words; it is the evidence of a changed life. While AI can help with sermon writing, it can never replace the evidence of a changed life. A congregation is looking for evidence that the pastor has been with Jesus, and AI cannot provide that evidence.