Is ChatGPT a Ministry Tool?


The big question is how can we use it for ministry, and to what extent should we use it? Here’s some meaningful ways you could use it right now:

1. Ministry Event Planning

Go to ChatGPT and type in this:

My church has a "bring your friend" trivia night planned for September 17. Make a table of all the things I need to plan. Each row should have a title, a description, a date due by, and some suggestions about how to do it

When I do this, I get a basic table of actions that need to be done. Does it include all the actions? No. Does it come up with more actions than I could have thought of in 20 seconds? Heck yes. Does it come up with things I would have not thought of (or forgotten until the last minute)? Actually yes! Does it have ideas that I wouldn’t use? Certainly. One idea it gave me in the “promote” task was “Consider offering incentives for attendees who bring guests”. My initial reaction was “no thank you”, but I decided to give it a chance…

What are some ways I could offer incentives for attendees who bring guests?

It actually came up with a good idea. It suggested a lucky-door prize for people to share with the friends they invited along. That could work.

But the really helpful about this list is that it’s done the first bit of the ‘planning’ for me; it’s helped me plan what to plan.

2. Bible Study / Personal Devotions

Again, have a crack at this in ChatGPT:

With 1Thessalonians 1:2-10, write a set of questions I could ask a group of people to a) help them understand the passage better, and b) reflect on how it affects them.

Or this one:

Break up the letter of 1thessalonians into a 2 week bible reading plan, with 2 questions to help understand and reflect on each passage.

Again, what ChatGPT does is a pretty good job of understanding the text and a basic set of questions that could work. In fact, I’d say that it wouldn’t take much effort to get ChatGPT to write a fairly simple bible study that you could use in a pinch. But that’s not the goal. Rather, just like the event planner, and just like a commentary or bible dictionary, this is a tool that’s able to help us get started in our preparation.

3. Sermon Ideas

I think the same can be true of preparing sermons. We already have tools that help us unpack the meaning and the themes and the ideas. And of course we have to be discerning with those. But what ChatGPT is designed to help with is word-smithing. It’s like a living thesaurus for ideas, rather than just words.

Here’s a prompt you could try…

Walk through 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10. In a table give me a short intense shocking title for each verse, the question that the verse is answering, a metaphor explaining the idea, and two possible defeater beliefs.

Again, what it does is kick-start the process. It makes suggestions about language and ideas that might help you as you’re thinking about how to communicate those ideas.

I’m hoping to write another post related to this, but I think there’s a good reason to start using tools like ChatGPT; because they’re just tools. They’re not intelligent agents, but they can help us do things better. It’s just a matter of learning how to best use the tool, and being wise and discerning in it’s use. At the end of the day, Jesus will not judge ChatGPT for what it suggested you include in your sermon, Jesus will hold you accountable.

But Luke 19:23 suggests that part of that accountability will be to ask us how we made the most of the situation and tools at our disposal. Look at what the master says to his servant:

“His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’

If we know that Jesus is a great king who calls us to use everything at our disposal for him and his glory, we should be careful not to put our heads in the sand or simply ignore tools because they could be misused.

Church “Org charts” are hard

Recently we thought it would be a good idea to try and visually communicate our church staff “map”. It was an attempt to try and describe how we’ve deployed staff across our 5 passions for our flock, and across our 3 Sunday meetings/congregations. Check it out here.

There’s still so much that isn’t described well in this org chart… lines of responsibility are kinda’ there (vertically), congregations are kinda’ there (via colour tags), many staff responsibilities are not represented (I’m waiting for staff to come and ask why their things isn’t on there! Sorry!), Staff type and time is kinda’ on there (but there’s so little difference between a senior staff and part-time staff – just looking at them).

Any other church org charts out there?

If you get devastated when your ministry fails, was it your idol?

Don’t think so highly of your ministry that you get wiped out when it doesn’t work. So… the kids didn’t come along. So… the person didn’t think it was valuable to meet with you. So… they decided to go to another church. Ok. In the big scheme of things, is it that bad? It’s not. So… If you’re getting so upset about it… Was it maybe a bit of an idol for you? Was your “ministry success” a bit of an idol to you? And now that idol has been shown to be hollow, is that why you’re devastated?
Your ministry is not the most important in the world… Or this city… Or this church. There’s other ministries going on. Get over yourself and get back on the horse.

The difference between an Emergency and an Urgency

Too often, myself included, people treat both Emergencies and Urgencies in the same way. It’s worth being aware of the difference and the different responses for each.
Emergencies are things like a fire, a flood, etc… They require everyone to perform the same action straight away with no particular thought for the future beyond the emergency. Lives are at stake and there’s already a clear path of action. Take it.
On the other hand, an Urgency doesn’t need instant action. Rather it needs clarity. Let me say that again.
Respond to Emergencies with simple actions.
Respond to Urgencies by creating clarity.
That means you stop and think. You might have to do it fast. That’s ok. But if its not an Emergency where lives are at stake, the goals have to be different. The goal when faced with an Urgency is clarity. Coming up with the “this is what we’re going to do” is the goal.
When do you respond to an urgent issue as though it is an emergency?

Debunking the need to preach a book all at once

There seems to be an idea that exegetical preaching means more than simply walking through a book with your congregation. Somewhere along the line, we started to think that you had to do that entire walk in the space of a school term – 10 or 11 weeks.

And that works semi-ok for some books; Colossians, Philippians, Ephesians, etc. And it works ok for some sections of the gospels or other narratives; Gen 1-11, Exo 1-12, Mark 1-8, Rev 1-7, etc.

But the reality is that these these two ideas “preaching thru a book well” and “only doing a book for a limited number of weeks” have two very different intentions, and they end up hurting each other. On one hand, there’s so much in Colossians, Ephesians and others that breaking them up into 10 parts STILL glosses over heaps of really amazing ideas. 10 weeks still isn’t long enough for these books. On the other hand, apart from the Pastoral Epistles, you’re still going to break up a book to preach it in 10 weeks. Preaching Mark 1-8 is not preaching Mark.

Here’s two things we’ve started:

  1. Preach slowly through a book over years. We’ve started Romans a few years ago, just working through a few verses every term 2. If we had our time again, I reckon we’d move through it even slower.
  2. Give your less-often preachers a book/series that they can do over years, a few weeks at a time. I’ve been working through Acts 4 weeks at a time. When else would you get to take your congregation through Acts??
    The other value of this is that it makes each of your staff an “expert” in a book. It deepens the exegetical scholarship of your staff team.

#MinistryExercises : The Blank Page

This is one of the exercises we get our MTSers (and staff) to do every 6 months or so. All you need is a blank page (better if there are no lines on it) and a pen.
Then you think about your ministry… starting at either the whole church, or the whole city/town, or the people that you’re directly involved with. (Note: Never start with a Structure like “Sunday Church” or “Simply Christianity” or “Growth Groups” – That will stifle your creativity because you’ll be trying to fit things into your current ideas)
Then you write down everything that comes to mind. People’s names, current structures, your prayers for the whole, sins that you see happening, the future, the past, anything. Keep at it for 20mins at least.
Note: We’ve found that some staff can’t do this on their own, and they need to do it with someone else to keep them thinking about the one area. This can be a really good exercise to do with a member of church!
Then… wait for the ideas to formulate.
This type of exercise helps you see opportunities that are right in front of your face, but would never have noticed before.

100 years from now

Rather than thinking about what difference you could make tomorrow, or even this year, ask yourself the question “what can I do that will make the most difference in 100 years?”
Why? 100 years is a good timespan because you’ll be dead by then. Any difference you could make would need to outlive you.
Dads and mums, that’s why parenting is worth your time and energy and sweat and tears. Strong families today are easily traced back to strong parents 100 years ago; both relationally and financially and spiritually.
Those in pastoral ministry; this is a good place to set your vision. What can you (under God) spend 40 years doing that will still make a difference in 100 years?
Of course, this is why we preach the gospel, not only does it create gospel workers, it also establishes souls in Christ for eternity.

Do you care about everyone?

I hope you do. We all want to care about everyone. But often we can end up only caring for the few who are loudest. We listen to the vocal minority, and end up ignoring the silent majority.

It doesn’t mean the loud few are wrong; they might be right. But just because you’re looking to protect a few people doesn’t mean you’re looking after everyone. In fact, you might be thinking of everyone in a completly wrong way…

When you think of everyone, do you mean all the adults in your church? What about all the kids? Are you somehow caring for the obvious adults, but in that very action, not caring about the unseen kids in classes?

Or maybe your “everyone” is every person in your church… but is that every person in church on Sunday? Or every person in a GrowthGroup? Who are you not caring about then?

And what about the people in your suburb? Are you so caring about the people in your church, that you’re neglecting to care about the people in your community?

How would your decisions, programs, plans look different if you tried to take everyone into account, rather than just a few people?

You have to operate with some assumptions

It’s impossible to assume nothing.

Either they have done what you’ve asked, or they haven’t

Either they know about the issue already, or they don’t

Either they are lying to you, or someone else is

Either they are planning on coming, or they are planning on skipping it

Either they understand what you’re talking about our they don’t

The fact is, you have to operate with some assumptions when you plan, when you preach, when you talk to people, when you lead a project.

But it matters which assumptions you act on…

You can either think the worst of people. This is called “accusing” them. or you can think the best of them. This is called “trusting” them.

I reckon the best thing to do is tell them you’re trusting them, and ask them if your trust is well placed.