“Write a sermon on this week’s lectionary text.”

“Write a Country and Western song about Job.”

“Write a prayer for Reddit.”

“Write a Bible song about ducks.”

“Add a prayer to go with that sermon.”

“Write a worship song about Jesus’ death and resurrection.”

“Generate a chord chart for that song.”

“Write a liturgy for a pet funeral.”

“Write a Bible verse in the style of the King James Bible explaining how to remove a peanut butter sandwich from a VCR.”

All these were commands given to ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence system made available for free to the public Nov. 30, 2022.  Serendipitously, the day before ChatGPT’s release, Nov.  29, the Divinity School at the University of Edinburgh hosted a conference, AI and Pastoral Care for Christian Churches, a dialogue between theologians and engineers on the potential use of AI in parish ministry.

While ChatGPT might possess the ability to compose a silly song or a mediocre sermon, something as deeply human as providing spiritual care appears, at first glance, beyond its purview. But as convener Simeon Xu said in his opening remarks, “Intelligent machines and robots force us to think more deeply about who we are as interactive beings and the partners of God.”

ChatGPT and other forms of AI might just become the local pastor’s new partner in ministry.

If AI can write a sermon, a praise song, a prayer and a pet funeral liturgy, what can it do for pastoral care? Pastoral care is the help that trained clergy provide to congregants from a theological or spiritual perspective and can run the gamut from questions of faith to family conflict.

“Pastoral care is an intrinsic facet of the work of all Christians, lay and ordained, as love for one another is the most consistent basis for all we should say and do, especially within the Body of Christ,” according to Todd Thomas, rector at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church of Washington, D.C. “It’s the authentic way (pastors) share life with the parish and all their neighbors. It’s the reason a parishioner comes to them when they have questions, struggles, successes and joys.”

So, can a chatbot be pastoral? Can it care? Eric Stoddart, professor of practical theology at the University of St. Andrews, raised these questions when he replaced the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable with a drone from “Samaritans R Us,” a subscription rescue service. Stoddart then asked attendees in Edinburgh, “Who was this man’s neighbor? Is this compassion? Is this care? What if a passing Samaritan initiates the call to the rescue service?”

Will technology be just another means to ministry for pastors, or does it have the potential to replace them?

Read the rest of the article at Baptist News Global.