Preaching is one of the oldest art forms, constantly adapting to changes in architecture, culture, technology, and human behaviour. For example, Google has fundamentally changed how sermons are prepared, while mobile phones have radically changed how sermons are consumed. Now that we are entering the age of artificial intelligence (AI), are there new tools that could help improve our sermons?
The most powerful tool made for sermon preparation is the language model created by OpenAI called GPT-4. However, like any tool, it has its challenges. One significant concern is ensuring that while we are using this advanced technology, we retain the vital presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit in our sermons.
Understanding GPT-4 is vital. Think of it less as a trivia machine and more like a brainstorming buddy. It may not have all the facts straight (it is not a theological scholar, after all), but it is a whizz at helping express complex ideas in an emotionally engaging way.
Let us look at how we can turn GPT-4 into a tool for sermon preparation with a seven-step process.
Step 1: The Theme
Start with this prompt in GPT-4: “Pretend you are an experienced pastor. Let us talk about my next sermon series. I was thinking of preaching about [insert broad theme or Bible passage]”. Continue until you have the sermon’s theme and a critical biblical passage. Here you should also craft a Single, Narrow, Dominant Thought (SNDT), a driving idea at your sermon’s heart.
Step 2: The Exegesis
We then use GPT-4 to dig deep into our key passage, with our theme and SNDT as the lens. Continue the conversation with this prompt: “In light of what we defined above, please give me the following: What are the key terms in the original language? What does each term mean? What other passages in scripture should I consider in exegeting this passage?” GPT is a reasoning engine, not a content engine, so remember to fact-check these references.
Step 3: The Style
Next, we give GPT-4 a taste of our unique style. Use this prompt: “I will give you now one of my sermon transcripts. Learn how to write like me and tell me when you are ready to write like me” [paste around 750 words from a previous sermon you preached].
Step 4: The Structuring
Create a document by copying the best parts of the chat and expanding the thoughts and ideas you want to include in your sermon, such as stories or illustrations. Then write this prompt: “Here is everything I want to say in my sermon. Please write a structure, including an appeal [paste the whole document content]. Pray about it and change the layout as you need.
Step 5: The Writing
Prompt: “Write part 1: introduction” of the sermon as if I am writing it. Use the SNDT above as the driving thought and repeat it regularly.” Use this prompt for every section and section of the structure and refine it as needed. Always check references.
Step 6: The Conclusion
Nearing the conclusion of our sermon, ask GPT-4 to help you recap your key points and stir an emotional response from the listeners.
Step 7: The Appeal
Finally, use GPT-4 to refine your sermon’s appeal and generate potential titles. Creative, SNDT-focused sermon titles can help draw people in and set the right expectations.
The introduction of GPT-4 ushers in a thrilling new phase in sermon preparation. With this tool, anyone can improve their preaching: good preachers can become great, and the great can become extraordinary. But remember, the most powerful sermon comes from a deep connection with God. As we utilize tools like GPT-4, remember that this personal relationship with the divine brings our sermons to life. Let’s view GPT-4 as a helpful assistant, a tool, not a substitute, aiding us in effectively conveying our spiritual insights to the congregation.
Pastor Sam Neves is the Associate Director of Communication at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA