Work and AI
By Scott Hughes
Even as I advocate for church leaders to leverage new artificial intelligence (AI) platforms, such as language learning models (LLMs), including ChatGPT, Perplexity, and Claude, I understand these resources can be overwhelming to some. These platforms present both a blessing and a curse for those who decide to employ them. I have appreciated how ChatGPT can help respond quickly and better to sticky emails, brainstorm articles, give feedback on sermon ideas, and many other uses. However, I also have hesitations, reservations, and fears about AI. For instance, I fear the inevitable misuse of AI to stoke fears and deception in this and future election cycles. I am concerned about uses that would attempt to replace relationships and provide pseudo-care.
A participant in a recent webinar, "Harnessing AI for Church Excellence," said, “I am doubtful that AI will free us up for more important things, at least not for more time with family or leisure. Like every other technological advancement, it will probably only put us under more pressure to produce more. We will still be overworked, but now expected to get even more done.” I share this concern, and while this may, unfortunately, be true for many, my particular hope and reason for advocating for churches to leverage this technology is to free ministry leaders for more time for mission engagement and deeper discipleship. (Though I’m not naive enough to believe this will always be the case.)
Echoes of the Past
This webinar participant's comment called to mind the story of Pharaoh's demands on the Hebrew slaves to produce more bricks with less straw. While language learning models might promise efficiency, there’s the risk that these new tools will become the “straw” demanded by today’s equivalent of pharaohs, who view productivity as the highest value. This might be especially true in a capitalistic society that prizes productivity. The commenter also noted that pastors are already overburdened.
While language learning models might promise efficiency, there’s the risk that these new tools will become the “straw” demanded by today’s equivalent of pharaohs, who view productivity as the highest value.
LLMS – A UNIQUE TOOL
Into this overworked and stressed dynamic experienced by pastors is the now available resource of language learning models. These platforms are more than tools. They are unique in their abilities and use. While these sophisticated algorithms are capable of playing many roles at a very high level, our being able to interact with them with natural language presents unique challenges. We interact with them much as we would with any conversation, question and answer, refining and clarifying; therefore, it might be easy to confuse these interactions as a relationship. After all, we humans are wired for relationships.
WE ARE MADE FOR MORE THAN THIS
With these dynamics in mind, we should look to some core beliefs that can guide us in the proper use of artificial intelligence. We believe that all people are made in the image of God and thus have value apart from their ability to produce. The divine command for rest (The fourth of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:8-11) is an intentional practice of resistance against relentless demands for productivity. It demonstrates our dependence on God, the giver of all we have.[i] Rest is a gift and a necessity. Neither wholeness nor holiness can be experienced without rest.
Additionally, being made in the image of God reveals that we are made primarily for our relationship with God and others. As Jesus’ Great Commandment teaches us in Matthew 22:36-40, our highest aim is for relationships of love, not transaction.
As we see in the early chapters of Genesis, we are created to steward the gifts of God. Work can bring the dignity of purpose and influence, contribute to others’ welfare, and express creativity. Yet those who cannot or choose not to work are valued as bearers of God’s image.
CHALLENGES TO CAPITALISM’S EXTREMES
These important reminders about personhood fight against any notion that people are merely means of production and/or profit.[ii] These foundational stories of our faith might result in the necessity to have frank and candid conversations with S/PPRC (staff/pastor-parish relations committees)[iii] about work/life balance and modeling a holy way of life.
With many others, I believe we stand at the beginning of AI’s integration into our work and life. Perhaps I appreciated the webinar participant’s comment so much because it was a needed reminder of our core beliefs. The “work” of the church should primarily be about creating communities that reflect God’s glory in and through relationships of compassion, vulnerability, and empathy. The promises of greater work quality and increased efficiency are good, but they should serve the purpose of relationships and point toward a more holistic way of being. While I hope artificial intelligence and language learning models might serve the church, my greater hope is that the church can model a better way of being. To support this vision, Discipleship Ministries will continue to offer webinars and produce resources guiding churches in using these platforms in ways to promote discipleship.
[i] See also Article XIV – The Lord’s Day in ¶104 of The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church as part of The Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church.
[ii] See The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (particularly The Social Principles ¶163 IV. The Economic Community, C) Work and Leisure among other Social Principles for more guidance.
[iii] See The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, ¶258.2 specifically
Scott Hughes is the Executive Director of Congregational Vitality & Intentional Discipleship, Elder in the North Georgia Conference, M.Div. Asbury Theological Seminary, D. Min. Southern Methodist University, co-host of the Small Groups in the Wesleyan Way podcast, creator of the Courageous Conversations project, and facilitator of the How to Start Small Groups teaching series.