Out of curiosity, I asked ChatGPT what I needed to do to become a disciple. This was its instant response.
As a millennial, I consider myself pretty tech-savvy. While I can’t write code, fix your broken laptop, or hack into a server for you, I can comfortably navigate between different devices or platforms and quickly learn how to use new programs. So when OpenAI’s ChatGPT became mainstream, it surprised me to be caught off-guard.
For those who haven’t heard of it yet, ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot that uses advanced machine learning algorithms to generate a human-like response to any question it’s asked. Think of all the times you have Googled a question. Instead of having to scroll through a variety of sites, ChatGPT now offers you a concise, well-informed answer in seconds.
ChatGPT has signaled what feels like a shift in the public conversation around artificial intelligence. AI is no longer a future eventuality. It is now on our doorsteps, in our homes, and on our phones, and is quickly becoming a natural part of our lives. Unbeknown to us, our lives have already benefited from the advance of AI technology, but it also poses some major risks. For one, AI can perform many tasks more efficiently and cost-effectively than humans can. Therefore, some believe we are on the cusp of the next industrial revolution, which is why many are now wondering if their careers are at risk of being replaced by AI.
Consider this: if your vocation has to do with handling information, ChatGPT can likely do it. It could write this article, generate a college essay or a speech, provide feedback on ideas, give you advice, correct information for your website, write lectures and blogs, etc. We could continue, but it would be better for you to simply ask ChatGPT yourself.
As a pastor, I have wondered what these technological advances might mean for the local church. Could AI tools make certain things I do redundant? Already a rabbi preached a sermon written by ChatGPT, which was well received by his congregants. More specific to this article, could ChatGPT disciple my congregation?
Instinctively or perhaps intuitively, my answer is no. But why? If I had to define my church’s discipleship strategy, what could ChatGPT do in my stead and in what ways could it replace me as a disciple-maker?
What ChatGPT Could Contribute to Disciple-Making
Evangelicals have long been proud students of the Word of God and have produced large amounts of content to help people understand and know God. Content and information distribution have been a cornerstone of our discipleship efforts.
Think of your local church. How do you go about discipling your people?
Is your current discipleship strategy information-based? Do you rely heavily on a curriculum for discipleship? Do you run discipleship classes or distribute discipleship booklets that people read? Do you encourage your church members to watch certain videos?
If so, ChatGPT could likely help produce this kind of content.
Out of curiosity, I asked ChatGPT what I needed to do to become a disciple of Jesus, and this was its
To become a disciple of Jesus, one can follow these steps:
- Repent of your sins and confess them to God.
- Believe in Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
- Be baptized in water as a public declaration of your faith in Jesus.
- Read and study the Bible regularly to learn about Jesus and grow in your faith.
- Pray and have a personal relationship with God through Jesus.
- Attend a church that preaches the gospel and join a community of believers.
- Live a life that reflects your faith in Jesus and follow His teachings.
- Share the gospel with others and help them come to know Jesus as their Savior.
Remember, becoming a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong commitment and journey of growth and learning.
Impressive list, isn’t it?
I then asked ChatGPT to add Scripture verses, and within seconds it responded:
To become a disciple of Jesus, one can follow these steps:
- Repent of your sins and confess them to God (Acts 3:19).
- Believe in Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of the world (John 3:16).
- Be baptized in water as a public declaration of your faith in Jesus (Matthew 28:19).
- Read and study the Bible regularly to learn about Jesus and grow in your faith (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- Pray and have a personal relationship with God through Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
- Attend a church that preaches the gospel and join a community of believers (Hebrews 10:25).
- Live a life that reflects your faith in Jesus and follow His teachings (Colossians 3:17).
- Share the gospel with others and help them come to know Jesus as their Savior (Matthew 28:19-20).
Remember, becoming a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong commitment and journey of growth and learning (2 Peter 3:18).
I then asked ChatGPT to clarify what it meant in point 7 of its response:
In point 7 of my response, “Live a life that reflects your faith in Jesus and follow His teachings,” I mean to say that as a disciple of Jesus, it’s important to make a conscious effort to align your thoughts, words, and actions with the teachings of Jesus as found in the Bible. This involves striving to live a life that is characterized by love, kindness, humility, honesty, and other virtues that Jesus taught and modeled. It also involves putting into practice the principles and commands that Jesus taught, such as loving God and loving others. In short, living a life that reflects your faith in Jesus involves making a deliberate effort to live in accordance with the teachings and example of Jesus.
Like most preachers, I am always on the hunt for an excellent illustration, so I asked it to give me an illustration to substantiate its point:
Sure! Here’s an illustration to help you understand what it means to live a life that reflects your faith in Jesus:
Imagine you have a friend who is always kind, compassionate, and forgiving to others, no matter the situation. This friend consistently shows love, humility, and selflessness in their actions and words. They are someone who truly lives out their faith and beliefs, making a positive impact on those around them.
In the same way, as a disciple of Jesus, you can strive to live a life that reflects your faith in Him by following His teachings and embodying the qualities He demonstrated. For example:
- Love others as yourself (Mark 12:31).
- Treat others with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness, even when it’s difficult (Colossians 3:12-13).
- Put the needs of others before your own (Philippians 2:3-4).
- Speak truthfully and kindly, avoiding gossip and negativity (Ephesians 4:29).
By living in this way, you can show the world the transformative power of your faith in Jesus, and be a light that points others to Him.
Personally, I found the illustration a bit weak, and it wouldn’t be helpful as a sermon illustration, but you can easily see how a rabbi (or pastor) could preach a sermon written by ChatGPT.
Finally, I asked ChatGPT how it as AI could help churches disciple their members:
As an AI language model, ChatGPT can help churches in various ways to disciple their members, such as:
- Providing biblical information and teachings: ChatGPT can provide accurate and concise information and teachings based on the Bible, which can be helpful for churches to educate and instruct their members in the faith.
- Encouraging personal study and reflection: ChatGPT can provide guidance and resources for members to study and reflect on the Bible, helping them to deepen their understanding and knowledge of God’s word.
- Supporting small group discussions: ChatGPT can provide prompts and questions for members to discuss in small groups, helping to facilitate deeper engagement and understanding of the Bible.
- Providing resources for evangelism and outreach: ChatGPT can provide information and resources on how to share the gospel and reach out to those who do not yet know Jesus, helping churches to equip their members for evangelism and outreach.
It’s important to note that while ChatGPT can provide valuable information and resources, it’s not a substitute for the role of human pastors and leaders in a church. The primary purpose of a church is to gather together for worship, pray, and to support each other in their faith journey, which cannot be fully replicated by an AI language model.
As ChatGPT so helpfully points out, despite its ability to provide information, AI can never fully replicate true community. This is where we need to start thinking about our current disciple-making strategies, and what we alone can do to make disciples.
How ChatGPT Forces Us to Rethink Evangelical Discipleship
Part of discovering what ChatGPT could contribute to discipleship also pushes us to uncover potential flaws in our current disciple-making strategies. If the creation and transfer of information is the measure by which we determine our effectiveness as disciple-makers, then we need to understand that we are replaceable.
If information transfer is all that our fellow churchgoers get out of our sermons, lectures, classes, small groups, Bible studies and one-on-one discipleship meetings, or [insert your discipleship strategy], then we need to seriously rethink how we are discipling our people. AI like ChatGPT could easily produce information transfer like that, making human disciple-makers redundant.
Intuitively, we know that information alone does not lead to transformation. We have all seen individuals sitting in our churches who have consumed Christian information for years but are no further along in their walk with the Lord than they were when they first started. As James said, ‘You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder’ (James 2:19). What then distinguishes a disciple who is being transformed into the likeness of Christ?
Spiritual formation involves moving beyond merely consuming content about the gospel toward intentionally allowing the truth of the gospel to change the way we live.
Christian leaders affirm technology’s importance, but often fail to see it as a gap deserving further research.
What Only We Can Contribute to Disciple-Making
John Mark Comer from Practicing the Way offers a paradigm for understanding the process of discipleship, which is helpful for our conversation. Comer teaches that there are four primary elements needed for intentional spiritual formation to take place:
- The work of the Holy Spirit
As we have seen, ChatGPT can contribute towards the teaching/information component of the paradigm. AI could potentially even offer helpful information and advice regarding practice, community, and the Holy Spirit.
However, we know information alone does not lead to transformation. Rather it is the implementation of that information that leads to change. ChatGPT might give us the right information, but it can never help us integrate that teaching into the fabric of our lives. For that, we need genuine interaction with God and others, which is not something that can be generated by AI.
AI can’t render a genuine Christian community dedicated to pursuing Jesus together. It cannot prayerfully come alongside us, encouraging us to embody the spiritual practices in the ways of Jesus, and it certainly cannot fill us with the Holy Spirit. These require genuine human and divine interaction that no AI could ever replicate.
Part of understanding what AI can and cannot do should encourage us to think more deeply about our discipleship strategies and inspire us to apply more energy to what only we as disciple-makers can do: cultivating a genuine spiritual community dedicated to practicing the way of Jesus in our local contexts.