How ChatGPT Can Make You a Better Pastor.

One of the things I enjoy doing is finding new or novel ways to do things that make life easier or more enjoyable. I remember ten years ago when online rewards systems were just coming online, and I started BibleBucks 2.0 to help churches streamline and digitize incentives. We still use BibleBucks 2.0 in our kids ministry to help kids memorize scripture verses and catechism questions.

Another application that every pastor should have is Grammarly. As someone who is grammar-challenged, Grammarly not only corrects spelling but fixes punctuation. They have now made it so that it works on mobile phones and across all browsers, so all your communication can be “mostly” free of grammatical errors that are a poor representation of your ministry and a distraction to those passionate about grammar. You know who you are.

Currently, the newest app on the internet that is causing a massive stir is ChatGPT. And when I mean stir I mean Google is in full panic mode because they understand the nature of the threat ChatGPT poses to them as the search engine king.

ChatGPT is a machine learning model that has been trained on a large dataset of text to understand and generate human-like language. It can generate written text, such as responses to prompts, summaries of information, and even creative writing. It can also be used to answer questions, provide information and even conduct conversations. It is essentially like a language-based virtual assistant that can perform various language-related tasks. It is important to note that the output generated by ChatGPT is based on the data it has been trained on, and its responses may not always be accurate or appropriate, so it’s important to use the output with a critical eye.

I have been using ChatGPT, and it is amazing. So far, I have used it in writing video scripts, sermon illustration generation, email template generation, blog idea generation, and sermon text identification.

It works as simply as typing in criteria for a google search. The more specific you are, the better the results. For example, I asked, “How can a pastor use ChatGPT to help him be a better pastor.” This is the result I was given.

A pastor could use ChatGPT to assist with sermon preparation by generating ideas for sermons, researching and summarizing biblical passages, and creating outlines for sermons. ChatGPT could also be used to assist with pastoral care, by generating responses to common questions or concerns and providing resources for further study. Additionally, ChatGPT could be used to help with administrative tasks such as writing newsletters, updating website content, and creating social media posts. However, it is important to note that while ChatGPT can assist with these tasks, it cannot replace the human element of pastoral care and should be used as a tool rather than a substitute.

Volunteer Recruit Announcement.

A couple of fun examples of what ChatGPT can do are create announcements for the church bulletin explaining the need for more children’s ministry workers.

First is a limerick

In the church, a need did arise
To recruit some helpers, all full of surprise
With a smile and a grin
We’ll get volunteers in
And the children will look up with bright eyes!

The second is in the form of yoda

“Volunteers, for children’s church we need. Hmmm? Young ones, guide and teach, hmmm? A great opportunity, yes. Join us, you should. Hmmm? Your help, greatly valued it will be. Hmmm?”

Book Recommendation Sample

It can also be used in discovering resources for parents. I asked ChatGPT for book recommendations for books that help parents disciple their kids.  It gave me the following recommendations.

  1. “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” by Tedd Tripp – This book provides practical advice on how to disciple children and help them develop a biblical worldview. It covers topics such as parenting with grace, understanding the heart of a child, and training children in the things of God.
  2. “Train Up a Child: Teaching Your Kids to Love God, Themselves, and Others” by R.C. Sproul Jr. – This book focuses on the importance of intentional, biblical parenting and provides practical guidance on how to raise children who love God and others.
  3. “The Gospel-Centered Family: Grace, Gospel, and Parenting” by Robert F. Kolb and Ryan M. McGraw – This book is a comprehensive guide to family discipleship and provides a biblical framework for raising children to love God and others. It covers topics such as the role of parents in discipleship, teaching children about the gospel, and living out the gospel in the home.

Sermon illustration Sample

Another great example of ChatGPT usefulness is in research for training, writing or for inclusion in a sermon. I asked ChatGPT to give me some science-based evidence of the importance of fathers in the faith formation of their kids.

There is a growing body of research that indicates the important role fathers play in the faith formation of their children. One study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that children whose fathers were involved in their religious education were more likely to have a stronger sense of personal faith and be more committed to their religion as adults. Another study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that fathers who were involved in their children’s religious education and practices had children with higher levels of psychological well-being, as well as lower levels of behavioral problems. Another study published in the Journal of Adolescent Research found that a father’s religious involvement was positively related to an adolescent’s self-esteem and also found that fathers who were more involved in their children’s religious lives had children who were more likely to maintain their religious involvement into adulthood.

Additionally, research has suggested that fathers play a critical role in shaping their children’s beliefs and values. When fathers are actively involved in the religious lives of their children, they are more likely to pass on their own religious beliefs, values, and practices to their children, and these children tend to be more likely to maintain these beliefs, values, and practices as they grow older and become adults.

It’s worth mentioning that, while these studies suggest a strong correlation between fathers’ involvement in their children’s religious education and positive outcomes, it’s important to keep in mind that correlation does not imply causality, and other factors can also play a role in child’s faith formation.

VBS video Script Sample

Here is a video script of a pastor inviting parents to sign their kids up for VBS.

Pastor: “Hello everyone; we are so excited to announce that we will be hosting a Vacation Bible School this summer, from June 1st to 8th. Each day, from 9 am to Noon, your children will have the opportunity to learn more about the Bible, make new friends, and have a lot of fun!

Cut to a montage of kids playing games, doing crafts, and eating snacks.

Pastor (voiceover): “During the week, your children will participate in fun games, exciting crafts, and delicious snacks. They will learn about the Bible in a fun and interactive way, and they will make new friends that they’ll treasure for a lifetime.

Cut back to the pastor.

Pastor: “The cost for the week is just $10 per child, and space is limited, so hurry and sign your children up today! You can register online, or by visiting the church office during regular business hours.

Closing shot of the church building with the words “Vacation Bible School” and the dates and times of the event superimposed.

Pastor (voiceover): “Don’t miss out on this amazing opportunity for your children to learn about the Bible and have fun at the same time. We can’t wait to see you at Vacation Bible School, from June 1st to 8th, from 9am to Noon each day. See you there!”

Closing shot of the pastor smiling and waving.

Pastor: “God bless you and your family. Have a great day!”

The video ends with the church logo and contact information.

This is such a great tool in so many ways it won’t replace humans pastoring, caring for people, and even writing scripts for videos or websites. It will, however, give structure and speed up research. Think of it as a quicker, more robust version of google that doesn’t sell your information (yet). There are a million and one ways you can use this tool for your life and ministry. Check it out at https://openai.com/

Parents as Partners

Parents as Partners

I have been a part of the children’s ministry conversation for over 20 years. Several years ago, I was in a conversation with a few friends where we coined the term “Kidmin.” Initially, I saw the issues of parent involvement in the discipleship of their kids as an issue that was founded in children’s ministry leaders setting themselves as experts. Saying, in essence, “drop off your kids; we know what to do.” Like most things, we swung from one extreme to the other. We have gone from a kid pastor as discipleship expert to a kids pastor as cheerleader model. How we engage with parents needs to change.

We have all championed parents as primary in the discipleship process for the past several years. However, we need to move from that model. It’s not that it’s inaccurate, but it’s incomplete. It’s one thing to champion the message “Parents are the primary disciplers of their kids.” It’s a whole other thing to carry this out in a biblical, faithful way that leads to a lasting faith in kids. 

Much good has come from this message and focus! However, there have also been some unintended consequences. I think parents as primary in the discipleship of their children has produced a disengagement by church leaders in the discipleship process. It has also produced a lack of trust by those who lead in the church in the power and place of the church in the life of those we lead. 

Before he left, the charge from Christ was to make disciples; the vehicle he chose for that to take place was the church. This in no way is a diminishment of the family. Still, I believe it is an understanding that our families are not a substitute for the church. Our families are to be a reflection of the church and agents of the church. In Ephesians 5, Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church and gave himself for her. We in the church are to love each other as dear brothers and sisters. Our families should be like a little church, and our churches are to be like a little family. 

The church has never been more necessary than it is today. Many things have changed during the covid pandemic; one of those things that have changed is there has been more conversation around ecclesiology, what the church is, and what her role is. Going forward, we need to change our language and structures in how we talk and how we lead. 

Ever since George Barna wrote his book Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions, this idea and message of “parents are the primary disciple-makers of their kids” has been the prevailing narrative in children’s ministry. So as I type this following sentence, I do so in full awareness of just how much I’m going against the grain…but here it goes. 

We need to move away from language and actions that say parents are primary and move to parents as partners. Now let’s unpack this a bit. 

What do Parents as Partners Look Like? 

  1. Parents as partners is not us supplying resources and parents doing the work. It is us as a church discipling the parents and us as a church discipling kids and parents. Then, parents take what they have seen and experienced and, in turn, disciplining kids at home. 
  2. Parents as partners know the work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit as primary and our work in home and church as equally necessary. 
  3. Parents as partners see the goal as helping kids live lives of obedience and imitation of Christ, not simply the outward manifestation of good or moral behavior. What does that look like? Eugene Peterson would call it “A long obedience in the same direction.” Bill Hull would say that “Discipleship occurs when someone answers the call to learn from Jesus and others how to live his or her life as though Jesus were living it. As a result, the disciple becomes the kind of person who naturally does what Jesus did.” 
  4. Parents as partners mean we have a shared goal and a shared vision of whom their kids are becoming. Parents as primary leaves parents to decide what is the summum bonum or greatest good for their child. It has led in many ways to the subtle and sometimes not so subtle idolatry of the family. 

What needs to change? 

We need to change our church culture. We must help parents see that the church is our family, that God is our father and that we living in community through intentional relationships will become the kinds of people who naturally do what Jesus did. 

Our language needs to change. Christ is primary, and we are secondary. Church (the Bride of Christ…which families are a part of) is our primary family. Our families should be a living example of parents and kids walking long obedience in the same direction. The goal of our families is not happiness in this life but to point to a greater reality. Our families are a good gift that we are to enjoy and that form us into the image of Christ, but they are not the substance.  

The chief good and the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. As a church, we must model this for our parents and kids so that we together may become the kind of people who naturally do what Jesus did. 

Why Our Kids Ministries Should be More Like Mr. Rogers and Less Like Disney.

One of the pressures that kids pastors face from parents, leaders, or themselves, and sometimes it’s all three, is to be like Disney. I have often looked at how Disney engages kids as inspiration in engaging the kids I lead. I have had people suggest kindly to me that we take a look at how Disney does things. I even went to Disney and have sent staff members to Disney for inspiration for ministry. The older I get and the longer I do kids ministry, the more I realize that Walt’s idea of child formation was wrong, and Mr. Rogers was right. (Editorial note I am not a Disney hater, I have taken the required pilgrimage to Orlando with my family.)

When you look at the aesthetics of the two kingdoms they both built, they reflect how each saw the world. Walt’s world was a perfect version of what our world should look like. His world is shiny songs playing everywhere. Every restaurant serves chicken strips and hotdogs. Never any dust, never chipped paint. Excellence and creativity abound. Fred’s world was simple, even plain. His puppets showed wear, and his set grew old along with Fred. Two worlds trying to reach the same kids. 

The two kingdoms they built were the result of two visions of the world. Walt created a world that was an escape from the real world. Fred lived in a neighborhood and showed kids how to navigate through the real world. 

Walt built a fantasy world. Fred lived in a neighborhood.

There is nothing wrong with fantasy. Kids need fairy stories. Tolkien and Lewis were both shaped by fairy stories. They have different takes as to the ontological value of stories. Tolkien believed that fairy stories were reflective of God in that they were an example of sub-creation. Lewis thought that you could smuggle truth in fairy stories and steal past the watchful dragons that would not give faith a hearing. In this debate, I side more with Lewis. Fairy tales are more valuable in helping us escape this world, not for the escape alone but to show us what is broken and how to fix our world. Fairy stores should not be only an escape but should contain truth that entertains our minds but be filled with truth that changes our hearts. 

Walt’s world, on the whole, is an escape from reality, sustained by entertainment. You enter the park, and you enter the world as it should be – no trash on the ground, no gum on the sidewalk, and no tears in any eye. It’s perfect. It plays to our right desire for a better world. It reminds us in miniature form that our world, the real world is a shadow, and our heart longs for a perfect world free of sin and pain. 

Fred’s world had fantasy elements in it. But Fred never lied. He said we are going to the land of makebelieve. His fiction was grounded in reality and founded in faith. Fred lived in a neighborhood like you and me. His set was old, his puppets were tired, but he connected with kids in a way few others have. Mr. Rogers had friends come by who struggled with difficult issues like divorce, physical disability, and even race. He didn’t create an alternate universe by which he could escape reality. He lived in a house and told kids when makebelieve was happening. He used fairy stories to smuggle truth.  

Walt Entertained Kids. Fred Empowered Kids.

Walt’s world is all about connecting kids to fun to entertain them. This is a trap I fell into early in my years of children’s ministry. For years I would ask kids if they had fun at the end of the service. I wanted the church to be an escape for kids from the difficulties of home and school. The problem with entertaining kids is you have to out create yourself every week. Kids go to Disney once to a few times a year max. They come to church once to a few times a month. Entertainment may bring them, but we don’t have the budget, creativity, and time to create programs for kids that rival or compete with Disney’s magic. 

We Are Going to Have to Start Over

Over the past few months, we have learned that there really is only one thing that remains constant…that is that nothing is constant. COVID has come in and seems to change everything we have held dear for years overnight. Just when we adjust there are new challenge and changes we face daily. COVID has come and has done damage to the health of our country but also it has shaken the foundations of our confidence and the normality of our daily lives.

In times of prolonged uncertainty novel is not the answer. People don’t want a new normal they don’t want digital everything they want the comfort of old truth. Coming out of quarantine I knew that we were going to have a slow path back but I don’t think I was fully prepared for what the reality presently is…I think we are going to have to start over.

I say this because about 10% of our kids have come back and only 10% of our volunteers have returned. There are lots of reasons for this. Many in isolation have reevaluated priories and have moved to be closer to family, some are still scarred by the daily barrage of media, still, others are waiting for a cure. These are uncertain times. These are times filled with difficulty for every leader because no matter what decision you make someone will not be pleased.

We in our churches have been dealing with things as they have arisen on the fly. I have seen much creativity from the church in creating Zoom small groups for Youth and doing kids shows on YouTube. Those are great adaptations but the longer everything lingers the more I am convinced that I think the reality is that we are going to need to start over. I have often thought about what would I do differently in kids and youth ministry if I had to start over from scratch knowing what I know now after 23 years leading in the same church.

Here are a few things we are going to need to change.

  1. Discipleship needs more thought and investment than environments. There has been much focus on excellence in kids and youth environments and not enough on how do we create lifelong followers of Christ. What things do we need to teach and how can we teach them to kids in a way that creates lifelong faith in Christ? These need to consume our thoughts and drive our budgets.
  2. We need to rely more on training live teachers and less on video elements. Video doesn’t have the same impact in a zoom or online setting that a loving teacher teaching kids live over zoom or making phone calls to kids can make. Video is wrong but people are better.
  3. Small group leaders are going to have to know kids better. When difficulty hits small group leaders that know their kids are better equipped to reach out to those families. We are going to need to create opportunities for small group leaders to connect more intentionally with parents and look at their small group as a little church and not as child care during the service. We need a better structure for coaching small group leaders to spiritually direct kids rather than to simply disseminate religious information to children.
  4. We are going to have to run more of what we do like a small church rather than a megachurch. Our bigger campuses have a return rate of 10% but at our smaller campus kids are coming back at rates like 80%. It seems like for the foreseeable future people are more comfortable in smaller settings. Over the last 30 years, the people who we have looked to for direction are the kids and youth ministry experts from the largest churches in America. I know many of these people and they are amazing leaders but our solution going forward does not seem to be bigger and better but intimate and intentional.
  5. Our preaching needs to be more Biblically driven and less topically driven. The reason for this is our kids need to know what God reveals to us in his word more than cute stories and applications that are fun but not formational. Kids need fathers in the faith to proclaim Biblical truth far more than they need cool older brothers to hang with them. I am not saying our approach should be informational at the expense of being relational. What I am saying is that our approach needs to Biblical if it is to be transformational.

I know starting over sounds overwhelming because it is overwhelming. I also think that this is a great opportunity for us to re-evaluate our approach to ministry, our motivation in ministry, and ultimately what the fruit of our ministry should look at.

If we walk away from COVID unchanged by its far reaching effects in every area of life we have missed an opportunity to start over to reset and and to reevaluate what matters most.

Pastors, we can’t go back to a new normal. We shouldn’t try to keep things the same. We need to take this moment to learn how to make our churches smaller and make our ministry more personal.

How would you start over if you had too? Because I think we are going to have to do exactly that.

Is it True?

We live in a world that is hyper-political and completely tribal. As I type this, there is now a mask-wearing tribe and “non-maskers.” We have successfully politicized public health and a worldwide pandemic. We also live a world that values experience over and above objective truth. Truth is relative, and experience is authoritative.

We have a generation that is ruled by their emotional response to any given situation, yet they have failed to stop and ask, “Is this true?” Truth is not relative; there is objective truth. As Christians, we believe that objective truth is the Word of God. We have to teach our kids to check their ideas, information, and presuppositions against what the Bible tells us the truth is. We do this by pointing them back to scripture over and over again. We do this by personally showing them how we filter our political, moral, and spiritual decisions based on what the Bible says over what someone tells us we should say or do as an “Evangelical Chrisitan.”

Clarifying for our kids what is true will help them properly filter information that they are given or come across on their own. If they are not clear on what is true, they will believe a lie. If they don’t have an external filter for the truth, they will believe things about God and themselves that aren’t true.

The next thing we have to do is confront your child’s emotions with truth. Often times our kids will be upset because another kid or a sibling said something that was hurtful. The first question I ask is “Is it true?” They usually say no. I then say then don’t worry about it. With the emotional tripwires exposed we then discuss why they said what they said and how we can be a better friend or sibling as a result.

Our kids are growing up in a world where “lived experience” is how “truth” is established. The problem with our experiences is that divorced from objective external truth they become tyrannical and subjective. Our experience is meant to reveal our sinful hearts and our need for a savior not to justify our own sinful responses to those who have hurt us.

Our experiences are meaningful and diverse but they are not authoritative. It is only when those experiences are filtered through truth outside of us that they are properly understood.

Lastly, as we are holding fast to the truth as seen in the Word of God but do so with humility. We have to listen to others before we speak. Raw truth devoid of charity is rarely transformative. We need to model to our kids how to interact with and pray for those with whom we disagree. We live in a world that will cancel you for the slightest infractions of social norms. We as Christians must forgive and model forgiveness not because of our experience alone. We have experienced forgiveness but because the objective Word of God demands it. If you do not forgive you will not be forgiven.

KB recently on his Instastory said it better than I can.

This is the church.
We will rebuke you when you are wrong.
We will forgive you when you repent.
But we will not cancel you when you are down…for Christ did not cancel us.

Cancel culture is not kingdom culture. We don’t just applaud the righteous we restore the fallen.

KB

Why is what KB saying true? Because of the lived experience of all truth in the son of God made a way for us to be reconciled to God and restored to each other. That is the truth our kids need every day. We can be restored to one another because we have been reconciled by God. May we live our lives in light of that truth for our Good and God’s glory.