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/

What Pastors and Parents Need More of in 2023

Knowing when to quit isn’t a specialty of mine. Staying is a strength with a corresponding weakness. 2022 was a challenging year for everyone I know. Without exception, every pastor, leader, or parent would say 2022 was the hardest or one of the most brutal years they have ever lived. I have lots of speculation as to why that is, but little certainty. 

My heart breaks for those with whom I have had the privilege of listening to the unique sorrows they have walked. The older I get, the more I learn, and the fewer answers I feel like I have. I have also learned that pastors are expected to have answers, but I’m not sure that is a good thing for pastors or the people they lead. It can lead to pride in pastors and misplaced dependence on those they lead. 

 I realize many pastors or leaders feel like quitting. I haven’t talked to a pastor who hasn’t contemplated quitting in 2022. Relational conflicts in the church are more profound and more pervasive than I have ever seen. Social pressure from within and outside the church to preach another gospel is stronger than I have ever seen. As a result, most pastors feel isolated relationally and like a failure professionally. 

While they are not answers and may not even be helpful for you, here are the things I think we need to do more of in 2023

We need grace and be dispensers of grace. 

In our society we have lost the art of charity in our relationships. In our churches, we have fixed on the wrong enemy. Rather than seeing what is happening as a spiritual attack on pastors, leaders, and churches and joining together to fight against that spiritual attack, we fill relational gaps with the worst version of someone rather than believing the best in them. Pastors are not exempt. Rather than working through painful situations too often, we leave for greener pastors and bigger pulpits. Pastors, we don’t need a bigger church with a bigger budget; we don’t need a church that meets our needs. We need grace. Buckets of grace, grace given, and grace received. 

We need strength and to strengthen others. 

The challenge with 2022 is we were coming out of a worldwide pandemic and faced challenges as pastors and parents we never had to face. I pray we never have to face again. We were maxed out heading into a year that didn’t let up. Strength is something God gives us each day. How he does that is through the encouragement of his Spirit and Word. Another way God strengthens us is through us loaning strength to one another. Community must make a comeback in 2023. Technology has its place, but human contact and presence are irreplaceable and more necessary than ever. 

We need the mercy of God. 

This year has been a string of personal situations that required me to humble myself again and again. These situations are not easy, but they are painfully good. They remind me of my need for mercy and community. 19th Century poet William Ernest Henley proclaiming the radical individualistic cry that has found its home in 21st Century man, says 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

William Henley says that when difficulty comes our way, we suck it up and fight back alone. Henley ends the poem with the radical individualism that has led our culture into a constant state of anxiety and depression. He doesn’t end with hope or humility but doubles down on his ability to handle tragedy. 

It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.

This is the battle cry of a heart that has been hardened by sorrow but not softened by tears. What we need in 2023 is a greater awareness of the mercy of God. A great sense of our need and God’s supply. 

Think about that poem and juxtapose its message with this beautiful hymn of worship by Cityalights. The second verse of Christ is mine Forevermore says this: 

Mine are tears in times of sorrow

Darkness not yet understood

Through the valley I must travel

Where I see no earthly good

But mine is peace that flows from Heaven

And the strength in times of need

I know my pain will not be wasted

Christ completes his work in me

How beautiful is that? This hymn of faith is our message for 2023 that though you may travel through valleys where you will see no earthy good. Your pain will not be wasted. Strength and peace will be yours as Christ completes his work in you

Your pain is not wasted. Christ will complete his work in you. May this be true for you and me. 

Soli Deo Gloria

Death by One Thousand Cuts

This July marked 22 years of pastoral ministry for me in the same church. Growing up, I moved often and rarely lived more than three to five years in an any given location. Two decades in the same place has been surreal and filled with its joys and pains.

Pastoral ministry is not easy and not for the faint of heart. In pastoral ministry you get to see the good the bad and the ugly of society in general and of your congregation in particular. There is more difficult jobs than being a pastor but few require the combination of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual engagement around the clock.

The pain that a pastor feels is unique because you can not prevent your heart from exposure to pain that you can in other lines of work the exposure of your heart is the very thing your people need to see as it points them to God’s heart. Pastors don’t burn up and burn out overnight they die a death from one thousand cuts over time.

Few people in our society ever face death or deal with it regularly, as a pastor, you walk multiple families a year through the darkest valley of their lives. Some people have been ghosted by a friend or loved one for pastors; this is not just a once in a lifetime event but a constant reality. Few people know the emotional and relational pain of baptizing families, rejoicing with them in their successes, the birth of their babies and walk with them in the darkest valleys only to have those people one Sunday not show up. One person did this to me I called to see if they were ok they answered the phone and when I said hello and they heard my voice they hung up. I still to this day have no idea why they left and how I must have hurt them without even knowing I did. One thousand cuts.

To have people that have come to your church since they were kids who you have spent hours praying with, crying with, and laughing with turn and blast you personally on social media or through text message is incredibly personal. One thousand cuts.

To watch families you have served, families you love, families who you thought would be together forever instead suffer losses that you can’t stop. It feels like a personal failure from which you can’t separate yourself, thinking you could have done something more to help them or point them more clearly to Christ.

I have found that the way I can keep showing up and what keeps me from giving up is the reapplication of what I offer to others. The tender mercy of God. I have to find a confessor on earth that I can share my sin and sorrows. I have to reapply the gospel to a heart bent on excusing sin and earning favor. I have to learn to hate my pride and clothe myself in Christ’s humility every day.

One of the ways I remind myself as a follower of Christ I need Gods help is through a Puritan prayer book called the Valley of Vision I often pray I hope it works as an ointment on the one thousand cuts on your soul and brings you back to your real home in Christ.

A MINISTERS STRENGTH

UNCHANGEABLE JEHOVAH
When I am discouraged in my ministry
        and full of doubts of my self,
  fasten me upon the rock of thy eternal election,
    then my hands will not hang down,
    and I shall have hope for myself and others.
Thou dost know thy people by name,
  and wilt at the appointed season
    lead them out of a natural to a gracious state
      by thy effectual calling.
This is the ground of my salvation,
  the object of my desire,
  the motive of my ministry.
Keep me from high thoughts of myself
    or my work,
  for I am nothing but sin and weakness;
    in me no good dwells,
    and my best works are but sin.
Humble me to the dust before thee.
Root and tear out the poisonous weed
    of self-righteousness,
  and show me my utter nothingness;
Keep me sensible of my sinnership;
Sink me deeper into penitence and self-abhorrence;
Break the Dagon of pride in pieces
    before the ark of thy presence;
Demolish the Babel of self-opinion,
    and scatter it to the wind;
Level to the ground my Jericho walls
    of a rebel heart;
Then grace, grace, will be my experience and cry.
I am a poor, feeble creature when faith
    is not in exercise,
  like an eagle with pinioned wings;
Grant me to rest on thy power and faithfulness,
  and to know that there are two things
    worth living for:
  to further thy cause in the world,
  and to do good to the souls and bodies of men;
This is my ministry, my life, my prayer, my end.
Grant me grace that I shall not fail.

So profound:

Break the Dagon of pride in pieces
before the ark of thy presence;
Demolish the Babel of self-opinion,
and scatter it to the wind;
Level to the ground my Jericho walls of a rebel heart;
Then grace, grace, will be my experience and cry.

For us, as ministers, our strength does not come from being what our people need at the moment they need it. It comes from our own experience with the grace and mercy of God and the overflow of that mercy. Our work is heart work. It is to apply the reality of the gospel to the hearts of our people in every season in every situation of life. Never forgetting that the person who needs the message we spread most is us.

Father remind us of your saving grace, your empowering grace and grant me grace that I may not fail at last.

Training Kids to be Truthful and Kind

At the risk of sounding like a nerd. I remember reading the encyclopedia as a child. The encyclopedia salesman came to the door and sold us a set. I loved it. It was the internet before the internet was cool. I had something many kids didn’t have I had a private stash of information. What I thankfully didn’t have was a platform to share that information I had gathered about historic events, strange animals and various states. This generation more than any other has more information at their disposal and more opportunity to share their ideas than ever before. Knowledge plus platform minus the humility that failure and difficulty over time bring is a recipe for arrogance and self-reliance.

When I was growing up information was hard to come by now information is everywhere. Growing up sharing what you have learned was not easy now with the advent of social media everyone has a platform. The job for parents when I was growing up was helping lead your kids to information. Today parents are no longer curators of information but clarifiers of truth.

As a pastor and a father, I have come to realize that if I don’t teach my kids someone else will. What we teach our kids today is not primarily information that can be found elsewhere we need to teach our kids how to use the information they have acquired. We have to give them a grid that will enable them to interact on social media and other online platforms that don’t feed the ego and the subtle arrogance that knowledge and opportunity bring. We have to teach them what no one else will. If we want our kids to be a meat eater and a bone spitter we need to teach them clarity and charity.

What are meat eating and bone spitting? It is the ability to in every conversation and situation look for what you can learn, look for what is true rather than trying to win every argument. If you have been on social media we have a massive problem in our country that is more than Democrat/Republican we have informed or misinformed people who think they are right and are hell-bent on making sure they do not lose an argument. What we need more of is not information. We need more clarity and more charity.

The first thing we need to teach our kids is clarity. Is it true? Is what they are reading is what they are saying true? 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 belive a lie. If they don’t have an external filter for the truth they will believe things about God and themselves that isn’t true.

We would rather be certain we are right than charitable with those we disagree.

The next thing parents have to teach their kids is Charity. Modern culture has traded charity for certainty. We would rather be certain we are right than charitable with those we disagree. In our online and offline interactions, we need more charity. Charity is achieved over time through the crucible of pain and the realization that we don’t know it all. Without charity, we will produce a generation that is convinced they are right and will never learn how wrong they are until it is too late. Charity is more than an attitude towards others it is manifested in neighbor love. When we no longer have to live to one-up our “enemies” on facebook we are free to learn from them and ultimately love them. Jonathan Edwards said this in his book Charity and her Fruits. “Do not make an excuse that you have not opportunities to do anything for the glory of God, for the interest of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and for the spiritual benefit of your neighbors. If your heart is full of love, it will find vent; you will find or make ways enough to express your love in deeds. When a fountain abounds in water it will send forth streams.”

If your heart is full of love, it will find vent; you will find or make ways enough to express your love in deeds. When a fountain abounds in water it will send forth streams.”

– Jonathan Edwards

The greatest gift you can give your kids and the kids you pastor is the twin girds of clarity and charity. Is this true and is this kind? Information is superabundant truth and kindness are not. May we raise kids who collect information and in an attitude of charity spit out the bones of untruth and cling to the meat of truth. May our kids grow in their knowledge but grow even more in kindness and truth.

Are you a Preacher Who Pastors or a Pastor who Preaches.

One of the temptations in ministry but particularly in youth ministry is to be a preacher who pastors. Pastoral ministry is tough there is no way around it, it just is. Preaching is generally immediately rewarding with people telling you that you did a great job or how what you said impacted them positively. Pastoring generally results in very few positive short-term results. Pastoring people is getting down into the middle messes and walking people through dark valleys. It isn’t glamorous. It doesn’t get lots of likes on Instagram.  Pastoring is the necessary hard spirit transforming work of leading your people to a long obedience in the same direction.

The problem is that we like instant feedback we like being told of our impact, so the temptation is for us to become preachers who pastor on the side. If we only ever look at pastoring as the necessary evil that allows us to preach, we have missed what it means to be a shepherd of Christ’s flock. When youth Pastors see what they do as a means to get more people there to heart them preach they have missed the point and have failed to have a broader understanding of what Pastoral Care looks like in the Bible.

We need to change our paradigm of discipleship. Preaching is a powerful means of discipleship, but if those we are training and leading only see us on stage they will fail to understand how that message is formed in years of pain and tears and think that standing on the stage in front of kids as what the Greeks called “Summum bonum” the highest good. Jesus confronted this in his disciples through his radical call to authentic discipleship. Do you want to be great? Yes? Be the least. (Matthew 20) Do you want to follow me? You can’t if you love anything. Anything. Including the good things, he gives us more than God himself (Luke 14). Jesus modeled a life a self-sacrificial love showing us what the highest good actually is.

One of the greatest temptations in ministry is to find value in the wrong things. To find our identity in what we do rather than whose we are. Not in the fact we can preach really well or if we can gather a crowd or if our Instagram photo of us preaching gets enough likes, or by getting good feedback on our facebook page after we preach. Our job is not to preach a tweetable message but to proclaim the fullness of God’s word to a generation who doesn’t want to hear the gospel.

What I have found in over twenty years of ministry in the same church is that even my best sermons are forgettable, but the moments I loved those who are the least of these those moments were never forgotten. Pastoring is showing up to pray for an 8-year-old boy in the hospital about to get his tonsils taken out and is scared. It’s walking into the room where a family is gathered because their dad just when home to Glory. It’s sitting in a living room telling a family that even though their dad left them that Jesus isn’t like that. Those moments are when you better be ready to know when to speak the hope the gospel provides and when to be quiet and weep with those who weep. It is in those moments of pastoral care that your life connects the dots preaching creates. Young pastor be a pastor who preaches not a preacher who pastors.