I don't usually write posts like this, but if you've been on the Internets lately, you know that AI programs like Chat GPT are all the rage. Personally, I love using it to send not-so-personal notes to friends and family members.
Dear David Hartkopf, I just wanted to take a moment to express my sincere appreciation for everything you have done for me. Your unwavering support, guidance, and kindness have been invaluable to me, and I cannot thank you enough for all that you have done. Your expertise and passion for your work have inspired me to pursue my own goals with greater enthusiasm and determination. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from you and to have you as a mentor and role model. Thank you for everything you have done for me, David. Your impact on my life will be remembered and cherished always. Sincerely, [Your Name]
Pro-tip, just remember to replace "[your name]" with your actual name. Do this and your closest friends and family members will never know the difference.
But in all seriousness, what does the future of artificial intelligence (AI) look like and how should Christians respond?
This past year, I've had the opportunity to work closely with a few individuals who are on the cutting edge of technological advancement. And admittedly, sometimes talking to them feels like I'm in a different world.
While I'm no AI expert and am well aware projections today might pan out very differently than we expect, through speaking with these individuals I feel like I have a small window into the future of what the next decade might hold. To be clear, I believe there is a lot of good in store. But with all technological advancements, certain challenges arise.
I'll start with six of these key challenges as they relate to Christians and then I'll wrap up with a few choices we can make.
First, anticipate a title wave of blah
As AI accelerates, expect your social media feeds to be inundated with trivial junk–content that seems real but is actually a product of AI. You know that picture floating around with Pope Francis in a white puffy coat? That's just the start.
Also, as a writer, I fear what tools like Chat GPT will do to my industry. On one hand, it's easy to say, "Ah, we'll always be able to tell human content from AI content." But honestly, I'm not so sure. For now, I would say that's true (at least for longer projects), but what about in a few years?
Second, brace for entire industries to disappear
I don't think the average person like myself comprehends how many jobs AI will consume in the coming decade. There are many stats I could cite, but God only knows what this number will be.
Technology is funny this way. It's slow and it's fast. On one hand, we're all not driving flying cars as some predicted fifty years ago, but on the other, the last twenty years have brought us the iPhone, social media, and Chat GPT. Before the Pandemic, the model of working three days from home and two in the office was an outlier. Now, it's common. After all, why commute thirty miles to work when you can make better use of your time and energy using Zoom?
And so while I think it's unrealistic to assume most of the Canadian or US population will shift to self-driving cars by 2030, I do think we can expect to see sudden drops where one day particular workers (such as waiters or truck drivers) are no longer needed.
Third, expect education models to continuously evolve
When I went to college, much of the educational system revolved around consuming information. I memorized content for tests.
Now, with the launch of Chat GPT, I think many of today's homework assignments for teens and university students will soon prove fruitless. It's simply too easy to cheat. But what about Christian institutions? Won't the honor system still hold up? In most instances, maybe so. But when you've got students who have deadlines on a project the next morning, haven't started writing, and are staring at a blank computer screen at 11:30 PM, their choices might surprise us.
Instead, good educational models will focus on teaching students how to think over top of what to think. Students will have to do in-class, written essay assignments, or be assigned projects where AI isn't an option.
Fourth, prepare for a wave of identity challenges
Consider how technology has already merged with our lives. The iPhone lives in our hands and Alexa is a voice command away. But that's just the start. What happens when this technology is embedded in the human body?
For example, Elon Musk has said he'll have surgeons embed a Nuralink chip in his skull. The idea is that such chips could potentially restore vision even for people born blind. Again, on the surface, there seem like so many pros, especially the potential benefits for those struggling with PTSD and other mental health challenges.
But consider the possible downside. Imagine having a brain with an external hard drive attached. In other words, you have the content of your smartphone at the tip of your thoughts. Combine this with virtual reality worlds such as the expanded versions of the metaverse and we may enter some very uncharted cultural waters.
Again, I come back to the reality that technology is fast and slow. For example, the metaverse doesn't seem to have taken off as some projected. But, there might be another variation that does. And if this happens, the whole technological advancement game could change seemingly overnight.
Along with this, in the next decade or two I believe we will see a new identity wave of "tech beings." These will be individuals who see themselves as non-binary beings – meaning they aren't fully human or fully AI. Think avatars on steroids. After all, what does personhood look like if there are artificial enhancements that allow us to do much more than our natural bodies would permit?
Fifth, expect a new wave of church marketing
Over the past thirty years, we've seen various waves of church models. There was the church growth movement, the seeker-sensitive movement, the emerging church movement, the home church movement, the missional movement, and even the anti-movement movement.
Trends come and go. And while I've benefited from various aspects of these movements, I've also worked with many who have suffered harm as they adopted a model that worked for a few people in one particular context but wasn't transportable to other regions.
Rest assured there will be a new wave of church leaders who capitalize on these technological shifts to promote their new models.
Maybe I'm being too cynical. After all, when I think about it, who wouldn't want to buy someone's latest and greatest AI-generated book for $14.99?
Sixth, expect the unexpected
Here's the deal. I can pontificate all day long about what I think will happen in ten years, but if history has taught us anything, it's that we can expect the unexpected. We're all one world event from everything changing.
Would Putin ever use a Nuclear Bomb and what might the next pandemic look like? Only time will tell.
After reading this list of challenges, we might be tempted to bury our heads in the sand and give up. "Lord Jesus, come quickly!" we breathe. But before we resort to despair, here are a few choices we can make.
AI advancements will open up many exciting opportunities. Take Chat GPT for example. If you need to write code for your website or condense a Zoom call transcript, you can literally save yourself hours of work. That's great.
For many Christians, they've grown accustomed to resisting technological trends. Everything new is bad. This happened with the radio, TV, and the Internet. And it is happening again with AI. We fear uncertainty. And to be clear, there is reason to be concerned.
But historically, when Christians have had this anti-new approach I would argue they miss impacting their current generation with the gospel and answer questions no one is asking. As a result, the teaching in a local church looks very different from the day-to-day lives of regular people.
But for me, a more helpful model is to approach technology like we'd approach eating a fish. We keep the good but spit out the bones.
If you're looking for someone who models this approach well, check out this conversation Dave and I had with author Jay Kim.
When I speak with writing clients (most of whom are not Christian) and I look at what many of my Christian friends write on social media, there is a massive disconnect.
Many Christians are more interested in internal, polemical debate than they are in answering real questions people face. And in the process, they end up sounding very weird to their non-Christian neighbors. Some non-believers have been burned by the church, but many haven't had any experience at all. And so when they see Christians post about all the horrible and terrible problems in church communities, they think, why would I want to be part of something that will only cause me more problems?
Again, I'm not saying polemical discussion is wrong. But I do think Christians need to rethink the way they engage in these discussions (another topic for another post).
If we are going to make an impact in our AI generation, it is imperative that we tackle the real questions people are asking. Questions like:
"Why would I want to be a Christian?" "What does it mean to have my identity in God?" "Does being a follower of Jesus actually make me a better person?" "If God is someone we can know, why are so many Christians divided with 'different revelations' from him?" "How does following Jesus provide hope for my anxiety and depression?"
The days of a pastor getting up on a platform, citing their Greek word study, and impressing congregants with their knowledge should have been over for quite some time.
People have Google. And now they have more. Most people attend church for connection, not information.
Also, for many younger millennials and Gen Zers, they look at small group leaders or people on a stage differently than generations of the past. They're skeptical about what speakers have to share and can easily fact-check what they say.
Ten years ago, when I listened to a sermon, I wanted to be informed. Now, I want to be inspired. By inspiration, I don't mean trivial passion. Instead, I want someone to connect the dots between where I'm living, what God has to say, and how this sermon can help me better love those in my community. This is why programs like The Bible Project connect with so many people. Quality information? Yes, but there is also meaningful application to daily living.
This last week, I attended a conference in Boise and one of the helpful aspects of the conference was there was an app where people in the congregation could offer real-time questions on what the speaker was saying. While this is a common practice for many conferences today, I'd love to see this same approach worked in to local churches.
Is this risky? Perhaps. But I think steps like this would also give voice to those who feel like they're never heard and help pastors answer the real questions people have. Along with this, I think every pastor (if possible) should have a panel of diverse members of their congregation who provide monthly feedback from their perspective. How is the tone and style of worship services coming across to Gen Zers, middle-aged couples, singles, and minority congregants?
Honestly, if we did this I think we'd be shocked at how some of the "solutions" we think we're offering only work for certain groups of people and do not reflect the inclusive nature our technological generation has grown accustomed to seeing.
For decades, Christians have been in "tell mode." After all, we've got good news to share. But now more than ever, younger generations are looking more for authenticity and collaboration than they are all-knowing communicators with flawless arguments.
Spoiler alert: This is the topic of my latest book which I'm now pitching to publishers.
Relationships are everything. Every time I see a Christian disgruntled with the church, I can make one guarantee – there was a breakdown in relationship. They didn't feel valued. Someone said something that hurt. Seldom was it a collapse in belief. Instead, it was a breakdown in trust.
Too often, Christians are great at offering a phony face. "Let's grab a coffee," "Call me sometime," and "I'm praying for you" are all common substitutes we use for developing real connections. When people have real relationships, they're less critical. But when the relationship suffers and they feel marginalized, criticism increases.
As AI increases, so will the need for authentic human relationships and relationship with God. And this is where followers of Jesus have a tremendous opportunity. There are many things AI can do that humans can't. But relationship is not one of them.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Subscribe to our newsletter and leave a comment below!