I don’t know if any of this has any connection. It’s more of an observation of current things than anything else.
The Super Bowl is this Sunday. It’s the American Civil Religion’s High Holy Day event of the year. It’s easy to pick on of course, from a theological perspective. There will be plenty patriotism on display for some reason which really has nothing to do with the game. There’s lots of money on display too. So much money invested in one game because so many eye balls will be watching. There’s lots of money to be made of course off of the game. America’s quiet idol, money, is always lurking about for such things. But we don’t like to talk about idols of course.
This year there’s talk about a “Christian” commercial – something about Jesus being like us. Some ridiculous amount of money spent on ads. I’ve seen articles on how your church can benefit off the ad and prepare for the response from the ad. I’ve seen articles debating the ad. No offense, but really? Super Bowl ads are not inexpensive. I can imagine how that money could have been used to just be Christ-like and shown how Jesus is actually just like us – you know, feeding people, caring about people, housing people, etc. We didn’t need an ad to talk about it. And ad that will be forgotten by Monday, or Tuesday at best.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is on the rise and people are asking – what kind of impact it will have on churches. Good question. Will it replace pastors? Will it replace sermons? Will churches change?
Do you notice something about these questions? They are fear based. Will AI replace me, is the real question. This is no different than questions of the past – will the horseless carriage have an impact on my horsewhip business? How will Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the phone affect my telegram business?
The answer is I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. Will AI have an impact on the church? Sure. It’s bound to, as long as it has some kind of broader impact on society. The church is not some kind of compartment of society cut off from everything else. And at the same time, the church isn’t like everything else either. That clears it right up, doesn’t it? LOL.
Here’s a few other things to consider – the church is not known as being on the cutting edge of technological change. And AI is certainly on the cutting edge of technological change. There isn’t church out there right now that is even considering how to handle AI or what to make of it. None. This isn’t on their radars, even though it should be. Churches are still fighting the culture war fights of the 1990’s in far too many cases – sexuality, gender, the role of women in leadership, etc.
So what are we to do? That’s the question, isn’t it? That’s always the question. Take a breath for starters.
The Super Bowl will come and it will go. Civil Religion exists. It has existed in every society that ever existed. What is the church’s role in the midst of it? To proclaim Good News. And what is Good News in the midst of what the Super Bowl offers? The Super Bowl is a message of fun, food, money, and great time. That’s the message. Lots of people have a great time. Talking negative about it only makes you look like a spoiled sport. Bringing up things like the trauma of violence, and the damage that happens to the players is usually ignored through cognitive dissonance. Talking about such things like the sex trafficking that goes on in the host city every year gets swept under the rug. People are just looking for a good time for a few hours to distract themselves from the challenges of the world. And the Super Bowl gives them an opportunity to root for something – a team. It gives them something fun to watch – the commercials. It gives them something good to taste – the food to indulge in. If only for a short while they can forget about life. So what is the Good News in the midst of that?
Don’t you hear it? Listen to what people are saying. Listen to what they are really saying about what the Super Bowl is really about for them. A distraction from the world that they know. They know about all the crap – they live it. The Super Bowl is marketed as a facade of good news. But it’s not The Good News. It can’t ever reach level. So what does the church offer as a message? Do we just ignore it? Do we play along? Or do we talk to what people are really saying – the pains that people are trying to be distracted from for just a few hours. Those pains that will return on Monday. The Super Bowl will be over. The season will be over on Sunday night. But the church will still be there. And so will their pain. How do you talk to them about that? That’s the Good News message that people need to hear. That’s the opportunity. That’s where Jesus is waiting.
As for AI, see, I’m not worried. The current structure of the church isn’t created to deal with AI. It never conceived of such of thing or how to deal with it. The current structure of the church can’t figure out how to deal with the culture wars that have been going on for the last few decades, there’s no way it can deal with AI. It would require massive changes in the church’s constitutions, organizational structure, staffing, communication, and more. This starts with how the church thinks about things. We’re not even close to that. The church is still struggling to adapt to hybrid technology and what that actually means and how to use it effectively for discipleship, let alone worship. Of course this isn’t a one-size fits all thing either. And that’s part of the challenge. Technology is just a tool. That’s all it is. No different than money. Or so many other things. But so often we see technology and money as something more than what they are. And that creates problems for ourselves. And we don’t approach with any focus or purpose. We just think they will solve our problems or they are magic bullets. They aren’t. They are tools to be used and applied effectively and with purpose. But they require effort and a plan and focus and more. The biggest question we often miss asking is “is this helping us accomplish our goal or not?” and “how?”
So I’m going to try to wrap this whole assortment of a brain stroll that this blog post has been up. It’s been a journey of sorts really. You have some choices to make. How are you going to see things – are they threats or opportunities? Is the Super Bowl something in competition to your church? Or is it something else? Is AI a threat to you? Or does it present an opportunity?
We go into an unknown time – as all time going forward really is. We don’t know what the future holds ever. And that’s where faith really comes in. Our faith tells us this. That the best is yet to come. It’s not the past – which is known. Oh, the past gives us comfort because we know all about it. It gives us a sense of control. And control is so very comforting. But that’s not where the Good News resides. Nope. The best is yet to come because God is standing at the end of history, drawing us towards Godself into an embrace. The culmination of history is where we are going. It’s what we are called to. We don’t know how it will go. Knowing is not what we are called to. If we knew, then we wouldn’t need faith. Faith isn’t about knowing. Faith is about hope.
Faith is about what we are called to – individually, as a community, and more. It’s about listening. It’s about serving. It’s about moving forward with purpose and hope and promise. It’s about proclamation of that promise to all around us and inviting people into what God is already up to. And that’s going to look different in different contexts.