I am guessing you need to be an octopus with many tentacles to count the number of people you know probably. Now, why is that?
We must be open to INNOVATION and where it comes to play in our mission. For starters, stop thinking of innovation as something that is technology or something that only businesses do to make money. Like the Patristic Fathers, using innovation is an integral tool of our ministry. It is our outreach ministry!
As in the early church, we must recognize that God moves around us and there is an expectation that we as Christians will respond in a positive way that God is moving us in the correct direction. But more importantly the unchurched or de-churched should be our focus. (Think lost sheep) Innovation comes to aid us in our pursuit to know the Living God. We need to look to innovation as a foundation in outreach strategies; the focus should be for the church to be reaching with the gospel message through innovation.
“When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together in the same place… (And) no one was able to answer Him at all, and from that day no one dared to question Him anymore” (Matthew 22:34, 46).
I like to think of this sentence from Matthew as our “clue” to innovation. We know Jesus was innovative by the mere fact he was addressing men who were ingrained deeply in legalism. Jesus was innovative in his ways to “enlighten” not only the Pharisees and Sadducees but the “unchurched” of his day. We see innovation over and over throughout history. But for some strange reason, we say to ourselves “that was then and not now.”
The history of the church is one of constant innovation. We are not changing the core message of the church, or of scripture, we are just taking advantage of the tools of our era to reach the unchurched and de-churched. The historical approach to Scripture methodologically gave rise to hermeneutical innovation and theological interpretations that allowed us with greater clarity to understand and to stick as close as possible to the original meaning of Biblical passages, to understand what was going on in the culture of the time the passages were being written.
The tools of our modern world are tools created by technology. If we think of the technology used in the early church, we might understand why we should embrace the tools of our era. Think of what an “epistle” was to the early church. Think of the technology of moving those letters across a vast amount of geographical area.
Innovation today brings me to proclaim why it is essential for our churches to understand Artifical Intelligence (AI). Responsible AI is where the church needs to focus. AI is playing a significant role in our society to understand the world. Just like the technology of the early church assisted people in understanding the message of Jesus. (Think Art)
Jesus told his disciples to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, as noted in the Acts of the Apostles 1:8. Five centuries of Christianity within the Roman Empire demonstrated the power of innovation within the church and those early church fathers in Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Byzantium, and Rome. When we study the various councils of the first four hundred years, we see technology at work. We see innovation bringing the message of the Living God to the unchurched and de-churched of the time. The lack of accepting change was the cause of cultural differences when we look at people in churches battling against innovation. When we study the history of the church, we see technology is everywhere. If we realize “Technology” is anything that is created by human beings to help, reach beyond what we would be able to do without it – whether that’s just doing an old thing more efficiently, or whether it’s doing something that was entirely impossible before. Technology is all about meeting the Living God.
Now back to AI. Responsible AI should be the focus of the church to aid in reaching the unchurched and de-churched. We need to make sure the algorithms that we create have a foundation in scripture and tradition and are reflecting on our mission. A key consideration we must keep in the forefront is the need to be careful not to use algorithms to isolate people, to rule out people, or would pool people into groups that are contrary to the mission of meeting the Living God.
Churches along with their middle governing bodies need to work together to understand better the improvements in deep learning along with AI that is allowing the church to interpret the data better to understand better who the unchurched and de-churched people as human beings seeking to know their God.
We are living in an era where deep-learning of data coupled with AI is improving our work-a-day lives, and we need to harness this for the mission of meeting the Living God. The role of middle governing bodies and conferences will come with an appreciated of the massive amounts of data required along with computing power that small church cannot afford.
Churches and middle governing bodies need to look to cloud services for affordable supercomputer power.
It is through technology that we create a more human interface in our mission.
AI will become more integral in our mission going forward. Pick a single missional challenge or church planting/discipleship challenge and focus on performing some research with your teams to better understand how AI can tackle the problem. Build a plan to implement AI and how your efforts will use AI.
The church historically has had issues with understanding data. Just look at all the councils, see the difference between East and West and look at the Great Schism of 1054. Look at the Reformation. Re-imagine the world of the church with a much better understanding of the data and culture of the time. Technology such as AI help us to minimize bias in religion, in training and help us to synthesize the data created as a mechanism for achieving the mission.
AI needs to be “explainable.” Think of transparency. Think of openness.
Immersing our missional lives and experiences are changing the way we will and are connecting with the unchurched and de-churched. AI will allow us to better connect with information, experiences, and with each other as real people in real life situations.