Disciplemaking in the Digital Age

The Role of AI in Shaping Future Church Leaders

February 26, 2024

Integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into disciplemaking within Christian ministry heralds a transformative era, offering an opportunity to enhance the fabric of spiritual guidance and leadership. 

This evolution in ministry practice, while integrating the digital age, echoes Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (ESV). 

This article, inspired by my previous work “God, Man, and Machine: Exploring AI through a Christian Lens of Theology, Ethics, and Leadership,” embarks on thoroughly exploring AI’s role in aligning with the core mission of disciplemaking in contemporary Christian ministry. It dives into the theological underpinnings of AI usage in disciplemaking, scrutinizes the ethical considerations, identifies practical applications, and evaluates the challenges and opportunities presented to Christian leaders in today’s technologically advanced era. 

Theological Underpinnings: Imago Dei and AI

At the heart of our understanding of AI in disciplemaking is the biblical concept of Imago Dei, the belief that humans are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). This concept is pivotal in shaping the role of AI in ministry, as emphasized by Engel (2023) and further explored by Herzfeld (2023). 

Herzfeld argues that while AI can replicate certain human cognitive functions, it cannot fully encompass the spiritual and relational aspects inherent in human beings. This distinction is crucial for Christian leaders to recognize as they integrate AI into their ministry. AI, thus, should be viewed as a tool to augment human capacities in disciplemaking, enhancing the efficacy and reach of ministry efforts without attempting to replace the unique, God-given qualities of human interaction and spiritual connection.

Using AI to complement rather than supplant the inherently relational nature of disciplemaking is important. AI can personalize learning and discipleship paths, tailor sermons and teachings to individual congregational needs, and even aid in pastoral care by providing analytical insights into church members’ spiritual health and needs. 

However, these applications must always be grounded in a deep understanding of and commitment to the theological principles that guide Christian ministry, ensuring that AI enhances rather than undermines the essential relational and spiritual aspects of disciplemaking.

Ethical Stewardship in AI Integration

A commitment to ethical stewardship is paramount in deploying AI within Christian ministry. This commitment aligns closely with the biblical principles outlined in Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (ESV)? 

This verse serves as a foundational scriptural guidance for ethical behavior, particularly relevant in the context of AI integration in ministry.

In Micah 6:8, the prophet Micah addresses Israel during a time of corrupt practices and social injustice. The verse distills what God requires of his people: To act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with him. 

This directive provides a threefold ethical framework:

To Act Justly: This calls for fairness and equity in all dealings. In AI deployment, this translates into fair use of technology, ensuring that AI systems are designed and implemented in ways that do not discriminate or perpetuate biases, especially in socio-economically diverse congregations.

To Love Kindness: This emphasizes the importance of compassionate action. When applying this to AI involves using technology to enhance, not impede, personal relationships within the church community, ensuring that AI supports pastoral care and community engagement.

To Walk Humbly with God: This entails recognizing God’s sovereignty over all aspects of life, including technology. It suggests a posture of humility and openness to divine guidance in decision-making processes, especially in areas as novel and evolving as AI.

Data Privacy and Security / Social Justice and Equity Concerns

In line with the ethical framework provided by Micah 6:8, Christian leaders must navigate the challenges of data privacy and security with justice and kindness. Establishing clear ethical guidelines for AI usage is essential to protect congregants’ sensitive information, reflecting the just and kind treatment commanded in scripture. Moreover, the ethical application of AI in ministry should address social justice and equity issues in line with the call to act justly. AI systems, if unchecked, may inadvertently exacerbate social divides. Leaders must ensure that AI applications do not marginalize or disadvantage particular groups within the congregation, reflecting the scriptural call to uphold justice and equity.

Practical Applications of AI in Disciplemaking

Enhancing Learning and Mentorship

Applying AI in disciplemaking gives Christian leaders a spectrum of opportunities to enhance their ministry. By offering personalized and adaptable religious education, AI-driven learning platforms cater to a congregation’s diverse learning styles and backgrounds. This approach is reminiscent of the Apostle Paul’s method of being “all things to all people,” as noted in 1 Corinthians 9:22 (ESV), where he adapted his approach to meet people where they were. Similarly, AI can tailor educational content to individual needs, ensuring that each congregation member receives teaching most effectively for them. Furthermore, AI can facilitate virtual mentorship programs, bridging the gap between emerging leaders and experienced pastors. This mirrors the biblical mentorship model, as seen in the relationship between Paul and Timothy (2 Timothy 1:2 ESV). AI can connect individuals across geographical boundaries, fostering a sense of community and shared learning, vital for spiritual growth and leadership development.

Streamlining Church Administration

In church administration and resource management, AI-powered tools offer significant improvements. By assisting in efficiently managing church finances, organizing events, and predicting attendance patterns, AI enables leaders to steward resources effectively. This aligns with the biblical principle of good stewardship, as highlighted in Luke 16:10 (ESV), which emphasizes faithfulness in managing small things before being entrusted with more significant responsibilities. By automating administrative tasks, pastors and church leaders can dedicate more time to direct, relational ministry and personal discipleship, reflecting the pastoral heart of Jesus, who focused on relational engagement with individuals and crowds.

Facilitating Community Engagement

AI’s role in community engagement and outreach is particularly noteworthy. By analyzing community needs and passions, AI can assist pastors in tailoring their outreach programs to meet specific needs, similar to Jesus’ approach to individual passions and community needs, as depicted in the gospels. 

For instance, addressing areas of food insecurity or mental health support aligns with Jesus’ ministry of feeding the hungry and caring for the marginalized. Virtual platforms for fellowship, prayer, and support, enabled by AI, become crucial in times of crisis, reflecting the early church’s commitment to meeting and supporting one another, as seen in Acts 2:42-47 ESV.

Addressing Challenges of Equitable Access

However, deploying AI in disciplemaking also presents challenges, particularly in ensuring equitable access to technology. Not all members may have equal access to or familiarity with digital technologies in socio-economically diverse congregations. Pastors must be mindful of these disparities, ensuring that AI-enhanced ministry efforts are inclusive and accessible to all members. This may involve providing training and support for those less familiar with technology and offering alternative, non-digital options for participation. Proactively seeking feedback and input from all congregation segments ensures that AI applications meet everyone’s needs and preferences, reflecting the inclusive nature of the gospel.

The practical applications of AI in disciplemaking offer significant opportunities for enhancing ministry effectiveness. However, these must be balanced with the challenges of equitable access and the need for ethical consideration. By integrating AI in a way that aligns with biblical principles and addresses the diverse needs of the congregation, Christian leaders can effectively utilize technology to advance the church’s mission in the digital age.


Christian leaders must navigate this process with discernment and wisdom as they integrate artificial intelligence (AI) into their disciplemaking efforts. This approach is essential to ensure that the use of AI in ministry is deeply rooted in Christian ethics and theology, enhancing rather than undermining the spiritual and relational aspects of disciplemaking. One key scripture that emphasizes the need for discernment and wisdom is James 1:5, which states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (ESV). This verse suggests that seeking wisdom, especially in areas of new challenges like AI integration, is a God-honored pursuit. 

Wisdom in this context means understanding the proper use of AI in a way that aligns with God’s will and the teachings of Christ, ensuring that technology serves as a tool to further the Gospel rather than a distraction or a hindrance.

James 1:5 is set within a passage that discusses enduring trials and seeking God’s guidance. The verse encourages believers to seek wisdom from God, who gives generously and without finding fault. The broader context implies that wisdom is crucial in navigating challenging situations or making decisions, particularly when these circumstances are novel, such as integrating AI in ministry. This wisdom goes beyond mere knowledge; it involves understanding how to apply knowledge that aligns with Christian values and principles.

This scriptural principle calls for Christian leaders to engage thoughtfully with AI, seeking divine guidance in discerning its appropriate use. This involves a commitment to ongoing learning about AI and its ethical implications, collaborating with experts in the field, and being open to adapting AI strategies in response to ethical concerns and congregational feedback. By doing so, pastors and church leaders can ensure that their use of AI supports and enhances their ministry, making it more efficient, effective, and responsive to the diverse needs of their congregations.

Integrating AI in ministry is not merely about embracing new technologies. It’s about reimagining how to fulfill the Great Commission in a rapidly changing world. This requires leaders to discern the best ways to use AI to reach and disciple people, always aligning with the mission and values of the church. It’s a journey that combines innovation with a deep respect for biblical teachings and the timeless principles of the Christian faith.

In summary, AI offers Christian leaders a significant opportunity to enhance disciplemaking in the digital age. By integrating AI thoughtfully and ethically into their ministry efforts, leaders can ensure that their ministries remain efficient and effective while staying true to the core values and teachings of Christianity. This journey of integrating AI into ministry, guided by wisdom and discernment, represents a modern application of living out the Great Commission in a technologically advanced world.


  • Engel, M. J., (2023). God, Man, and Machine: Exploring AI through a Christian Lens of Theology, Ethics, and Leadership.
  • Herzfeld, N. (2023). The artifice of intelligence: Divine and Human Relationship in a Robotic Age. Augsburg Fortress Publishers.
Matt Engel

Matt Engel

Matt Engel has held a distinguished position as a senior leader and adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University. During his tenure, he employed data, analytics, and strategic messaging to achieve notable advancements in student enrollment and retention rates over nine years. Subsequently, Mr. Engel received a calling to employ his knowledge and expertise as a pastor at a local church in Phoenix, Arizona. This led to his engagement in assisting other churches, ministries, and denominations in embracing a more spiritually guided, Christ-centered, and data-informed approach.  In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, Engel is recognized as a renowned speaker and author of Fourteen Fridays. Furthermore, he has become a subject matter expert in the Decision Science and Growth Engagement Strategy domains. By spearheading the largest coalition of forward-thinking churches, comprising some of the most influential congregations in the United States, he has garnered recognition for his exceptional proficiency in aiding church leaders in fulfilling their divine mission. This is achieved by transforming intricate research and datasets into actionable insights with quantifiable outcomes, employing a methodology of rapid experimentation. Residing in Northern Arizona with his spouse, Denise, and their two children, Engel also assumes the responsibility of caring for their elderly in-laws. He is a doctoral candidate for a degree in Christian leadership, with a focused research area centered on transformational leadership in times of liminality.
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