Encouragement for the ADHD Pastor

I was once on an airplane and a woman sitting next to me was a Christian from a different tradition. As I was sharing my testimony with her, I mentioned that I have ADHD. She interrupted me and said, “Don’t speak that over yourself!” Not wanting to be overly confrontational, I told her that I viewed it as a thorn given to me to keep me dependent on the Lord and not a curse. She looked puzzled, and we changed the subject.

For many years I went undiagnosed with ADHD, perhaps it was because I didn’t get into much trouble in my younger years and I was pretty shy. However, as I entered into college, I was having a really difficult time focusing. After a series of testing, it was determined that I have ADHD and Dyslexia. It has been challenging, but I have been able to see it as a gift as well. Not only a ‘thorn’, but also an invitation, as it were, to see Jesus redeem even that area of my life.

I am blessed to have several pastor friends who are uber studious, great planners, organized, etc. They are able to sit for hours and pray, read, write, plan, and get a lot done. These guys are awesome and I respect them so much. However, I know a lot of pastors like myself who have a really difficult time sitting still, reading, writing, sermon prepping, and who have been conditioned for years to rely on the extra boost of adrenaline right before a deadline to be able to crank out whatever is due with some level of success as a result.

While there is arguably positive reinforcement for a negative habit of procrastination, it is often not laziness that is the reason for the procrastination. If you do not have ADHD, or think that it’s made up for a generation that should’ve been spanked more, or whatever, this post won’t make much sense to you. With all due respect, I’m not writing this to help you understand your ADHD pastor, but to those who find themselves bathing in shame for not being like the other pastors who appear to have it all together (MEMO: they don’t!) and to help them see how God can use how they are wired for His Glory and their joy.

I know first-hand how difficult it can be to sit down, with your Bible, a stack of commentaries, and have a list (or pop-ups) running in your mind about all of the things you forgot to do, need to do, should do, or a random fantasy about a vacation you will be taking all while you are needing to crank out your sermon notes. I understand the tension of knowing how important your time with Jesus in the Word is, how important prayer is, and also feeling like you’ve been after it for hours, and only ten minutes have passed by, while reading social media updates about pastor so-and-so’s hours of prayer and study. It’s not that we shouldn’t aspire for more in our walk, but I think we are forgetting some important things.

It’s not that we shouldn’t aspire to experience more in our walk and ministry, but I think we are forgetting some important things:

  1. God Made You: While we could argue that ADHD is a product/consequence of the Fall, we would be remiss to ignore the creativity, relational care, and other strengths that those with ADHD have. God made you, saved you, and called you. Even with your brokenness and even with your ADHD.
  2. Stop Comparing Yourself: The gauge of success in our personal walk with Jesus and our sermon prep shouldn’t be the quantity of time, but the quality of that time. Are we positioning ourselves the best we can in order to hear from Him, obey Him, and serve Him and His people? Then what business is it of yours how long pastor so-and-so is spending in prep and research? If you’re not properly prepared, then you will need to make adjustments to help yourself be prepared. You do not need to make adjustments to keep up with someone else.
  3. Learn YOUR Rhythm: I’m a crockpot (pressure cooker) sermon prepper. I need to read the passage, talk about it, think about it, and wrestle with it for some time. A lot of my sermon prep happens in my head while driving or doing other stuff. I know that I need to cultivate a relationship with the passage, and then press in and draw out what I believe the main point of the text is, and then see how it applies to the context where I am teaching. I know that when I need to sit down to write, that I need to give myself less time, not more time, in order to be the most productive. I plan for margins on the end in case I go long, but I do better when I’m focused on accomplishing my sermon prep goals. When it comes to personal devotions, my needs change at various seasons of life. At times it is reading the Scriptures, at other times it’s listening, and at times it’s both. I have buddies who enjoy their devotion from the Hebrew and Greek texts. That’s awesome, but that’s not me. I think God loves me anyway… Also, what time of day do you tend to focus best? What needs to be done, or what distracts you?
  4. Use Some Good Apps: I’m a Mac guy, and I use the following apps to help me focus: Isolator & Anti-Social (I also close my email). I also put my iPhone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ when studying or sermon prepping.
  5. The Goal = Faithfulness: Even in ministry, there is a lot of pressure to be successful. We must remember that God’s gauge of success is ultimately Jesus’ victory on the cross and His following resurrection. Our calling is to be faithful to Him. Part of being faithful means to be honest about who and how you are, and asking for and receiving the proper help. Whether it’s from a doctor or a dietician, we must do whatever we can to position ourselves to be available to faithfully serve Jesus.

My ADHD Pastor Friend, I understand the battle. There are many days we feel defeated and feel like that others can do this job much better. In times like this, we need to turn that feeling of shame into focused worship of the One who made us and is redeeming us. Let it be an invitiation to dependence on the Holy Spirit to help us move beyond our limitations to faithful pursuit of Him in and through our time in study and preparation, and through our expressions of our calling.

May this ‘thorn’ lead us to deeper worship and dependence. Be encouraged, subscribe below, then get off of here and go finish your sermon!

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