In the Gospel according to St. Mark, Jesus appears to jump quickly from activity to activity. Did Jesus have a form of attention deficit disorder (ADD)? Could your congregation benefit from similar characteristics?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a more current diagnosis which encompasses the older ADD term, is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children. Symptoms include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. The number of children diagnosed with the disorder has been increasing over the last 20 years. In 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that the rate of incidence in this age group has gone up between three and five percent per year in many studies. However, ADHD is also being identified across the span of life.
Not diagnosed until recent times
When the Rev. Dr. Harold T. Lewis was rector of the Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, he shared with his congregation that the only reason he had not been diagnosed with ADD was that the disorder had not been identified during his youth. Although the term “mental restlessness” was referenced in the early twentieth century, the term ADHD was not used until 1987.
This spectrum is illustrated by a T-shirt slogan which reads: “Someone said I have ADD. I don’t! Look! A chicken!”
Jesus and ADD?
I facetiously asked my congregation: “Did Jesus have ADD?” The responses were immediate and defensive, questioning how I could seriously imply that Jesus was inattentive, impulsive or a distraction to others.
My query was based on Craig Surman and Tim Bilkey’s book Fast Minds. Surman, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and Bilkey, a Canadian psychiatrist, list the often overlooked positive aspects of the ADHD spectrum: creativity, empathy, passionate zeal, zest, intuitiveness, quick-thinking and functioning competently in multiple areas.
With my reading of this book and of Mark’s gospel likely based on reports from eye witnesses, I believe that Jesus demonstrated some characteristics of ADD. Mark relates his account the way we tell a story to children. Kids often ask: “And then what happened?” Mark uses the words “and then” 34 times and the word “immediately” 30 times.
In particular, Mark 5:21-43 illustrates my hypothesis. Jairus, a respected synagogue official, begs Jesus to lay hands on his young daughter who is near death. Accompanied by a great crowd Jesus goes with Jairus, but then turns abruptly in the procession, aware that “the power had gone forth from him,” and asks: “Who touched my clothes?” A woman has been instantly cured of a chronic hemorrhage. The large group proceeds to the house and Jesus raises the girl from the dead.
Handling many issues at once
In this account Jesus deals with the crowd, the desperate father, the sick woman, those who came to report the girl’s death, his disciples and the little girl while forcefully ejecting the mourners and likely praying continuously to his heavenly Father. Here Jesus demonstrates positive traits from the Fast Minds research including a heightened awareness and the ability to handle a number of issues simultaneously.
Church focus in a demanding era
Most turnaround congregations rightly concentrate on the same main roles that the early Church did in the Acts 2:36-48:
1. Growing into Christ through belief that Jesus is Savior and Lord, repentance and baptism
2. Growing up in Christ-like maturity through teaching, koinonia, the breaking of the bread, prayers and wonders and signs
3. Growing out in service and care in Christ’s name
4. Growing more in membership
The challenge for the faithful, smaller congregation and the stagnant church is to listen for what the Holy Spirit is leading them to do in their next chapter.
Breaks and Sabbath bring “light-bulb” moments
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago report that “too much focus can actually harm creative problem solving.” It is during time-outs, mindless activities or while exercising that creative solutions to life’s problems occur. (WSJ 4/4/13) Jesus seemed to maintain calm in the midst of the chaos of ministry by keeping the Sabbath and setting apart time to discern his heavenly Father’s marching orders. According to Mark 1:35, Jesus devoted time before dawn to walk to a deserted place to be alone in prayer.
Open to additional ideas
Many secular business leaders encourage “listening to the whisperings,” a phrase attributed to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Those who base their lives on the Bible listen for the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. (1 Kings 19:12 KJV) Christian leaders should encourage members to pay attention to fresh insights and to their dreams. Like Jesus, the Christian may turn aside and see a need or be nudged to help a hurting person or segment of society.
Discernment is necessary
However, the fervor for a new ministry should be initiated with prayerful discernment. In response to some Christians who seemed to follow anything that came into their heads, sixteenth century reformers Luther and Calvin “tested the spirit” against the teachings of “the Word,” the Bible.
What additional areas of ministry is the Lord encouraging you to prayerfully add in 2017?