ADHD and Spiritual Development: Tying it All Together

 

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This is the eighteenth post in our Fall Series: ADHD and Spiritual Development: Strategies for Parents and Church Leaders

As we conclude this series of posts on the subject of helping kids with ADHD to grow spiritually, hopefully I’m going to model for our readers a strategy useful in teaching kids with ADHD.

We’ve covered lots of ground in the last six weeks. We’ve discussed how kids and adults with ADHD have brains that are wired differently, resulting in difficulties with sustaining focus and concentration on uninteresting tasks and weaknesses in executive functioning…a set of cognitive abilities involved in controlling and regulating other abilities and behaviors. We’ve discussed the challenges ADHD presents in practicing spiritual disciplines and maintaining a process of continual spiritual growth. We’ve looked at the obstacles that ADHD presents for kids and parents seeking to be actively engaged in a local church. We’ve examined teaching strategies for parents and church leaders serving kids with ADHD and ideas for creating more “ADHD-friendly” church environments. I’m going to conclude today by identifying four ideas for those serving in church leadership positions to consider if your church desires to connect with and influence families in your community currently unserved by other churches. These ideas are also useful if your motivation is to minister more effectively to families already in your church who have children with ADHD. For those of you with ADHD, I’ll help you prioritize the most important “takeaways” from this series.

Your church doesn’t need to create a new program to effectively serve kids with ADHD and their families, but it does need to be intentional about developing a strategy to minister to them. While ADHD is a disability, persons with ADHD don’t generally identify themselves as being disabled. The vast preponderance of kids, teens and parents with ADHD can be effectively served within the ministry programming your church leadership has found to be most effective in building Christ-followers. Parents of kids with ADHD are reluctant to self-identify to church staff or volunteers and probably won’t mention their child’s condition on children’s or student ministry registration forms. Most kids with ADHD (assuming they don’t have other mental health, learning or developmental disorders that complicate their needs) won’t require “buddies” or special assistance on a weekly basis. Families with ADHD do need a church where they’ll feel welcomed…not judged for their shortcomings. They need a church where they can come to know more about God in environments that help them to focus on the important teaching that’s offered. They need a place where they’ll be provided opportunities as they mature to use their spiritual gifts and talents in serving others. They need a place where they’ll connect with and build relationships with adults outside their family who can teach them and mentor them in 1:1 and small group situations. A church doesn’t develop the capacity offer such supports to families of kids with ADHD without some degree of intentionality in planning and purpose.

If you don’t become intentional about ministry to kids with ADHD and their families because there are too many of them in your community to ignore, you’ll become intentional because of the need to support and maintain your children’s and youth ministry volunteers. Kids with hidden disabilities such as ADHD are increasingly becoming the “new normal.” When 9% of school-age children and 4.4% of adults (on average) in your community have a condition with the potential to interfere with church participation and spiritual growth, the group is too big to ignore. We might wish that the kids and families in our communities behaved in ways more similar to what we as leaders remember growing up, but God’s given each of us as individuals and the church as a whole the responsibility to be a light to the people of our generation. If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll fall short of getting what we’ve always got because the kids and families of this generation need to come to know Jesus in ways consistent with how they learn, process information and experience relationships.

Some kids with ADHD will turn up in our churches if we do absolutely nothing. When they do, volunteer teachers and leaders may become discouraged and frustrated if they’re not adequately resourced and equipped to carry out their ministry responsibilities when kids in their classes or small groups disrupt the teaching environments most conducive to spiritual growth. If you’re a senior pastor or children’s/student pastor, you need to consider how to best serve kids with ADHD because the volunteers upon whom you depend may quit if you don’t.

It takes a church to raise a child with ADHD…not just the children’s or student ministry team. Kids with ADHD don’t come to church unless their parents (who may very well have ADHD themselves) bring them to church. If a church doesn’t consider how ALL of the ministries of the church can welcome families of kids with ADHD, any plans developed by the children’s or student ministry team are likely to be in vain. If I were looking for families who identify themselves with our church but aren’t actively engaged because of a child (or parent) with ADHD, I’d start by checking up on kids and parents who are “irregular attenders.” Maybe the parent needs someone to remind them of the importance of coming to church if they or their child hasn’t come for several weeks? Maybe they need a mentor or a friend who can help show them what it means to be a spiritual leader in their home. Maybe they need to be purposefully connected to a small group where they can receive encouragement and support as well as a measure of accountability? That doesn’t occur without the support of the senior pastor and the active involvement of staff and volunteers involved with adult ministry or discipleship.

Resourcing and equipping parents as partners in catalyzing spiritual growth may be even more important for kids with ADHD than kids in general. Kids with ADHD learn best in 1:1 or small group environments with a minimal number of distractions. Who could possibly be better positioned to teach and model what it means to be a follower of Christ to a kid with ADHD than their parents? I’ll be spending a good portion of November exploring how a family-based ministry philosophy in which the church and parents become partners in raising kids who become sold-out Christ followers can be applied to families of kids with hidden disabilities.

In conclusion, I don’t believe that God has brain cramps (I’d have used a different word, but Katie Wetherbee would kill me). The kids and families we’re called to serve are the way that they are for a reason. In Jesus’ day, the culture believed that disabilities were the result of a specific sin (or sins) committed by that individual or their parents. There are lots of people in the church who still believe that in reference to kids with hidden disabilities. What if God has a larger purpose in mind?

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

John 9:3

What if God allows some kids and adults to have ADHD so that He might use their condition to connect them to their larger family in Christ? What if he created them with a unique set of traits and abilities to carry out a special role on His team?

What could be more cool than to be used by God in carrying out such a plan?

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
This entry was posted in ADHD, Families, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Ministry Environments, Parents, Spiritual Development, Strategies and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to ADHD and Spiritual Development: Tying it All Together

  1. Ryan Edlind says:

    Dr. Steve,
    Great posting. As a first time reader I am impressed with the content and blog layout. As a pastor and clinical social worker who has ADHD- I am moved by your compassion and insight into the issues surrounding our kids and the church. Rare advice and precious guidance indeed! Please keep up the great work and I will look forward to connecting in the future here in Cleveland. Also, if you get the chance- do a Bible word study on the “immediately” (in Greek it is “huious”), especially in the gospel of Mark. The context is that it was written as an account with the same kind of intensity and activity as a person with ADHD. Also, the gospel narrative seems to highlight a lot of people running around in several passages.

    On an ADHD side note… when I asked a Greek scholar while in seminary, “How would you coach a student on how to learn ancient Greek if they had a problem with short term memory, say like someone with ADHD?” He said, “If a student had a problem like that they probably should not be in graduate school or seminary.” I insisted for something a little more practical- and he said, “Stop making excuses and try harded like everyone else has to do.” Yowee! May God help us in the church today!

    Ryan Edlind MS, MSW, LISW-S (please note no M.Div in these letters! 🙂

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