Pastoral ADHD rampant in United States
Oct. 31, 2014 at 6:08 p.m.
In his 1987 book about doing pastoral ministry in the 20th century, "Working the Angles: the Shape of Pastoral Integrity," Eugene Peterson writes:
"American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right ... They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationary, and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling …What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn't the remotest connection with what the church's pastors have done for most of twenty centuries."
Unfortunately, not much has changed since Peterson first assessed the condition of pastoral ministry in the United States - pastors are still abandoning their posts.
Peterson argues that pastors have replaced their foundational responsibilities with busyness and business strategies. He might say they suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
In other words, pastors increasingly cannot or will not pay attention to God, and in turn are not keeping their communities attentive to God. Perhaps if Peterson had written his book in the midst of the ADHD pandemic we suffer today, he might have changed the title to How to Deal with Pastoral ADHD.
Peterson argues that pastors have abandoned their posts because they have become shopkeepers, and their shops are the churches they were called to pastor.
As shopkeepers, pastors today are concerned primarily with keeping customers happy, trying to lure customers away from competitors down the street, and seeking to package goods so that customers will give more money.
Peterson contends that as shopkeepers, pastors are encouraged to think of themselves as religious entrepreneurs with bottom lines, who ought to ultimately place their trust in marketing strategies and image projection.
For Peterson, paying attention is the foundational responsibility of pastors. He suggests that pastors perform three essential acts of attention in fulfilling their calling: prayer, reading Scripture, and spiritual direction.
Prayer, Peterson maintains, is an act in which we bring ourselves to attention before God. Reading Scripture is an act of attending to what God has said about Himself, His world and His will for His people. And spiritual direction is the act of giving attention to what God is doing in that person who happens to be right before us at any given moment, and encouraging that person to be attentive to God.
This sounds simple, but pastors know how difficult it is to be faithful to these three acts of attention.
It is difficult because no one notices whether we are giving ourselves to these practices. And it is difficult because, well, it takes hard work and discipline.
Being attentive to God is not a natural talent we are born with, instead, it is a disciplined habit we must form over a long period of training, usually when no one is watching.
Peterson reminds us that trained attentiveness to God in prayer, Scripture reading and spiritual direction has not been tried and then discarded because it didn't work.
Rather, it has been tried and found to be difficult, so it is discarded in favor of something that could be fit into a busy pastor's schedule.
I draw attention to Peterson's book, not to be critical of pastors in America, but rather to remind church leaders, as I have again been reminded, that in the midst of all of the temptations, complexities and demands of pastoral ministry, we must not forget our fundamental task - to pay attention to God and to help others be attentive to Him as well.
- Dr. Kelly Liebengood is an associate professor of biblical studies in the Department of Theology at LeTourneau University, and pastor of One Hope Presbyterian Church in Longview.