I am a pastor diagnosed with Depression and ADHD… and it’s a gift to me

I’ve always dealt with mood swings throughout my life.  Some days my brain would be running a million miles a minute, flooded with thoughts and ideas.  Other days I felt like hiding under a thick blanket and binge-watching Netflix, unable to face the worldI thought what I was experiencing was normal.  It wasn’t.

About a year and a half ago God tenderly and wisely allowed some crushing moments into my life.

When you start a church from scratch and it grows really fast, the reward for ‘being a success’ is leadership conflict.  In my case, a best friend blindsided me and a small group of people I loved tried to (unsuccessfully) hijack the church.  We navigated through that season by trusting God, walking in transparency and integrity, and keeping our focus on the vision of reaching people far from God.

I believe in the complete rule and sovereignty of God: there is no random chance in this universe that is carefully governed by a Grand Designer.  In the midst of the crushing, I knew there was a purpose.

When I noticed my mood swings becoming more intense, I made an appointment to see a Christian counselor.  Listen, there is no shame in seeing a counselor.  I believe everyone needs counseling!  I’m married to a licensed counselor and I have seen the benefits personally.  And now I’ve experienced the benefits too.

My counselor is awesome.  He helped me identify trauma and create healthy boundaries.  I love my counselor so much that I recommend him all the time to folks at Life Church Michigan.

Counseling alone didn’t solve the feelings I was grappling with.  I had dealt with mood swings all my life, but as our church has continued growing larger at a very fast rate — and thus more people creating more complexity on my plate — I talked to my wife to see if she was noticing changes in my attitude and emotions.  She encouraged me to talk to my general physician.

Long story short, I was diagnosed with mild depression, a hereditary chemical imbalance in the brain.  My doctor prescribed a low dose of medicine that I take daily and in the many weeks since being on this prescription, I’ve experienced a fantastic change in my outlook on life.  It’s like I can see and think more clearly now.

Further, I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with something everyone who knows me has long-suspected: I have ADHD.  And I am so thankful to finally have clarity on why my brain takes off like a rocket some days!

I understand the stigma of mental illness, especially in Christian circles.

Today I enter my eighteenth year of full-time ministry and I have never, ever heard a sermon or message given that addresses the reality of mental illness.

Some well-meaning Christians might advise, “You just need more faith or you need to pray it away.”  Listen, I’m not insane but THAT advice is insane!  I would never tell someone stricken with cancer that it was their fault and that they just need to pray it away… I would encourage them to get chemotherapy and seek health from a medical doctor!

You see, God heals both through the natural and the supernatural.  Modern medicine is a miracle that we should thank the Lord for.  A thousand years ago, people prayed to not get the plague.  Today we just pray for a bigger television screen!

My diagnosis is a gift to me: God blessed me with a burden so that I could better understand my need for a Savior.  I cannot rescue myself.  Dealing with depression and ADHD allows me to lean on others.  Life is a gift and love is the point.

This past Sunday I shared my story during a message on parenting as an encouragement to our people that:

  1. It’s ok to not be okit’s just not ok to STAY that way!
  2. If you are a mom or dad who struggles with their mental or emotional health, our church will stand with you, pray for you, and cheer you on as you seek counseling or psychiatric care!

For what it’s worth, you can watch more of my story from Sunday’s message below (beginning at 18:04).  I hope this encourages you on your journey of discovering life and wholeness in Christ.

Jonathan is the founding pastor of Life Church Michigan.

You can get his new book at HolyShiftBook.com.

He once bought pantyhose with Tina Fey (true story).