Last night I watched a documentary on Amish teens. It is called Devil's Playground, and it absolutely captivated me.
As I sat in staff meeting this morning, it was all I could think about.
At 16, Amish teens are released into a period of exploration of the "english" world called rumspringa. During this time, teens are allowed to participate in anything the outside world has to offer them. Sex, drugs, parties, alcohol, jobs, cars, english clothes, television -- if you can name it, they can do it. Rumspringa does not have a carefully set timespan, as one might expect of such a rigorous community. Rather, the teens decide when to return to the community (though most live with their parents during this time) at which time they must declare whether or not they want to join the Amish church.
If these young adults choose not to join the church, they are not shunned at this time. However, if they join the church and then choose to leave later, they are shunned by family, friends, the church, and the entire Amish community.
Interestingly enough, 90% of Amish teens choose to join the church after rumspringa.
How do we explain this?
What do we have to learn from them?
How are the Amish building a community that encourages young adults to choose a completely counter-cultural lifestyle over the simple pleasures that often occupy the young adult mind: entertainment, pleasure, and accessibility?
As we talked over a great many things in staff meeting, I found myself wondering if there was a point to all of it. Because if we aren't doing anything to create an intentional community in the life of the church, how long will the community survive? Is there a point in trying to maintain what we're doing if no one chooses to commit to it?
lest you hear me wrong, I want to clarify.
I'm not saying that we should close up shop and head for the hills.
I'm asking the question about community in our churches.
Do we have community at all?
If we sent all of our 16 year olds out to do whatever they chose - without consequence - for 2 years, would they return to us completely committed to living the life we try to live?
I suspect the answer is no.
Because 2 years is a long time to change your mind about your priorities.
And somehow the Amish have managed to teach their children the point of what it means to live as an Amish adult before they are faced with that decision.
Are we making the point to our children?
Are we encouraging them to think very seriously about their commitment to the community?
Or are we allowing them to waft in and out of our buildings without every fostering true community for them?
Do we have community among ourselves?
What is the point we're trying to make?
And how do we make it?