the weblog of Alan Knox

Learning from the Amish

Posted by on Oct 25, 2007 in discipleship | 10 comments

Last Summer, my family travelled to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania – Amish country. I have never been around the Amish – and in reality, I still haven’t. However, in the small towns of Lancaster County, PA we were able to observe – even from afar – the impact that the Amish lifestyle had on the surrounding area.

Now, please do not misunderstand the purpose for this post. I am not idolizing the Amish, nor am I stating an agreement with all of their beliefs and practices. In fact, I know very little about their beliefs and practices. However, since I think that all believers can learn from one another (see “Learning from one another“), I believe we can learn from the Amish, as well.

Primarily, I think we can learn about rejecting pride and embracing humility from the Amish. Consider this from the Wikipedia article on the Amish:

Two key concepts for understanding Amish practices are their rejection of Hochmut (pride, arrogance, haughtiness) and the high value they place on Demut or “humility” and Gelassenheit (German, meaning: calmness, composure, placidity) — often translated as “submission” or “letting-be,” but perhaps better understood as a reluctance to be forward, self-promoting, or to assert oneself in any way. The willingness to submit to the Will of God, as expressed through group norms, is at odds with the individualism so central to the wider American culture.

I think it is interesting that this author recognized submission to the Will of God as expressed through group norms as a characteristic that places the Amish at odds with “wider American culture”, and I would add, wider church culture. But, to me, what differentiates the Amish from other Americans and other American Christians is the emphasis on rejecting pride and embracing humility.

Even within the church, rejecting pride and embracing humility is not always seen as a positive thing. We still like to place our Christian celebrities on a pedestal, and then we gasp and kick them when they fall. We will submit to others when we agree with them, and submit to the will of God when we can analyze it, explain it, and recognize the personal benefits. We’re humble when it benefits us, and we’ll be glad to point out our humility.

Am I exaggerating? Perhaps a little. But generally, Christians are not know for their humility. This seems contrary to Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4 ESV)

Paul then holds up Jesus Christ – the only one who has a right to pride and boasting – as an example of humility, servanthood, and submission to the will of God. We do have encouragement in Christ, we do have comfort from love, and we do have fellowship (participation) in the Spirit, so why do we not demonstrate the type of humility that we see in this passage. Perhaps we are not walking in what we have from God?

I think we can learn something from the Amish in this regard. This doesn’t mean that we have to drive carriages and shun electricity. But, perhaps we can shun pride and pushing our own agenda, and instead embrace humility and an attitude of service toward one another.

Then again, perhaps I’m the only one who thinks this is a problem. Do you think the American church has a problem with pride and humility? If so, then how do we begin rejecting pride and embracing humility?


10 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-25-2007

    As one who grew up around the Amish in Lancaster County, I appreciated what you had to say here, and I concur.

    At one point, our family became good friends with several Amish families. They came to our house on several occasions for dinner (riding over an hour in their buggies to get to our house, and then commenting that they felt like they “made good time”!!) — which meant that they came with all kinds of food items for dinner! And I’ve been to their home for dinner, as well, and enjoyed sweet fellowship with them.

    They are sweet, compassionate people with a strong desire to obey Christ. I admire that.

    Many will put Amish in the same class as…oh, let’s say Mormons for the sake of discussion…as believing in “a different Jesus”, and therefore view them as a cult or a false religion.

    Like you, I don’t endorse everything that the Amish faith teaches, but I believe we lose much in the way of example if we write them off in such a way.

    Thank you again for this very respectful article. I have reached many similar conclusions in watching them.

    And honestly, other than having to give up blogging possibly, I would love to explore living a life that is not dependent on “conveniences” of our technologically-driven culture.

  2. 10-25-2007

    I grew up Mennonite, and I still hold on to the best things about that. Someday, who knows, I may go back.

  3. 10-25-2007

    My wife and I vistied Lancaster Co. on our honeymoon nearly twenty-seven years ago. Probably a safe bet that little has changed in that time. ;^)

    I admire them for a number of reasons and appreciate your post.

  4. 10-25-2007

    Steve, David, and ded,

    Thanks for the comments. I appreciate that people who have lived around the Amish (and Mennonites) have noticed these same traits. I hope each of you write more about what you’ve learned from this experience.

    -Alan

  5. 10-26-2007

    I don’t know much about the Amish, but I do know a little about the American church as I was/am a product of American church culture. Ya, pride is an issue. It continues to be an issue for me, but I think I’ve come a long way.

    I think in America we value strength, and perceive ‘having all the answers’ as proof of our strength. For me, I was most humbled by my experience in Japan. I came home with way more questions, and way fewer answers…(they don’t call it the missionaries’ graveyard for nothing). For the first time, I became comfortable with not having answers for some things.

    I also really noticed the pride when I came home. I couldn’t sing some of the “Rah, rah! We’re Christians and we always win! Let’s kick some devil butt!” type songs (Maybe that’s an exageration too, but that is the attitude the comes across sometimes). I just wasn’t in that place anymore. I believe that Christ is victorious, but it is in my weakness that He is strong. I think we forget that sometimes…

  6. 10-26-2007

    I think the Amish give us a great example of how a different culture can live alongside a dominant culture – and in doing so acts as a living preservative of ideas, practices etc that maybe one day the dominant culture will look around and say how do i build a barn without power tools oh the Amish know.

    We can see the same thing in church culture, so often we want to get rid of the fuddy duddies with their antiquated methods and move on with embracing the dominant culture – these other churches stuck in their modern timewarp of 1950’s living and 1980’s marketing yadda yadda.

    But we do so at our own peril, out of our own arrogance. One day we might want to know how to systemise theology or how to co-ordinate a big church service and then we’ll be turning up at the door to ask…

  7. 10-26-2007

    interesting Post Alan. i think it begins with confession; something we fail to do well in the evangelical culture. having a deep theological understanding of confession that is expressed in appropriate communal contest and is not confined to just the overemphasized personal/private version most know (really a reflection of individualism in itself) can help with issues of humility and pride.

  8. 10-26-2007

    Sarah,

    Thank you for sharing your perspective as one who has been away from the US and returned. I also think Americans in general and the American church have a problem with pride and humility.

    Paul,

    I had not thought about mutually existing cultures aspect. Thank you for adding to our discussion.

    John Santic,

    Confession in community is such a neglected practice and concept. Of course, community itself is neglected as well. Thanks for the comment!

    -Alan

  9. 10-30-2007

    I grew up around the Amish here in Indiana, I even spent some time on an Amish farm as a kid. I admire many of the same things you mentioned. I have spent a lot of time over the last couple of years befriending and witnessing to a former Amishman. I figured one thing out (the hard way) if you want them to take you serious as a Christian you better walk the walk.

  10. 10-30-2007

    Aaron,

    Thanks for the comment. Your experience seems to match the experience of others here. I wonder what would happen if all believers expected and exhorted each other to walk the walk.

    -Alan