Amish & Adolescent Faith Development

By YS on December 02 2009

"Amish kids have the best parties. We have the wild parties." I've long been fascinated by the Amish tradition of Rumspringa. Within some Amish circles, teenagers are encouraged to "run around" (literal translation of Rumspringa) for a while and experience life outside of the Amish. This begins at around 16 years old when they are permitted to enter the "English" world for a while, try everything, and then later are asked to make a decision whether to join the church or not. Surprisingly, 85-90% of Amish teenagers come back and commit to the church after a period of running around. To my Evangelical worldview this seems like a horrible idea! The church elders encouraging sixteen year olds to leave home, drink all they want, do drugs, go to wild parties, have sex? This seems contradictory to everything we stand for. Yet the results are compelling, aren't they? Sixteen year olds who have been raised in the church, permitted to taste forbidden fruit, and then asked to determine if that is the life they would like to live or if they'd like to shun the world and commit themselves to a life of simplicity. What I appreciate most about this tradition is boiled down into two things: First, the adult recognition that teenagers need to be given the opportunity to explore their identity. It takes some maturity on behalf of the adult Amish community to recognize that their young people need to make a rational, individual choice to join their community for a lifetime. In my circle of Evangelicalism we are deathly afraid of this! We're so afraid that our kids may chose not to follow Christ that we do whatever we can to prevent them from figuring out who they are. Second, the adults acknowledge that teenagers need to make an informed choice at the end of Rumspringa whether to join the church or not. Most churches I've been a part of want kids to make this choice before they are ready to make a decision that'll last a lifetime. I did confirmation at 12 years old... was I really going to chose to not join the church? My daughter was asked to be baptized at 6 years old. Was that really a rational, informed choice that will last a lifetime? (I hope so!) But yet, there seems to be something to allowing a child to reach an age where they can make a choice they are developmentally prepared for in full knowledge of what they are or are not doing. Certainly, I'm not suggesting that the best way to reach church kids for a lifetime is to kick them out of youth group and encourage them to go have 2-3 years to live it up. (Well, one could argue that Evangelicals practice Rumspringa-- we just call it college, but that is besides the point!) But, now that youth workers are looking hard at the causes of losing huge chunks of teens during the college years, maybe Rumspringa is something we need to study and understand a bit more? If you want to learn more about Rumspringa, the National Geographic Channel is airing Devil's Playground tonight at 8:00 PM Eastern Time.


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From David on December 02, 2009

I just watched that show 2 nights ago for a class. The thing that I find disturbing is that the teens that return 80-90% are returning to a religion of rules and not to a love for their savior. Of course not all are this way, but a majority do. I don’t want my teens returning to our Baptist church because they are out of options and have no job, I want them to return because of the irresistible love of Jesus.

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From Katie on December 02, 2009

I watched that too with my husband who used to party in PA with the Amish kids.  He confirmed that they certainly are wild.  I have to disagree with David though about them returning for reasons other than a love of their savior.  I think that the Amish do Love God.  Just because they choose to practice it differently doesn’t mean they’re bad christians.  Also, those kids don’t come back because they have no where else to go in most cases.  They go back because they had strong religious and family oriented upbringings.  I believe that is why so many young christians don’t come back to the church when they leave.  Families are weak, a lot of christian families included.  The Amish church is set apart and they offer things that the world and the church as we know it do not.  Security, community, support, all to levels that we could never compete with.  I have a great deal of respect for that.  I think the kids sense it’s loss and the instability of the “english” world and that is why they come back, but faith is a huge part of that stability that they’re coming back to.

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From David on December 02, 2009

I too believe that the Amish love God. That is why they separated themselves, but I think most of the kids after experiencing the world and not having more than an eighth grade education feel trapped and realize that home is the only place they can function.  Education is a big key to surviving in our society and I think they are partially crippling their children by not allowing them to continue. They have no other options. It is either a life of partying or living in the Amish church.

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From Theophilos on December 02, 2009

David’s point’s are right on.  If you have no more than an eighth grade (if that) education, little to no social survival skills in this culture, and no one to connect with on the outside till you make it, its got to be extremely tough to make a decision to remain outside of the comforts of Amish connection.  When you add to that the fact that those who decide to permanently leave the Amish are disinherited and ostracized by their own families, never being permitted to speak to their Amish siblings again, it compels the Rumspringa participants to keep their recidivism rate quite low.  Although I would never question the Amish desire to love and obey God, the pattern surrounding Rumspringa certainly isn’t anything that resembles discipleship to Christ nor His way of wooing people into His kingdom.

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From Seth Browback on December 03, 2009

We should try to make ALL YOUTH MINISTIRES like the Amish. I mean, we have free will right? Why not try to capitalize on it? Don’t rip on the Amish bro, b/c when you do, you judge yourself…

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From David on December 03, 2009

Hey Seth,

I don’t think anyone is ripping on them. This is a place we can come and discuss things. We all do have free will, but I will not tell my son that when he is 16 he can go drink,do drugs and have sex. I teach him that these things are against the will of God. If he chooses to do them, when he is older then that is between he and God. I will always be there to help pick up the pieces if he chooses the wrong path. And even if he says no to the church, he will still be welcomed into my home. I will never turn my back on him, because God has blessed me with children and I take that seriously.

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From Adam McLane on December 03, 2009

david- based on the quick succession of sarcastic comments, I’m going to take a guess that Seth’s comments were meant to be snarky and taken as jokes. But, I’ll let him speak for himself.

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From David on December 03, 2009

My bad! I didn’t catch the sarcasm. I better go get more coffee! :)

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From Linnie on January 23, 2010

Good Post. Can you email me back, please. Awaiting your Answer.

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From Lynell Darbyshire on January 25, 2010

Nice article,  this site has really been an eye opener. Can’t wait to see what you write about. Go for it!

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