When the world of the horse and buggy collides with the world of the internet and the automobile, which one wins? You might be surprised at the answer. And if we get the answer right, we may wind up asking some pretty hard questions about our church culture too.
Today’s visit to the supermarket occurred at the intersection of two worlds. The parking lot was divided between a space for buggies and a space for cars. Inside there were more Amish and conservative Mennonites than people dressed like Elaine and I. The till was cash only.
Sitting in the car outside, I was taking messages from several different countries on my phone and trying to get out quick replies. As I watched Amish folk loading their groceries into their buggy, I started to think.
I guess it’s an advantage that we can communicate with each other across the world so easily now, but is it really the blessing we think it is? How many of the technological advances we have come to rely on damage us as much as help us? How long will it be before we long for a world (if only temporarily) without cellphones or internet?
The Amish are in no hurry to give up their lifestyle. In fact, numbering nearly half a million, there are more of them than ever. Of course, if your average family size makes our roster of eight kids look small, it’s no surprise. But all the Amish young people are given the opportunity to leave, and not many take it.
Now make no mistake, the Amish have a way of getting around some of the rules and regulations. They can’t have electricity in their homes, but they can run their businesses on diesel generators. But on the whole, they live an entirely separate existence from the rest of us.
What is it that is so compelling that they turn their noses up at the offer of 24-hour video gaming and non-stop electronic communications, not to mention electricity and motor vehicles?
In a word, its community. That’s what they have, and that’s what draws them back.
Our culture stinks at community. Most people hardly know who their next-door neighbours are. And unfortunately this lousy attitude comes into church a lot more than it should.
As believers in Christ, we live at the crossroads of two worlds. We have one foot in modernity and all that involves. Yet we have, or should have, the other foot planted firmly in the values of family and community that Jesus taught when he said we were to love each other as he loved us.
Churches in the USA and Canada, and increasingly in the UK, have poor or even shocking turnover rates. People have about as much loyalty to their church family as they do to their supermarket - or maybe less. In the battle between covenant and consumerism, the latter all too often wins.
And in one sense, we shouldn’t be surprised. Churches are often far better at producing professional worship ministry and polished but superficial preaching conducted in state of the art buildings than they are in making disciples and building family. With little reason to stay, people move on to another church which has better services to offer. And then bit by bit, they forget why they were ever in church to begin with, and they leave for good.
It is a long road back to where we should be. Building community, like building a family, takes years. But imagine what church would be like if that community was so attractive, so compelling, even if we were offered the whole world in its place, we wouldn’t take it.
And then we’d have finally caught up to the Amish.
Think about that!