Being selected to the Amish ministry is both a blessing and a burden. Due to the challenges involved, the responsibility is not one that many Amishmen dream of and you won’t find anyone campaigning for the office.
The position of bishop is probably the most demanding. I was recently on the phone with an Amish friend in Ohio, already a minister. His church had divided earlier in the year, and an ordination had taken place a couple weeks earlier. Among other things, he expressed relief at being passed over for bishop. He describes dealing with church issues as more taxing than anything else he has to handle, including running a business with a dozen employees.
Ministers and bishops must deal with discipline issues and weigh the consequences of progress and change, among other things. Contrary to popular perceptions, bishops do not exactly have the final say, but they do decide if an issue will come under ‘official’ consideration, so in a sense can control the pace of change within the congregation by simply not allowing a matter to be brought up for evaluation.
In some cases, a bishop may feel compelled to go against the wishes of the majority of his church, say in the instance of a much-clamored-for new technology. This can leave him in the difficult position of countering the will of most or all of his church-members, which may result in potentially harmful tensions.
Yet when the lot falls on a member of the church, it is typically accepted without protest. After all, part of the baptismal promise involves agreeing to serve in the ministry should you ever be selected. Besides, there is an honor in serving your fellow church members in a Christlike spirit of humility, as should be the case. The ministry is a role that the Amish believe each individual is chosen for by God above.
In at least one curious instance, however, an Amish church member reacted quite the contrary to heavenly will. In a historical piece in Family Life, David Luthy describes a now-defunct Amish settlement in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, which had already been experiencing church difficulties:
“The story has been related of one ordination where the lot fell on a young man with little ability. When the truth of the situation seemed to dawn on him, he jumped up in a frenzy and started to run for the door with several men in pursuit. One man grabbed him while he clung to the door kicking at his pursuers. He would not submit to ordination.”
Typical reaction? Not likely. Although, even though it may seem comical, this man acted out what some Amishmen must feel when faced with the heavy burden of leading their congregation of souls.
A more detailed discussion of the Amish ministry.