Kingdom Enterprise & Nicholas Stoltzfus

Written by a Faith Builders guest instructor with interest in Kingdom building among refugees.

“There’s a time for preaching, and a time for business,” the Amish landlord scolded. He came to my neighborhood asking for help to dislodge an Iraqi tenant who had a tough time paying rent. When I pressed him to care for the tenants of his apartment and not just his own bottom line, he responded defensively. “She signed a paper saying she will be out by the 15th.” It seemed he had caught her in a trap and was now going to do “business” and send her on her way.

Another Amish family several hundred years ago seems to have had a different perspective on the connection between enterprise and preaching. This family hired a Lutheran named Nicholas to work on their farm. Through daily contact at work, Nicholas decided to join the Amish Church.

Nicholas Stoltzfus writes about his life in a request on January 14, 1744 to the local authorities in Zweibrucken in which he asked to marry an Amish woman whom he met through his employment. He writes:

"I was living with my mother in the land, but after my mother’s death I very soon needed to go to strangers for employment… I had the opportunity to be among...Anabaptists. [I] got used to them and was among them, and was instructed in their religion, and convinced to remain among them...[1]"

Notice that it was while working among the Amish that he was “instructed in their religion and convinced to remain among them.” No carefully-laid missions strategy that brought the Stoltzfus name into the Anabaptist church. Rather, it was a family living out their faith and sharing that within their vocation.

Nicholas the Lutheran

This couldn’t have been an easy choice for this Amish family. During this time outsiders like Nicholas posed a threat to their very existence. They had every reason not to hire a Lutheran, and especially one whose father had been a member of the clergy. Anabaptists in this region had a history of mistreatment by Lutherans and Catholics alike. Surely Nicholas, with clear ties to the Lutherans, would have drawn suspicion.

Anabaptists were not native to the area, making them vulnerable to the whim of local authorities. Even though Anabaptists were invited into the Alsace and the Palatinate regions after the devastating 30 years war between Protestants and Catholics, they were not accorded equal status with the local population. “Anabaptism was not one of the options or one of the religions permissible, to either prince or commoner”[2]. This tension meant that a change in a local leader could suddenly require them to be on the move again.

In Zweibrucken, the town where Nicholas lived and worked, there was strong bias against the Anabaptists. This bias was so strong that when the Nicholas formally request to marry an Amish girl, local authorities refused to allow it. She was Amish, and he was Lutheran. That was all the reason needed to prohibit such a marriage.

Interestingly, one year after Nicholas’ mother died, the council changed their ruling and granted them permission to marry with one condition; they were to leave the area after the wedding[3].  Nicholas and Katharina married around 1744 and some years later the family sailed to the New World with their two children Christian and Barbara and settled in Reading, PA[4].

But despite the history of mistreatment and discrimination, this Amish family hired a Lutheran who became the father of all Anabaptist Stoltzfus’ in America. Their commitment to Christ in vocation offers 21st Century Anabaptists some important lessons regarding enterprise and Kingdom building.

Lessons for Anabaptists Today

Many today complain that our traditional Anabaptist churches are not effective in bringing diverse people into Jesus’ Kingdom. Some say it is because the standards are too high, there are too many unwritten rules, etc. While these concerns might be a point of discussion, I’m suggesting that they should not distract us from real points of connection we might cultivate. How much more effective could we be if we used the platform that takes up most of our time to extend Christ’s Kingdom to the diverse peoples we encounter through the workplace?

Kingdom Enterprise Offers Space to Demonstrate the Life of Jesus

Most of us have already found out that after all the bills are paid and we keep the business running, there is little time left for intentional Kingdom focused activities. Sometimes we may live with a guilt complex, knowing we ought to do more to share the Good News with others but having little time to do so.

What might happen if Anabaptists today followed the example of the Amish family above? How much more effective could we be if we used our 40 to 50 vocational hours each week to demonstrate and explain the Kingdom to Muslims, Buddhists, Pagan, Atheists, and other unchurched people working alongside us?

Incidentally, Anabaptists are known for their emphasis on the practical things of life. We tend to be less comfortable witnessing with our words and more comfortable speaking with our lives. Kingdom enterprise fits hand-in-hand with this strength (or weakness, depending on how one sees it).

Vocational Ministry Fits with Jesus' Discipleship Model

This approach also follows closely the model of Jesus in mentoring his disciples. When Jesus chose his disciples, he did not put them through a weekly Bible study or discipleship class. Discipleship happened through three years of the daily interaction which resulted in  them becoming vibrant disciples who changed the world. Similarly, when we spend forty hours each week working alongside a coworker from another background and our business truly exemplifies the generosity of Christ, they begin to see the true beauty of Jesus and are drawn to embrace his Kingdom.

Who is the Next Nicholas?

Imagine if many Amish and Mennonite business owners hired just one outsider and did so with a Kingdom centered goal. What if we paid these outsiders  well from the beginning to give them an opportunity to learn a trade and support their families. How about sharing a piece of the company profit with them to demonstrate the generosity of Christ and his Kingdom? They could be mentored, welcomed them into our businesses, families, and even into our fellowships.
How many more last names could be added to our ekklesia if we hired with a mission? This, to me, is far more compelling than hiring - or renting - for the bottom line.

[1] Ernest Drumm, Revealed Life of Nicholas Stoltzfus, researched and compiled by Levi L. Stoltzfus, (No Publisher Name: 1986), 4-5.

[2] Elmer S. Yoder, The Beachy Amish Mennonite Fellowship Churches (Diakonia Ministries: Hartville, OH, 1987), 61.

[3] Nicholas Stoltzfus Homestead, “Nicholas Stoltzfus,” 2006, (accessed May 5, 2010).

[4] Drumm, 8.