Sunday, May 19, 2013

What to Do With Peter Pan Christians in Your Church

If you were to ask me who I am, I would respond easily that I am Jennifer Roseanne Bush Dorhauer; wife of Douglas Dorhauer; daughter of John and Karen Bush; mother of Wyatt, Amelia, and Emerson; servant of Jesus Christ; online English Composition professor....and the list goes on...

In my mind, I am an I before I am a we.

The times I feel the most inconsolable are when I find myself losing the I of my identity in the daily grind of we as a wife and mother. I fear losing my individual identity within the collective identity of family.  Some weeks, months, and years, I've found myself shelving the I because the we is all consuming.

But constantly trying to see myself as not part of a collective identity is faulty as well.  I am not a lone individual.  Never have been.  To act or think in that manner is only a deluded fantasy.  Blindly focusing solely on myself as an individual is like standing in narcissistic quicksand.

When it comes to the church fellowship of other Christian believers, I have become more comfortable being a we, seeing myself as part of a whole that embraces my individual identity in the larger collective.  Still, there are times when I fail to see how my presence or absence in worship affects anyone but me.  In that instance, I forget about my collective identity and focus just on myself.

This is a key difference I note between Judaism and the modern-day church in America.  Whereas Judaism has a distinct sense of collective identity, Christianity does not. Scripture clearly identifies the New Testament church as the "body of Christ" (1 Cor. 12).  Still, American Christians as a whole lean towards individualism versus a collective identity.  Their actions demonstrate this belief regularly, even if their words say otherwise.

Two weeks ago in this space, we looked at the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah).  During this Feast and the following Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the Jewish people sing a prayer of repentance entitled the Avinu Malkeinu, or "Our Father, Our King."  The last few lines are loosely translated as:

"Our Father, our Father, our King.
No good deeds do we bring.
Hear us and answer, be gracious to us, Lord, we pray.
And make for us
Grace and righteousness.
And make please for us loving kindness
and your salvation bring, and your salvation bring."1

Note the pronouns repeatedly used in this prayer--Our, we, and us.

The Feasts of Israel, in themselves, are collective celebrations of God's chosen people.  They are "we" activities wherein every Jew is to come together as one.  This song, though, goes further, explaining that Rosh Hashanah (and by extension, the other feasts as well) is not just a shared collective activity but a shared collective, sin and repentance, too.

The pronouns denote an acknowledgment that your sin affects me as much as your righteousness affects me.  Although I am individually accountable for my own soul, here on earth, I am bound to you in good and in bad.  As such, this sung prayer expresses that God's people must pray for the collective community of God.   

Consider two other examples of prayer in Scripture that also emphasize this viewing oneself as part of a collective whole in God versus as a Lone Ranger type individual.

When Daniel prayed, he used the pronoun our, expressing his sense of collective identity: "we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land" (Dan. 9:5-6).

Daniel understood firsthand how connected he was to Israel as a community, in a collective identity, and to that nation's sin as a whole.  He prayed not from an ivory tower reserved for the most holy and dedicated to God but from the center of exile in Babylon.  He knew what it was to be bound together a community in good and in bad.  And so, when he prayed, he prayed for the community of Israel, the children of God as a whole.

Even Jesus taught His disciples to pray with a collective identity in mind.  The Lord's prayer reads, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is  in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matt. 6:9-13).

 Too many times, I look at fellow Christians and fail to perceive how their spiritual state affects my own.  I would rather see myself as a island unaffected by the rest of the Christian community.  It's easier to live within the myth that says if my soul is right with God, nothing else matters.

Yet, if God's people are going to have an impact on this world, we must consider ourselves, truly, as a living entity, one that doesn't function effectively if even a single nerve is malfunctioning.  As Paul says, "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Cor. 12:26).

To that end, we must pray for the "we" and the "our," recognizing that the weakest link in Christ's body affects us as much as the strongest cord.  If someone is weak in the Lord, a Christian still living on milk with a Peter Pan "I'll Never Grow Up" mentality, we must not turn up our nose or roll our eyes at his immaturity, no matter how long he's spent in the spiritual nursery.  Instead, we must strive to strengthen that individual, to strengthen that part of our community in the Lord.

The church seeing itself as a community of believers bound together in a collective identity is of vital importance for unity and effectiveness in a lost and dying world. 

Other Articles in this Jewish Feasts Series:
A One Hundred Trumpet Blast Wake-Up Call
Positioning Passover Pronouns
Preparation Day: 'Go to Church' or Worship
Reorienting Our Lives: 50 Days From the Cross
Understanding the Jewish-ness of Jesus
The Truth About Passover

1.  Leman, Derek. Feast: Finding  Your Place at the Table of Tradition.  Nashville: Lifeway P, 2008: p. 64-65.


  1. Jennifer - thank you for this confirming word. I struggle with community - a combination of past hurts and an introverted personality. However, I know God intends for us to be many members in one body, united for His Kingdom. So I keep surrendering my hurts and introversion to the Father seeking the community where He would have "me" become part of a "we" and serve Him.

    1. I completely understand that combination. The people who can hurt us the most are our family and our church family, because we expect more from them than others in the world. Keep praying for His direction into a community of believers who can provide you with love and support. Maybe that community is more of a small home church setting with just a few families versus a large traditional church. I pray you find what you need.