Yet Another Way I am a Pharisee

Kara Powell | Jul 4, 2013

In my morning times with the Lord, I’m reading A Year with Jesus by Eugene Peterson. In typical Eugene Peterson kick-you-in-the-gut fashion, I was particularly struck by his version of Matthew 23 from The Message in which Jesus teaches,

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it.”

In other words, you’re missing what matters. You're focused on the little picture but missing the big picture.

As I read that passage while sitting on the navy blue couches in my living room, I immediately thought to myself, “Kara, don’t get so busy in ministry to kids and families that you end up neglecting your own kids and family.”

I think that’s my own version of Pharisaism—a version of good works that loses sight of the horizon of loving relationships because I’m so busy focused on the few feet in front of me that are consumed by e.mails and immediate deadlines.

Inspired by this passage, a few days ago I asked one of my daughters, “What are your three favorite things about me as a mom? What are three things you would change about me?”

Her three favorite things about me:

  1. I was easy to talk to.

  2. I loved God.

  3. I liked to go shopping with her.

The three things she’d change about me:

  1. I wouldn’t get mad at her.

  2. I wouldn’t ask her so many questions about what’s going on with her friendships.

  3. I’d let her be in her room alone more.

My daughter sure knows me. It’s the first item on her “what I’d change” list that I most want to change.

And do you know what generally causes me to get frustrated with my kids? Usually my own stress—the stress that comes from acting like a Pharisee and getting focused on the small details of getting rid of clutter in our family room or finishing “one last e.mail” for work.

I’ve got my daughter (and my husband, my other kids, and a wonderful group of friends) to help me know when I’m straying into Pharisee territory. As I think about youth leaders I know and love, I’m wondering…

  • Who can you ask to give you an honest assessment of how you’re doing?

  • Are you willing to listen to what they say without getting defensive or explaining yourself?

  • Are you willing to make hard changes to stay focused on the big picture and not get lost in the smaller details?

  • Will you receive God’s grace and forgive yourself when you stray back into Pharisee territory?

In what ways do you lean into being a Pharisee?

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.


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