While speaking at the Advance13 conference in Raleigh, N.C., on Thursday, California megachurch pastor Larry Osborne spoke on the dangers of disciples of Christ becoming "accidental Pharisees" through a prideful, "holier than thou" attitude toward those struggling with their faith.
"Becoming a Pharisee is like having dinner at Denny's. No one ever plans to go there; you just end up there," Osborne told the crowd of Christian leaders attending the Advance13 conference which ended Thursday.
"I'm afraid that a lot of us today who are passionate about God's glory and God's work are going to end up at a spiritual Denny's."
Osborne, who leads North Coast Church in Vista, Calif., went on to assert that he believes many Christians today misinterpret the meaning of discipleship in Scripture, confusing discipleship with leadership, and therefore casting a judgmental eye on those who struggle with their faith.
The megachurch pastor used the metaphor of a "faith line" in which God's most reverent followers stand in the front, and those struggling with their faith stand in the back.
"We've lost our compassion for the struggling in the middle and the back of the faith line, much like the Pharisees did," Osborne said, adding, "we come down hard on the one who struggles, the one who is weak, and therefore accidentally, we become like the Pharisees."
This "holier than thou" attitude comes from pride, Osborne said, which he describes as being number one on God's "I hate it when you do that" list.
"The closer I got to Jesus, a strange thing began to happen, I began to take my eyes off Jesus, who humbled me, and I began to look at those around me who struggled with their faith," Osborne said on his own struggle with pride.
The biblical Joseph of Arimathea is a prime example of a Christian who is destined for greatness, but who falls to the back of the "faith line," Osborne contends.
Joseph of Arimathea, one of Jesus' followers, boldly went to Pontius Pilate after Jesus' crucifixion and ask that Jesus' body be placed in his trust and buried in his tomb.
Although Joseph of Arimathea was described as "a bold and courageous disciple," he also feared revealing his Christian faith because he belonged to the Sanhedrin, the assembly of Jewish leaders.
"If most of us had a Joseph of Arimathea in our church today, we would spend our time telling them they are not a worthy disciple," Osborne said.
"Jesus said to Joseph of Arimathea: 'I have an incredibly important role for you, and though you are at the back of the line right now, there is a time and a place where from a hidden perspective you're going to be a rich man."
Osborne concluded his talk with three points, including: "Christians need to remember the story is never over until it's over," "the disciples weren't there for Jesus' crucifixion, but Joseph of Arimathea was," and "according to Jesus, we will be judged as we judge others."
"If our definition of a disciple doesn't have room for a Joseph of Arimathea, something's terribly wrong with our definition of a disciple," Osborne contended, adding that Joseph is a uniquely classic example of a disciple in that he is neither the struggling nor the weak, but rather the "not yet ready."
"We can be so hard on the 'not yet ready' disciples, but probably the majority of us were at one time a 'not yet ready' disciple," Osborne concluded.
Osborne's talk blended well with the theme of the Advance13 conference, which was "Building a Faithful and Effective Church," as it sought to address the dangers of being too prideful as a disciple.
The three-day Christian leadership conference ended Thursday and included an array of church leaders and planters, such as Pastor John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis and David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Alabama.