UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.
[January 23, 2023: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
(2 Corinthians 1:24 ESV) (24) Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.
I was recently impressed with the professional demeanor of many pastors and it set my mind working on, you guessed it, abuse. We have all written and read much about how abuse victims are so often cruelly handled by their churches and their church leaders. Much of this malpractice occurs in the pastor’s office. I mean, in the literal room where his desk and books are and degree certificates hang on the wall. You go into his office, and if you are a victim of abuse then you go with real trepidation and heart racing, looking for help and answers. There he is, standing and soon to be seated behind his large and impressive desk.
Things matter. Even desks. You know that they do. How do you feel when you walk into an office like that and see the books on shelves behind him? Books you know nothing much about but which apparently hold divine secrets known to studied men? (Let me tell you a secret. Most pastors haven’t even begun to read those books on display behind their desk!) I can tell you how you feel. Intimidated. And so would I.
And then, as the session proceeds and you have poured out just a bit of your story of abuse, the pastor behind the big desk, whose name is on those certificates on the wall, begins to expound and counsel. He is confident. He takes off his glasses and polishes them. There is a large, leather-bound Bible laying on his desk right in front of him. He has such an air of confidence as he sorts through its pages. And then he pronounces. “You must stay with your abuser.” “God does not permit divorce.” “Surely you have over-reacted.” He “knows your abuser to be a genuine Christian.” “God takes us all through hard times, but we must be patient. Besides, no doubt you have not been the spouse you should have been either. And think of the children.”
Why does this hit you so hard? Why can’t victims just “blow it all off” as the nonsense that it is? Well, in part — perhaps largely in part — because of the desk. And by “the desk” I mean all of the trappings in the office, the office itself, the air of the pastor — hold us in a certain awe. “Surely this man is no ordinary man.” “What things must he know and what situations must he deal with in this place?” “It must be here, on this “holy ground” that he communes with the Lord — those times when his office door says “pastor in conference”?” (Reality check: One time I was sitting in just such a pastor’s office and he behind his desk. It was a church of some 500 people. This guy was on the career fast-track. We talked. Then, his wife came into the office. “Aren’t you ready yet! We have been waiting for you for 20 minutes!” He replied, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll be there.” Welcome to that man’s real world. I think actually that his wife wasn’t the real problem.)
I am not ridiculing the pastoral calling or ministry. But I am calling upon all of us to consider that things are done in the church that inordinately exalt mere men. Men who could be wrong. Men who are fallible. And when such men are wrong and when they fail, many, many people are harmed. The more we exalt them unduly, the greater the harm.
So here is one very practical suggestion, pastors. Get rid of your desk. Do away with those books lining the wall behind your chair. Most pastors do their best study in a study, not in their office. Ask yourself what it is all about, really? The big desk, the books behind, the framed certificates on the wall. What message are you trying to send to the people who walk through your door? For myself, I did away with that whole scene years ago. My “office” looks more like a comfy living room. Yes, I admit there is still one ordination certificate on the wall. I don’t know why. I never look at it anymore and neither does anyone else. I guess I need to stow it too.
Let’s all humble ourselves and admit the facts. When it comes to this subject of abuse (and many other topics as well), we do not know hardly anything about it! We didn’t learn about it in seminary. So when we set up our “pastor’s office” in the traditional manner of desk-books-certificates, and then authoritatively expound on what God says to abuse victims, we have just increased the damage we do exponentially. We evangelicals don’t wear clerical collars, but we have our ways of putting them on nevertheless.
(1 Peter 5:1-3 ESV) (1) So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: (2) shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (3) not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
[January 23, 2023: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to January 23, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to January 23, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to January 23, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (January 23, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
10 thoughts on “Abuse and the Pastor’s Office Desk”
Years ago in school, I was taught to exert my authority by maneuvering people into positions of submissiveness (apparently, it didn’t take as I have trouble “finding” my authority about ninety percent of the time, much less exerting any). 🙂
I was told to always take the higher ground (have others sit lower in my presence by making sure their chair was smaller, uncomfortable and closer to the ground or getting up and sitting on the front of the desk and staring them down from on high).
Such a shame that a pastor would use the same principles of “good business management” to control the flock. That’s not the way of Christ.
Good post, Jeff C.
The more abusive in character a pastor is, the more intentionally he will use these tactics. Other “normal” pastors often set their office up in this way because they have been taught that the pastor must come across as a reputable professional, much like a doctor or attorney. Well, pastors do indeed need to instill trust and confidence in their people, but trappings like this are not the biblical way to do it. Wisdom, a love for Christ and Christ’s flock, a real understanding of God’s Word — these are the things that matter. In many ways all of us are responsible though. I mean, largely, pastors are just doing what the people want.
The idea that a pastor should sit behind a big desk to seem reputable is interesting.
In general practice (family physician) training we were strongly advised to never put a desk between ourselves and the patients. Some reasons for this are that it creates a feeling of distance and a power imbalance, and is a real barrier to effective communication.
I have to laugh at the image of the book shelves. It reminds me of when someone asked my father what books he read to prepare for his sermons and he replied that at the moment he was reading John le Carre. PKs aren’t fooled, we know that pastors are just like everybody else.
You are so right, Jeff. That is where I found myself 3 times over the last 15 years. The Lord revealed the truth to me directly in the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit, but I was reluctant to trust my own judgment because the “learned men” said I was wrong. I finally found secular sources that affirmed my judgment. I prayed as never before and then took action. God provided for all needs as I trusted Him. It was still hard work, and Satan attacked in so many ways, but I discovered that I was no longer double-minded, and began finding affirmation among a few Christians as well. I had to choose the teaching of Jesus over the teaching of men who have, perhaps unintentionally, taught almost the opposite of what He taught.
This all greatly adds to the deception and confusion. I have talked with many abuse survivors now who all testify that this “but the pastor says….and he must know….” really kept them in bondage for a much longer time.
Wow – I had no idea that having you sit lower than the counselors was an object of power. Very interesting indeed. Everyone needs to know the things in this post and replies. It is interesting that the majority of pastors think their ordination certificate empowers them, until the sheep come along, questioning their pastoral care, and then all of a sudden “it was God who ordained them and gave them power, they are divine and how dare anyone question them!” Will the true shepherds of God’s flock, please stand up? Plenty of Scriptures to be shared on how to identify the true from the false shepherds. Thanks for sharing.
Ironically, when I see an ordination certificate I see it as a symbol of the pastor’s submission to the authority of the body who ordained him and I take comfort in knowing that he is not some loose cannon out on his own just making up theology as he goes.
Nothing wrong with ordination certificates and there is comfort in finding them. I agree, loose cannons can be very dangerous. However, ordination does not necessarily mean that they are not “making up theology as” they go, so we all need to know God’s Word in order to identify who is spreading God’s Gospel and who is spreading their own. Good point, Jeff S.
Yes, that is the intent. And I have no objection to formal pastoral education. I don’t think sending loose cannons out there is the answer. I love theology and Greek and Hebrew, but the fact is that most all seminary degree programs are very, very deficient. Many skip right over the true meat of Scripture, wanting to keep things “positive”. Evil and its nature and tactics are never adequately addressed. And the denominations that do emphasize pastoral office, calling, and authority easily crank out men who become prey to the enemy’s temptation to pride. In His mercy, the Lord beat me down for over 20 years so that I had nothing to boast of. When we are weak, it is then that Christ becomes strong in us. In my 3 years of seminary that truth was never once driven home to us.
Thanks, Jeff C, for your words. I always feel like I’m in trouble, like I going to the principle’s [principal’s] office when I go into a pastor’s office like that. I hope pastors take your advice.