Systemic Abuse as It Plays Out,

Using the Example of Mission Communities


by Beverly Shellrude Thompson

The mission community, on both an agency-level and as a collective community, functions as a closed family system. Closed family systems have some inherent characteristics which have allowed abuse to go unchecked in many settings. The followings are some key areas where this is true, particularly regarding systemic abuse.

In a closed family system, the authorities set the rules. These rules are to preserve the integrity of the organization. Outside input, e.g. civil law, psychology, etc. is seen as irrelevant at best and dangerous at worst when the input is perceived to threaten the organization. The primary directive of leadership is to protect the organization at all cost. The key prerequisite for systemic change in a closed system is referred to as “intentional effort”. Even with intentional effort there are many blocks which make change difficult. Some of these blocks come from within the personal history of mission leaders and staff members, other barriers come from organizational structures.

Leadership of a closed system almost always comes from within, and has been inculcated with the values and norms of the organization. In the case of mission agencies and denominations, almost all mid and top-level leadership fall in one or more of the following categories: