Lessons from the Field: Transparency

September 06, 2023 Brian W

I got many things wrong when I started my life as a missionary. While my church, my mentors, and I all did our best to prepare for the mission field, our steps were just inadequate. That does not mean that we got everything wrong! I am not going to talk about those mistakes this time. Instead, I am going to talk about something I got right. From the very beginning, I was radically transparent with my supporters and my church, and this decision became a unique strength of my ministry that helped me through failure, persecution, and opposition back home. Let’s explore transparency in the mission.

When I was on the field one day, I got two emails in my inbox. The two emails had been forwarded to me by a mutual friend, and they were the most recent newsletters of two missionaries who worked for the same prominent missions organization. I had recently worked with both men and their organization in Georgia, and I read their newsletter with interest. Neither man mentioned me, my organization, or people in my ministry. Even though most of the Georgians that helped the two men came from my youth groups and were asked to participate by me, both men implied all the Georgians were part of their ministry organization. This did not surprise me at all. Having been a missionary for and from my sending church with a small, obscure partner mission agency, I was not prominent enough to be mentioned by anyone working for more significant organizations. What surprised me was that even though both men worked in Georgia and worked for the same organization, they didn’t mention each other! If I had supported either man and read their newsletter, I would never know a colleague was helping them and would not have had the slightest clue they partnered with other missionaries in Georgia. The worst crime of all was I would not know what the Georgians who were part of the ministry contributed. Both men praised the Georgians and thought highly of the Georgians they worked with, but they shared none of the accomplishments of the Georgians themselves.

Giving a distorted view of the mission field is a disservice to missionary supporters and prayer partners. It happens as many missionaries and the people who send them lose focus on the mission and think the missionary is the center of the story. In turn, the missionary starts to believe they are selling themselves to supporters. Missionary support really should be about the mission, not the individual missionary. An increase in support should be based on the needs of the mission and not just a supporter’s level of feeling for the missionary. A missionary should desire to bring their supporters along with them on the mission. Suppose the supporter will put the effort in to read the newsletters, interact with the missionary when they come to the States, and occasionally email or interact with the missionary on the field. In that case, they should be able to describe the mission almost as well as the missionaries themselves. Even if they don’t do all that, any missionary newsletter should seek to carefully explain partnerships in the host culture and with other missionaries and to make clear to their sending church and other supporters what they are accomplishing on the field. Why would a missionary not want their prayer warriors to pray for all their partners? If a missionary also has co-workers in their host culture, why would they not wish to have them prayed for and supported?

Still, I was most grateful for being transparent when things went wrong, the ministry suffered, or I suffered a setback. Having been transparent about what was happening, I never feared revealing my mistakes, the backsliding of new believers, or the closing of a failed church plant. In those dark moments, I could feel the support, the prayers, the hopes, and fellowship of people who understood a little of what I was going through and the pain I felt. I was most pleased when an experienced pastor came to visit me. He had read a year of newsletters to prepare for the trip. Near the end of our time together, he came to me and said,

“I have taken one or two mission trips every year for nearly thirty years now. You are the first missionary I have visited who set my expectations perfectly for the field. You did not exaggerate or hide the problems you wrote about. I saw it play out here with my own eyes. Thank you for that.”

There is a price for transparency. Some people will take transparency as an invitation to micro-manage; few things kill transparency faster than micro-management. People who bid you or the ministry ill will run with some detail and distort it to hurt you. Others will use what you write to lie to others or claim credit they don’t deserve. I know there are dangers, but all roads have their risks, and the Enemy never rests. We must deal with such opposition even if we heavily distort the field to protect ourselves. Lies and distortions are far easier for the Enemy to exploit than the truth. Lies, at times, feel safer, but deceit never protects us. It distorts, maybe delays, but does not protect us. Truth defends, our Lord vindicates honesty, and even if we fail, is there no value to failure with our integrity honoring our Lord with honest worship, praise, or even lament?

Finally, is there any room for privacy? Should all transparency be so radical we never hold back anything? No, there is a role for privacy, and not every story is ours to tell alone. Nor does every thought or feeling we get need to be shared without sober reflection, Godly wisdom, and discernment. The lesson from the field I learned was that I should, in every way and by all means, paint the most honest, straight-forward, and illuminating account of the field, the mission, and the people involved as I could. This clarity allowed my supporters to know what I was going through, what problems plagued the ministry, and how they could best help, encourage, and pray for the mission that was theirs as it was mine.


Brian W
Brian served 14 years in the Republic of Georgia, where he started a youth ministry, discipled new leaders, and planted over 15 new churches before serving in leadership of another missions organization. Brian is married to Maia and they have two children.