A Conversation with Ted Esler, President of Missio Nexus:

Did you know that the Rethink Creative team produces a full-blown podcast for our partner organization Collyde? If you are a ministry leader of any kind, then the Collyde Leadership Podcast is for you! We have over 25 episodes featuring some amazing leaders talking about a range of topics from creativity in the church, mentorship, social justice, missions, conflict resolution, and more!

Listen in as Ted Esler, President of Missio Nexus, speaks about some of the current challenges for missions organizations, the local church, and how clear storytelling and effective brand strategy could be the key to bridging the gap for the next generation of missions innovation:

Podcast Transcript:

Steve Grusendorf: Hello, and welcome into this special edition of The Collyde Leadership Podcast. Today, we find ourselves in the Rethink Creative Digital Studio, where I’m excited to connect with a great Rethink Creative and Collyde Partner, Dr. Ted Esler. Since 2015, Ted has been the President of Missio Nexus, an association of agencies and churches representing over 30,000 Great Commission workers worldwide. Previously, he worked in the computer industry before becoming a church planter in Sarajevo, Bosnia during the 1990s.

Now, in order to reflect and capture all of that God had done and taught him during the time that his family served there, Ted wrote the book Overwhelming Minority, and I would encourage you to pick that up. It’s a great read. In 2000, Ted became the Canadian Director of Pioneers, and then three years later moved to Orlando to join Pioneers’ U.S. leadership team. He has a BS in Computer Science and Speech Communication. He has a Master’s in Theological Studies from Heritage Seminary and a PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary.

Ted, you come with lots of credentials, lots of experience, but mostly we’re just honored to have you here in the Rethink Studio today. Thanks so much for joining us.

Ted Esler: Well, thanks for having me on. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

Steve Grusendorf: Yeah, so Ted, recently, Jinu, the founder of Rethink Creative and Collyde had an opportunity to join Missio Nexus at a retreat you hosted for CEOs of several different mission organizations around the country. You pulled those folks together in order to foster some deeper dialog and collaboration, is that right?

Ted Esler: Yeah, one of the things that we try to do at Missio Nexus, is we try to get people that are trying to solve the same kinds of problems in the room at the same time, so they can talk about what they’re doing in their ministries, and hopefully there’s some shared learning that will happen. This event in particular I think does a good job of hitting that right on the bullseye as CEOs, frankly they have many of the same struggles, but they’re doing it sometimes in a silo’ed manner, within their own organizational sphere. So this kind of breaks out of that, and gives them opportunity to talk with each other and see what others are doing to solve some of the same problems they’re working on.

“One of the things that we try to do at Missio Nexus, is we try to get people that are trying to solve the same kinds of problems in the room at the same time, so they can talk about what they’re doing in their ministries, and hopefully there’s some shared learning that will happen.”

Steve Grusendorf: That’s great. And our listeners, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the church world or the secular world, organizations often struggle with the same challenges, which is being silo’ed and like you said Ted, someone right next door might have a solution to the problem you’re facing, but if we don’t make these moments of connection happen, then we struggle in isolation. It’s encouraging to hear that whether it’s the church or the secular world, collaboration is a reflection, I think, of what God calls us to do as believers.

Now Ted, can you tell our listeners just a little bit about Missio Nexus and the vision behind this organization?

Ted Esler: Sure. Missio Nexus catalyzes relationships, collaboration, and ideas within the Great Commission community. Kind of our whole push is we’re an association, we’re a membership association, and our whole push is to highlight the Great Commission in front of both organizations, mission agency organizations, and churches. Kingdom businesses and mission focused educational institutions.

Steve Grusendorf: That’s awesome.

Ted Esler: Our members are many of them, the ones that are out there on the front lines doing the work of the Great Commission.

Steve Grusendorf: Yeah, and thank you, just as someone who attends local church and who’s passionate about the Great Commission, thanks for investing your heart, and mind, and your sweat and blood into helping the local church and organizations who desire to help the local church to bring the Gospel to those that haven’t heard it. It’s such a critical piece of our theology as Christians, so I really appreciate you doing that.

So talk to us a little bit about the organizations that you invited the organizations that attended? You’ve mentioned a little bit of some of those that are part of your association, but at the end of the day, you’re sitting around the table with some CEOs. What kind of CEOs have joined you at this event?

Ted Esler: We have about 240 mission agency members in Missio Nexus. We begin advertising this event about nine months out, and it’s always interesting to me to see which choose to come to it. There is a similar event for what I call the big boys. The very largest organizations. This particular event is probably scoped better for a mid-sized to smaller agency. A lot of the topics that we talk about are impacted by the relative size in maturity of the organization involved. Really, the sweet spot for the attenders at this event would be a mission agency of let’s say 500 – 600 missionaries or less, but we also have service agencies, and by service agencies I’m talking about agencies that don’t necessarily send missionaries, but they serve the missionary sending movement in some way shape or form. It could be providing training or many other services that are out there.

We really try hard to limit it to just CEOs, the primary leaders in these organizations. It’s not always easy to do that.

Steve Grusendorf: Yeah, well, they’re busy folks. It just says something to the fact that you can gather so many of them together that they see the value in connecting with their peers in order to have these deeper conversations. The local church leader, the local mission leader that’s listening, or maybe the mission leader that couldn’t attend, but wanted to, they’re sitting here listening to this podcast, and they’re kind of wondering, so you get all of these CEOs, you get all these professionals together who spend the bulk of their time thinking, praying and seeking, how can we bring the Great Commission all across the globe or facing all sorts of different challenges. Inquiring minds want to know what were some of the key topics and takeaways that stood out to you during your time together?

Ted Esler: I would say there’s a couple of them. From a big picture standpoint, connection by organizations with the local church is a primary one. We could maybe talk about that more in a minute, but I’ll tell you one that really caught my attention was if you recall late in 2018 a gentleman named David Chau was martyred on the Sentinel Islands, and the CEO of the mission agency that sent David out, All Nations was with us, and we had a time for him to unpack the experience of what it’s like to be a leader in an organization that’s experiencing that kind of a thing, and if you recall, almost immediately the secular press was highly negative, and they painted a narrative out there about terrible things that in actuality not true.

For example, they gave the idea that he was kind of a naïve Bible thumper that had no training or preparation, which is really far from the truth. There was quite a bit of preparation into what he did. Also, that he was a loaner out there doing his own thing. Again, that wasn’t true either. Peeling back these layers I think what you see is that it’s very easy for us, even in the church, and by the way he did mention some disappointment and I think he’s right about this, that the Christian press seemed to take that secular narrative and they just ran with it. In many cases not even checking any of the story with the organization involved. I think we as church leaders need to remember that the real news doesn’t come out in the first few minutes of an event or a tragedy, particularly when it involves missionaries of the Great Commission. We need to be sober, and we need to give a little time, and wait to hear from those that are more intimately involved the situation before jumping to conclusions. So anyway, I think for all those CEOs, that was a very helpful thing for them to hear about.

Steve Grusendorf: Yeah, if I can just throw something out there that if you’re chatting with me, that really strikes me as this importance, I talk a lot about reframing the narrative in this context. I was watching that story unfold as a parishioner sitting in the pew, and very quickly people like to set up their own narrative on a story, to your point. They’re making assumptions, they’re creating a story, because they realize those stories sell, and I think one of the things we have to do as Christ followers is really allow the narratives that we’re given to be reframed, not only in light of the Gospel, which is that Christ is going to reorient our own story, but also in light of just the truth, which is connected to the Gospel. The Gospel is the truest form of truth, I know that sounds redundant. To this point of who are we listening to, and why are we allowing anyone to reframe the narrative when Christ is the one that calls us to listen to the truth and filter out things that perhaps aren’t true. I don’t want our listeners to go past that too quickly. I think you make a great point there Ted, that says that there’s a point we need to hold onto here as a community of believers.

Ted Esler: I think that just take the concept of suffering. One of the accusations I think that was made by some was that this guy was irresponsibly sent out because of what happened, but friends, suffering is part in parcel of the definition of the Gospel. And if we don’t expect, and we don’t anticipate that there’s going to be suffering and loss as the Gospel message goes forward, then we don’t have the biblical narrative. We have some substitute narrative about what the Gospel is all about.

This should be our default to expectation. And this is a struggle for mission agencies. We want to be responsible, we want to make sure people are well trained. There’s a whole area of the mission agency world that’s about risk assessment, trying to determine how to be smart and duty of care with your staff and employees, that’s all out there and that’s all important, but in the final analysis the Gospel is attached at the hip with suffering.

Steve Grusendorf: Yeah, and the truth is God calls us to see that the Gospel is worth dying for, because it contains eternal life. Not trying to be glib in any manner, but that’s a challenge I think for the North American church that we don’t like the suffering part of the cross, we just like the eternal part of the cross, and if we’re not willing to embrace that then stories like this, to your point, stories when we see people who have embraced it, they don’t fit into our context, so we believe. We believe the stories that others tell, because in fact sometimes we as Christians here in the states, we allow our Christianity to be hijacked by this idea that if you’re doing what God’s called you to do, the only thing you can expect is blessing and material wealth and comfort, and that’s actually, I think to your point rather antithetical to what Christ has called us to.

Ted Esler: Yeah, it’s definitely a time for us to be reading the news with Kingdom values and that Kingdom narrative being the one that is our filter. The last over Easter weekend and even on through this week there have been these attacks in Sri Lanka and what’s going on there, when we read that, we should be doing two things. One, we should be thinking about the Gospel’s influence. The impact on the Gospel, etc. and then we should also be creating prayer points out of those news items we read.

Steve Grusendorf: That’s a good word. Thanks for that. What else did that to you? I kind of brought us on that tangent, but it was just a rich vein I didn’t want to lose, so I appreciate your words on that. What else stood out to you?

Ted Esler: Well, we did talk a fair bit about just the whole area of the local church, and the mission agency. And how those two spheres are somewhat pulled apart at this point, and what needs to happen to really bring these two groups of people back together. I would just encourage listeners to think about some of the philosophies that are influencing their view of mission today.

For example, a question I like to ask people is how many more mission agencies do we need? Many church leaders when I ask that question of them will say, “Oh man, we got too many of them already.” And then I rephrase that question, I say, “What if we, instead of saying how many more mission agencies, or mission organizations, what if I ask you the question, how many more entrepreneurs do we want to empower to see their vision in the realm of the Great Commission fulfilled?” Well, then they’re all over that. They want to see that happen. Let’s keep in mind that many of these organizations they started because a leader had a visionary idea that they wanted to see applied in the realm of the Great Commission. Over time, kind of like the stuff of institutional organizational life creeps in, and sometimes that original vision can be drowned out, but I think we’ve got to infuse our understanding of mission with a high sense of mission and a low sense of organization. Similarly, in local churches, it’s that sense of mission that really can bring and breed life in the context of that congregation.

“A question I like to ask people is how many more mission agencies do we need? Many church leaders when I ask that question of them will say, “Oh man, we got too many of them already.” And then I rephrase that question, I say, “What if we, instead of saying how many more mission agencies, or mission organizations, what if I ask you the question, how many more entrepreneurs do we want to empower to see their vision in the realm of the Great Commission fulfilled?”

Ted Esler: And so I think the connection point here between churches, and between these organization really comes into this realm of mission. What has God called you to do, and how is that best done together? That topic was something I think we riffed on quite a bit actually.

Steve Grusendorf: That’s good. Was there anything that stood out in those conversations? Here’s the interesting observation from an outsider here. You’re talking with a bunch of CEOs that oversee, or connected to Great Commission organizations, whether they’re sending missioners, or supporting them, but each one of them is also a local church member, or maybe even a leader. In some instances, you have the ability to talk to one person who stands in both realms, what were some of the solutions that they were coming up with that they said, you know I want to bring this idea back to my local church, because I see them struggling with it and the idea that I got here at this Missio Nexus retreat is a great idea to bring back. Were there any of those kind of nuggets that you saw come out?

Ted Esler: I think a powerful idea that we talked about was church size has a lot to do with how churches do mission. So for example, your large mega churches, they typically have multiple staff assignments, they see the world either regionally or people group blocks, or types of ministries. They strategize, they plan, and they move forward, but the average church size in America is actually much smaller than mega church, it’s well under 100 people, and those churches when they do mission, they do it drastically different.

I think a challenge for organizations, and something that was discussed was how do you properly scope what you’re doing to speak the language of these different size congregations, so that you can make connection points all along the spectrum of the different types of churches that are out there. Again, I’d say it, but this gets to your narrative, the way that you talk about your work and the specific on ramps that churches can consider, or maybe another way to say it is that churches have on ramps that agencies need to consider.

“The average church size in America is actually much smaller than a mega church, it’s well under 100 people, and those churches when they do mission, they do it drastically different.”

Steve Grusendorf: Yeah, I don’t mean to cut you off, but you bring up this ironic point that many of our mission organizations teach their people that are going out, how to engage the culture of where they’re going. Learning the language, and learning how people interact, because they recognize it’s going to be different, and what I just heard from is such a great point that mission organizations need to learn the language and culture of the churches they’re trying to connect with who are going to support their mission agencies. Does that make sense?

Ted Esler: That’s absolutely true. Not to be critical-

Steve Grusendorf: Be critical. It’s okay, be honest. How about that?

Ted Esler: The people writing the books, the people getting the most attention are the large church leaders, and the way that they explain and talk and think about mission is not appropriate for a church that’s substantially smaller, or more rural, or maybe it’s in its very beginning stages, it’s a church startup. This kind of diversity is something that agencies have to embrace and not try to homogenize their message across the board. That’s tough to do that, especially in a world where there’s lots of mass communication.

“The people writing the books, the people getting the most attention are the large church leaders, and the way that they explain and talk and think about mission is not appropriate for a church that’s substantially smaller, or more rural, or maybe it’s in its very beginning stages, it’s a church startup.”

Steve Grusendorf: That’s absolutely true, and I don’t think that’s critical at all. I think that’s a key observation that’s important for both mission organizations and local churches. Our culture values success, and our culture values entrepreneurism, so the leader that drives the church from one to 10,000 is celebrated as a person that is a success, more so perhaps than the past, or who works with the same 30 or 40 people in a small community. The truth is, that’s not always going to be true when it comes to Gospel value. Those two are probably equal in their value, and sometimes it’s even flipped, but because of that culture, you’re right, we read the books that are able to be written. Think about that for a minute, how many people have a great book inside them, that they’re never going to be able to write, but boy if they did, it would transform the paradigm. It’s not just about grabbing the next book and reading that book and trying to wrestle with it, but to your point, for both churches and mission organizations how has God uniquely equipped you.

It would be about as silly as trying to homogenize the spiritual gifts and saying which one is the most important, let’s give everybody that one. That just doesn’t work.

Ted Esler: Not only that in terms of the messaging, a very large successful church they’ve learned some things, and typically when they do mission what they’re going to do in most cases is they’re going to try to do those successful things in other context. Frankly, that may not be what works in that other context. In many cases, it might be a smaller church that has a different kind of a church world-view that is able to make the adaptations necessary to make ministry successful in a cross cultural setting.

Steve Grusendorf: That’s a good word.

Ted Esler: Try and embrace the whole spectrum I think is really important. Another big theme I think it would be good to mention is this concept that mission agencies have tended for many years to kind of feast on the best of the church. In other words, the church disciples people, it creates leaders and mission agencies recruit them and send them, but we’re in an era now where the church is somewhat struggling to maintain its size and its sense of movement and its sense of growth, and I’m always encouraging agency leaders, don’t think about your agencies, think about what I call the Ekkleo system. Ekkleo as in church in Greek. The whole Ekkleo system needs to be healthy for Mission agencies to find those mature people that they want to send out as missionaries.

I think some of the best practices that we’re seeing in mission agency ministry and leadership is when they invest all across the Ekkleo system. Local churches, educational institutions, other para churches besides their own, etc. to make the whole church movement in the United States grow and flourish. That’s just going to raise everybody’s boats on that kind of maturing tide.

Steve Grusendorf: Yeah, no, that’s good. It’s probably a conversation for another time Ted, because I think you and I could go for a very long time, but it would fascinate me to just talk about the idea that we even need to expand our view of what the church is, instead of just looking at an American Church, looking at a Global Church, because I’m sure you could talk to us for a long time about the inherent value in bringing global missionaries to the table, not just American missionaries to the table.

Ted Esler: Well, that’s for sure. You know that the United States is one of the primary destinations for missionaries from other parts of the world. If you counted up how many missionaries are sent to a country, we come out toward the top of that list as receiving missionaries now, which is kind of a mind blower.

“You know that the United States is one of the primary destinations for missionaries from other parts of the world. If you counted up how many missionaries are sent to a country, we come out toward the top of that list as receiving missionaries now, which is kind of a mind blower.”

Steve Grusendorf: It is, isn’t it? So let me ask this, in all of your conversations, if you were going to kind of boil it down, I don’t know if you can even do this, but if you were going to boil it down to one thing that has kept you up that last night or one thing that wouldn’t leave your mind as you left that retreat, what would that one thing be?

Ted Esler: Well, one of the things I think that’s heavy on the hearts and the lives of these leaders, and that’s not a very exciting or sexy topic, but it’s fundraising. Everybody’s out there trying to figure out how to make it all work financially, and one of the jobs that a CEO has is to make sure that the economic engine whether that’s fundraising or whether that’s a missionary surcharge and what they raise, or all of the above to make sure that’s healthy and that’s working.

I did get a sense that there’s a struggle out there with leaders trying to find appropriate resources for their ministries.

Steve Grusendorf: Talk to us about that. Because many of the people that are listening here or in this podcast are mission leaders. And if it’s about financing the vision that God has given us, if it’s about connecting with local churches, what would you want to share with these mission leaders? What are some of the sentence starters that bring us towards the solution? It’s not a simplistic answer, but how do they start thinking about that?

“Organizations are struggling to be innovative. In terms of fundraising, they need to realize that innovation is one piece that they need to be paying a lot of attention to right now. The second piece is how they tell their story about what they’re doing and why it’s important to a potential donor is probably more important now than it ever has been.”

Ted Esler: The first thing I would just say is, we’re in an era where what counts, what matters is innovation. Organizations are struggling to be innovative. One of the unfortunate truths about organizations is they become successful on the basis of an idea or a culture or both. The repeated refinement and use of that idea and culture is what propels them to grow. But as we’ve heard in business for years, what got you there is it going to keep you there. And so, I think organizations in terms of fundraising, they need to realize that innovation is one piece that they need to be paying a lot of attention to right now. The second piece is how they tell their story about what they’re doing and why it’s important to a potential donor is probably more important now than it ever has been.

Ted Esler: There is so much noise out there, even just disregarding something like social media, there’s still so much noise out there that getting people’s attention in a relevant interesting way that draws them into the mission that is a challenge, that’s a big challenge.

A lot of times, we can sense when others are struggling in making that communication happen, but it’s really hard for us to hear ourselves in a very objective way, and it challenges our own ability as an organization or a movement to communicate in a relevant way. So those would be the two things I would point to, one being innovation, the second one just would be how you are communicating, framing that vision to others.

Steve Grusendorf: That raises a great question in my mind Ted, do the missionaries of tomorrow look different than the missionaries of today in that they need to be good story tellers when they come home? Financing model that’s a very boring topic for many, but it’s important. There’s a million out there, so I don’t want to necessarily jump into how people are raising their funds in the different platforms they use, but I think what your point is, and it’s very true, no matter the platform, someone has to be telling good stories, and not fake stories, not glib stories, because that’s the other thing, right? The next generation can sniff out a fake a mile away. That’s not the point, but just authentic storytellers, is that transforming the way that you’re seeing who’s being sent, and who’s being effective when they’re sent?

Ted Esler: I’m aware of some missionaries that are using I would call them new methods of fundraising even thought they’ve been around for a while, but they’re really capitalizing on some of the new platforms, to raise their funds in a really short amount of time. I’m thinking of somebody that raised what amounts to a full couple support schedule of around $60,000 – $65,000 in a fairly expensive field, and they did that in about 30 days. With a very different approach, they treated it more like a campaign, as opposed to I’m going to be raising funds for the next year and a half. The push was on to we’re going to try to do this, it felt like a Kickstarter campaign essentially, but it wasn’t just one time funding, it was ongoing funding.

“I’d say it really does come down more to an empathetic approach that really tells the story in a compelling way. And you have to be able to connect. It’s almost contractual with every donor. It’s making it much more difficult to raise money out there.”

Ted Esler: Certainly, the newer generation is more adept and more comfortable with the tools to do that kind of fundraising. However, even with those new tools and platforms, it really, I’d say it really does come down more to an empathetic approach that really tells the story in a compelling way. And you have to be able to connect. It used to be people would just trust you on the basis of who you are, now they want to know a ton more. There’s so many scams out there, there’s so many ways that people are being cautious about what they give to. It’s almost contractual with every donor. It’s making it much more difficult to raise money out there.

But that said, here’s one of the exciting things, I just read in the next 25 years 68 trillion dollars is going to transfer from one generation to the next. And I’m sure somebody’s making some kind of back of a napkin kind of thumbnail guesstimate of that, but the bottom line is there’s a lot of funding out there, it’s just trying to figure out how to connect with the heart of the donor and what they want to see happen.

Steve Grusendorf: Yeah, can I give you permission Ted, just for a second to talk to some of the ministry leaders that are out there. Ministry leaders aren’t the parishioners, I get that, but if you could say one or two things to church leaders to appropriately challenge them to appropriately challenge their congregations about supporting the Great Commission, what would you say?

Ted Esler: Well, that’s a huge question.

Steve Grusendorf: Sorry.

Ted Esler: No, that’s all right. I would say, first of all, I think we got all recognize in a local church context, people don’t want to be talking about supporting a mission agency. Most churches are going to be focused on the tithe that goes to that church, and their budget and what they want to see happen. We got to be honest about that, that’s a fact of congregational life.

However, inside of that arena there’s so much room to play at the local church level. So many incredible areas in which generosity can be substantially exercised. Whether it’s providing funding directly, that’s one way, but there’s also exposure to what some folks do. A lot of churches have what I call approved vendor lists, and what they really are is they are lists of organizations with who the church has an established relationship with, and they know that if somebody goes with that organization to be a missionary, it’s going to be a more or less good environment for that person.

I’d say if your church doesn’t have that kind of relationship with an agency, agencies are hungry for those types of church partnership relationships right now, and in many ways churches are in the driver seat of how that relationship could look. There’s experiments, in fact, it’s been going on for so long, it’s really past the experimental stage, but there are efforts out there in which agencies are essentially allowing churches to write the memorandum of understanding for how the church is going to help govern the field team that’s out there.

Now some churches hear that, they want nothing to do with that kind of thing. For them, they may be looking for a more specific, maybe they want to do children’s ministry on a global basis, but I’m going to tell you, and I heard this, I definitely heard this at this CEO event. Agencies are struggling with how to make connection to you as church leaders. In what ways can you make it easy for them to connect with you, that would be really helpful to those agencies.

Steve Grusendorf: Yeah, and if I could throw my two cents in to the church leaders that are listening, I know it’s not easy, church leader, but we frankly need to get up and tell people they need sometimes to live on less. They need, circling back to something we talked about earlier Ted, right? We, not they, let me say we because I’m not excluding myself from this, we need to recognize the suffering as part of the mission of Christ, and sometimes I go without so that I can give, so that the Gospel can go forward, and if I never do that in my life, then I have left out a piece of the Gospel in my own life.

Ted Esler: Yeah, it’s true.

Steve Grusendorf: It’s just as plain and simple as that. We like to sometimes be popular in our congregations that we’re leading, because it’s a lot easier to be popular than it is to be prophetic, but God calls us to be leaders, and sometimes that means we have the uncomfortable conversations with our congregation.

Just real quick, a story that sticks out to me. My background’s pastoral ministry for many years. I remember the first church I was at, I was a staff pastor, a larger church and our lead pastor decided to talk about giving in general, including mission giving, but he said something and I remember, he told us as a staff, he was going to see it, we’re like, “You can’t say that.” He was basically got up on a Sunday morning and he said, “Guys, I want to tell you something. I don’t want your old TV and your old couch.” He said, “I want your new one. When you go to the store and you’re ready to buy a new TV and you’re thinking to yourself I’ll give the church my old TV and they’ll like it, he said I don’t want your junk. You buy that new TV and you bring it in to me.”

I think the point he was trying to get across for the church, and it’s a relevant conversation for us today. If you’re wondering, does the Bible talk about that? It sure does. Look in the Old Testament, cursed be the person who brings the junk when they got something good in their back pocket and they withhold that thinking, “Oh he’ll be happy with my seconds or my leftovers.

Anyway, Ted, I’ll be passionate for you. I mean to talk we need to support the men and women that are going out, and make sure that when they go, they are well resourced. The last thing, local church, and then I’m going to get off my soapbox Ted, I’m sorry. We’re interviewing you. But local church leader, don’t ever let a missionary and evangelist just going out worry that somehow they’re not going to have what they need to accomplish the mission that Christ has called them to. Let’s resolve to take care of that for them, and have the conversations that we need to with people in the U.S. who have far more than they need.

Ted Esler: Amen to that.

Steve Grusendorf: Thanks for letting me go on a tangent there, Ted.

Ted Esler: I would also add that I think agency leaders need to remember that one of the motivations of a church mission pastor or church mission leader, I actually like to say church mission leader instead of pastor, and the reason for that is, we think that more of them are women than men in most churches, but they never get that title pastor. Whatever your theology is on that, I’m good with that. I like to say church mission leader.

Steve Grusendorf: Yeah, be inclusive.

Ted Esler: One of their motivations is to figure out how to connect global mission with the person, the average person in the church. The world view of the mission agency leader tends to be more about how do we complete the task of reaching unreached people. Those are really two different things.

Steve Grusendorf: Yeah, that’s a good point.

Ted Esler: Finding the common ground on how those can meet can be kind of tough, but that’s where again we need to see some innovation at both the agency and church level.

Steve Grusendorf: Well, that raises a great question. Our world is driven I think a lot, we’ve talked a little bit about storytelling, but also about brand, right? Fascinating thing for me, and I’m not an expert in this, but what happens I see in people’s lives is they see a brand, Starbucks or pick whatever brands you want, Target, Walmart whatever it is, and that brand over time speaks to them, and then at some point in the person’s life, this switch is flipped where they fundamentally trust that brand for the rest of their life. That brand can do no wrong, because they made the determination somewhere in their past that they like that brand, or they like that product, or they like that organization. And so they’re bought in.

What role do you think brand strategy really plays for the mission organization that says if they can get this right, people are going to go I know that organization and I trust them implicitly.

“Church mission leaders are actually quite generous with their assumptions about whether [a missions agency] is a good organization or not, but the [missions] organization is mostly unaware of how they’re being perceived.”

Ted Esler: I’ve actually seen some studies that have been commissioned and done by mission agencies about their brand and some fascinating things definitely emerge. The study that I’m thinking about right now, was one particular organization, they did a brand awareness study with church mission leaders. And I think the big takeaway from that study was church mission leaders are actually quite generous with their, what do I want to say it? With their assumptions about whether this is a good organization or not, but the organization is mostly unaware of how they’re being perceived. Messages that they felt were highly contextual in the church context were in fact being subsumed by a larger narrative, in this case about Muslim’s that’s playing out in our culture. And figuring out how to explain that … I mean every Christian is going to agree with the statement, “Jesus loves Muslims.” But it’s another thing to think about we’re going to go down the street here to the mosque, and we’re going to spend a couple hours with the Imam and get to know our neighbors.

In kind of the way the agency can communicate some of that is kind of like an obligation sense instead of a opportunity. I think in this particular case, they were looking at whether or not they were sending the wrong message.

Steve Grusendorf: Interesting.

Ted Esler: In other words, you need to do this because you’re a Christian, as opposed to what an awesome way for you to experience another culture, do you have an opportunity to share Christ’s love with someone that may not know it, etc.

Steve Grusendorf: Yeah, and that’s important. Mission leaders who are listening, you have to recognize that your brand is going to say something. And to your point Ted, we can’t afford to be ignorant about the way that our brands are perceived. That’s true for churches as well, but mission agencies particularly because in some respects they have a dual audience. They have the local church that they’re trying to reach, but then they also have the general public, which is viewing them, not every mission organization is going to have a massive public perception, but some certainly do, so understanding how your brand is received, and investing in brand strategy can be really important. I think the same is true for visual storytelling and not just audio storytelling, but really being able to paint a visual story for people, can go a long way in helping I think solve some of the challenges that you’ve been talking about.

“Mission leaders who are listening, you have to recognize that your brand is going to say something. And to your point Ted, we can’t afford to be ignorant about the way that our brands are perceived.”

Steve Grusendorf: Good example, financial. I’m part of an organization that has a significant mission arm, and one of our executives came in the other day and was showing a visual brand or a visual storytelling for giving, and I was compelled, and I already was passionate about our organization, but I was compelled, because what they were doing, which I hadn’t seem much of, is they were showing people visually how to invest their dollars, they weren’t just telling them how to invest their dollars. Are you seeing some of that play out in organizations that are part of Missio Nexus?

Ted Esler: Yeah, I mean again if you scroll back to say the year 2000 and you looked at mission agency communication versus today, it’s just a sea change of difference. Video I think has a lot to do with that. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Orality movement, but there’s a whole section of the mission world that is based on trying to share the Gospel with people who don’t know how to read. And even the way I just said that’s wrong. It’s not that they don’t know how to read, it’s that they’ve chosen to take their information in a way other than text.

“If you scroll back to say the year 2000, and you looked at mission agency communication versus today, it’s just a sea change of difference. Video I think has a lot to do with that.”

Steve Grusendorf: Yeah, well said.

Ted Esler: And that whole movement I think has kind of back flowed, not just from the field side of things, but also into the home offices and how people are wanting and trying to communicate, and that’s impacted visual storytelling for sure.

Steve Grusendorf: Yeah, and from my perspective, it’s an exciting time, and this maybe is a good segue to my next question, but to me, it’s an exciting time for the church, the local church to cast a broader net of the types of men and women and the skillsets that are needed to bring the Gospel to the ends of the world. I’m excited, because I think that while we’re always going to need traditional missionaries. Men and women who have called and gifted and things like evangelism, and teaching and preaching those are core, they’ll always be core. Man, there’s so many other men and women that are needed out there in the field to support and push forward the message of Christ in creative brand strategy storytelling, these phrases that we use. You’re not going to get taught that in the traditional seminary classes. We really got to widen our scope.

So I guess maybe that leads into maybe a good question to end on is someone in your chair who’s got the privilege of kind of seeing so many different themes and threads throughout these different organizations that are part of your association. If you look out five to 10 years, and in reality that’s an eternity for now, but five to 10 years from now, where do you see missions and ministry around the world, and how can leaders now begin to posture themselves to be prepared for tomorrow?

“You’re called Rethink Creative. There’s a very serious ‘rethink’ going on right now about how we’re deploying missionaries. And it’s both a challenge and an opportunity. I do believe you’re going to see many more missionaries go out with a secularly appreciated job skillset, that they’re going to use.”

Ted Esler: Well, there’s so much there. Listen, in the last year, China has cracked down on foreigners basically, particularly in the areas where they have Muslim populations, and hundreds and hundreds of missionaries have been sent home. There is a very serious, you’re called Rethink Creative, there’s a very serious rethink going on right now about how we’re deploying missionaries. And it’s both a challenge and an opportunity. I do believe you’re going to see many more missionaries go out with a secularly appreciated job skillset, that they’re going to use. Now, that’s nothing new. William Carey, the founder of the modern mission’s movement, he was a business person. But I do think you’re going to see more and more of that. I think the real payoff there is going to be when you combine more traditional missionary endeavors, particularly in the area of church planting and multiplication with these types of workers. Which I’d say has been somewhat of a missing link in the businesses mission movement.

Ted Esler: I think there’s a lot of opportunity in that arena, that’s an exciting one. I do think we have now as an emerging two thirds world church leadership that will be great partners for us. I use this term that I picked up somewhere along the line, LaFricAsia, referring to Latin America, Africa, and Asia as one block, LaFricAsia leaders, they’re going to be able to be partners in ways that up to now they have not been able to be partners to us, as they have matured and grown. And their experience and what they’re bringing to the table is distinctly than ours, but when put together, I think it’s going to be a powerful synergistic thing.

And some people just as a final thought, we are really entered now into the era of partnerships and networks. The ability for the average church leader to connect globally, it’s just never been like this before. The more we can encourage those kind of connections to happen, the better off we’re all going to be.

Steve Grusendorf: That’s well said. Ted, thanks so much for joining us, I really appreciate it. Your sharing has been rich, and I think it’s given us a lot to consider, mission leader, pastoral leader, wherever you fall on the spectrum, I pray that these words, you just dwell with them, and allow God to work in your heart. We are passionate here at Rethink and in Collyde as well to resource local churches to make a global difference so we really appreciate Ted, your time and your investment in these various mission organizations. Your really making a difference around the world, many of whom we may never hear about, the local church may never hear about every single one of them, but God is doing great work, and they don’t need to hear about every one of them, they need to hear about the ones that God has divinely prepared for them to partner with.

Can I just pray Ted for Missio Nexus, the movement that you guys are, the association that you are, and the groups and global workers that you represent? Just ask that God and His Spirit would move powerfully through you guys as we close out this podcast?

Ted Esler: Yes, please, thank you.

Steve Grusendorf: Lord Jesus, you see the globe, and you don’t see dead people, you don’t see people beyond reach, you see people who haven’t come alive yet, and you see people who have not yet been reached, and I think that perspective is so important for us to see. God, give us your eyes, give us your eyes, and give us your courage and give us your empowerment that we might go out and build the kingdom with you. It’s your kingdom, you’re the one that’s going to build it, we have the opportunity to partner with you. I thank you for Ted and the great folks at Missio Nexus and the work that they are doing to create collaboration, to create conversation, to create webs of connection for folks and the local church and in the mission world. Lord, we thank you for those many, many mission organizations that have cropped up, those that are still cropping up Lord Jesus that are sending men and women who feel called and are equipped to go make a difference in the world, Lord Jesus.

I am confident father that there are so many men and women all across the globe from the United States and every other country in the world who have bought in, who have sold out and are saying yes to kingdom work and are making a difference and we just lift them up right now, Lord Jesus. May you use them to build your kingdom. May you watch over them. May you lead them, and may they see your hand in their lives. For the local church here in the U.S. and around the world father, plant a seed of burden in their life that is appropriate, that blooms into appropriate partnership with these organizations that are making a difference around the world.

Thanks so much for our time today Lord. We thank you. In your name we pray, Amen.

Ted Esler: Amen.

Steve Grusendorf: Thanks so much Ted, we really enjoyed your time. I just want to encourage you listeners if you haven’t had a chance to check out the great work that Missio Nexus is doing to check out their website, that’s Missio Nexus with an X .org, definitely check them out, they are doing some wonderful things that are some great ways to partner with them. Thanks for joining us Ted, and we’ll see you next time on the podcast.