The Innovation Crisis • Ted Esler

Creating Disruptive Influence in the Ministry You Lead

August 2021 • Paperback • 978-0-8024-2180-7

If you aren’t innovating, stagnation isn’t far away.

Ministry leaders carry the burden of keeping their organizations lean, focused, and relevant. The stakes are especially high for churches and other organizations that fulfill the Great Commission. When souls are on the line, there’s no room for bureaucratic bloat or sustaining a cumbersome infrastructure. It’s up to the leadership—that’s you—to realize where the organization is in maintenance mode and find ways to innovate even when the growth curve has slowed and the team has started to grow complacent.

Using missions disruptor William Carey as an example, Ted Esler shows how you, too, can innovate in ways that change the ministry landscape. Esler will help you keep an eye on your “eccliosystem”—the ecclesial ecosystem in which you exist. You’ll learn about the four stages of organizational culture—disrupting, innovating, sustaining, and stagnating—and gain strategies for staying in that sweet spot where innovations keep coming and stagnation can’t take hold.

The gospel of Jesus Christ never grows stale. Don’t let your ministry ever forget it!


Ted Esler is the President of Missio Nexus, an association of agencies and churches representing about 30,000 Great Commission workers worldwide. He worked in the computer industry before becoming a church planter in Sarajevo, Bosnia, during the 1990’s. Ted is the author of Overwhelming Minority, which tells the story of their family’s ministry in Bosnia. In 2000, Ted became the Canadian director of Pioneers, and three years later moved to Orlando to join Pioneers USA’s leadership team. He was appointed as President of Missio Nexus in 2015. Ted holds a PhD in Intercultural Studies (Fuller Theological Seminary, 2012).


“Ted, who in the church today do you feel is doing something uniquely innovative and effective?”

I was speaking with a major church leader. He should have been the one telling me who the innovators are. I paused, stuttered, and then honestly replied, “I will have to think about that and get back to you.”

“That’s what I thought,” he replied. “I see so little innovation among church leaders that I wonder what our future holds.”

Little did this leader know that in a few short months, the world would be turned upside down by something called COVID-19. The rapid and almost total change that many of us in ministry would face was unthinkable in January 2020. By March, one of the core activities of the church, gathering, was essentially outlawed. Pastors stared into cameras instead of faces as auditoriums remained empty for months. Even one-on-one meetings became something done over software. Fear rose about a future drop-off in giving (a fear that did not materialize for most ministries). A two-week lockdown turned into months of lockdown. Businesses were shuttered while others prospered. The whole world was different.

Innovating is touted as a means of creating a preferred future. During the COVID-19 pandemic, change occurred at such a fast rate that few could keep up with the present, let alone worry about the future. Innovation was the need of the hour. The vast riches of the Internet were viable resources for deeper teaching, story-telling, and relationship building. The best most churches could do was film the traditional service for online viewing. The pandemic highlighted a lack of imagination and creativity.

The pandemic highlighted in stark terms the groaning in the church today for innovators. There was a time not long ago when the muscular megachurch movement seemed poised to provide us with ideas that would propel us into a better future. Scandals, politics, and ambition appear to have put this hope to rest. Missionary agencies and Christian nonprofit organizations also suffer from a lack of innovation. They feel old, antiquated, and small in a world of massive technology-driven megacorporations. While the church struggles to innovate, we watch lithe and capable businesses start in garages as side gigs. They innovate, grow, and dominate our lives and the stock market. Meanwhile, we in ministry leadership struggle to find the funding, people, and ideas to drive discipleship deep into the hearts of people.

The unmet expectations I see in the ministry I lead is a symptom of a larger disease in the broader church. The bigger proof that we lack innovation is the failure of the church to capture the imagination and heart of the culture. We must consider our lack of imagination in creating the post-Christian world that we are now experiencing. We have lost our voice in culture. What we offer is not attractive to a society that has moved past our paradigms. We might be wearing skinny jeans to church, but that sort of window dressing is part of the problem. The world is looking for something new and different. If we want to regain that voice, we must innovate.


The Innovation Crisis is an urgent call to take a hard look at why our faith communities are increasingly irrelevant. Ted presents an unvarnished look at why we’re in crisis and offers proven solutions to not only overcome our malaise but actually set the pace for the future. This is more than a book; it’s an invitation to participate in high-stakes change.
– Stephen Bauman
Former President/CEO of World Relief; author of Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis

Many churches and faith-based nonprofits struggle to adapt to the rapidly changing technological landscape. In The Innovation Crisis, Ted Esler brings clarity to the extent of this challenge and paints a sobering picture of what continued failure will mean for the church’s ability to engage with present and future generations. He also offers a roadmap for how church leaders and their communities can rethink the issues, identify the obstacles, and develop solutions. Every church and missions leader would benefit from reading this book.
– John Chesnut
President/CEO, Wycliffe Bible Translators USA

The Innovation Crisis speaks in plain language of the realities of today. Readers will see themselves and their ministries at various stages throughout the book. Frankly, it soon becomes personal and convicting. At the same time, Ted gives the picture of hope and courage to risk innovation backed by models of the past and imagination of the future. A clarion call to follow our Creator God in leading through innovation.
– Jo Anne Lyon
General Superintendent Emerita, The Wesleyan Church