“Not only was I exposed to our movement growing up, but I became a direct product of it.”
Dave Guiles, who will step down from his role as executive director of Encompass World Partners in July, has spent his entire life in and around the churches and ministries of the Charis Fellowship.
Dave’s roots trace back to the original families who, in the early 1900s, started the Third Brethren Church in Philadelphia, Pa. Subsequent generations were deeply involved in Charis churches, and when Dave was seven his own father left his secure bank job to pursue pastoral training at Grace College and Seminary in Winona Lake, Ind. After finishing his degree, the family relocated to Bethlehem, Pa., where they (re)planted a church through the Brethren Home Missions Council. Dave’s dad worked hard to offer him opportunities to test and hone his ministry skills, influencing Dave’s future career choices in powerful ways.
Momentum Ministry Partners (formerly CE National) also had a big influence on Dave’s life. “Coming from a small church plant where I was the only teenager, Momentum really was a lifeline for me,” Dave recalled. He was among the early members of a Travel Team (formerly Operation Barnabas). And it was during a Momentum Youth Conference in 1976 that he committed his life to Christ.
After high school, Dave entered Grace College with the intention of becoming a music teacher. But to no one’s surprise, he soon shifted his focus to preparing to become a pastor. Grace is also where he met his future wife, Sue. They were married in 1982, the same year he received his bachelor’s degree and enrolled in Grace Seminary. The next five years were a time of learning and growth, and included the arrival of twin boys in 1984, three years on pastoral staff at Warsaw Community Grace Brethren Church, and the birth of another son in 1987.
Dave credits seminary chapels with significantly altering his future ministry plans. Impactful speakers like Tom Julien and Roger Peugh helped open his eyes to the needs of the world. As a mom at home with young kids, it took Sue a little longer to catch on to where Dave’s head and heart were headed, but before long she was fully onboard with exploring a career in overseas missions.
Dave and Sue, along with good friends with Steve and Wilma Bailey, had a meeting with Jack Zelasko, director of Encompass World Partners (known then as the Foreign Missionary Society of the Grace Brethren Church), about their future ministry plans. “While we were willing to consider any location,” Dave mused, “for some reason Mr. Zelasko only talked about Argentina. The four of us thought, ‘Why not?’ It wasn’t until years later that we discovered there was a couple specifically praying we would go there!”
Upon completing language studies, and with six children between them, the Guiles and Baileys finally departed for Buenos Aires in 1988, arriving in a country they had never even visited before. “Everything was overwhelming when we arrived — the city, the culture, the language, and even the ministry. We’d received very little cross-cultural training prior to our arrival,” Dave observed. “But God used those early, difficult years to shape us in remarkable and special ways.”
It didn’t take Dave and the team long to realize that the strategies for evangelism, discipleship, and church planting they’d learned in the US weren’t designed for a cross-cultural context. In part because they were centered in the skills, resources, and experience of highly trained leaders. This model might work to start and maintain a single church, but it would be very hard to reproduce. That led Dave to search the Scriptures, where he discovered a set of principles that would transform their ministry in significant ways. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul wrote, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
Dave concluded that the two key measures of success in initiating new works in cross-cultural settings are to ensure that men and women really come to know the true Jesus of the Bible (He is the only true foundation), and to do ministry in a truly reproducible way (work so that others can continue building upon that foundation). Ultimately that led to the development of simple and reproducible evangelism and church planting strategies, many of which are still being followed today.
When the board of Encompass began discussing who could take Tom Julien’s place as director in 1998, Dave was still planting and coaching in Argentina as well as serving as the Latin America coordinator. Despite being the youngest person to serve in this role, the board pursued Dave and in late 1999 the Guiles relocated to the US and Dave began serving in the role of executive director.
By April 2000, as the mission prepared to celebrate 100 years of ministry, Dave was tackling a new set of challenges as leader of Encompass, known then as Grace Brethren International Missions.
“It didn’t take long to realize the mission, which was birthed and had produced much fruit in the modern era, was no longer facing the same challenges,” Dave said. “We were in a post-Christendom and post-denominationalism world. Along with our leadership team, I began to ask, ‘What’s next?’ I certainly didn’t want us to become irrelevant.”
He continued, “I came to see myself as a hinge between what the amazing people did before me and what amazing people would do after me.” So after investing ten years in stabilizing, strengthening, and creating platforms for the future, in 2010 Dave challenged the board to embrace a series of significant changes. They included fresh ways to engage US churches, to recruit and train new staff, to fund ministries, to partner globally, and more.
Among the most visible changes was a rebrand. “While continuing to embrace our heritage and values,” he stated, “we needed a name that created bridges instead of barriers.” Another was the relocation of Mobilization Center from Winona Lake, Ind., to Atlanta, Ga. “The location of our headquarters matters,” he said. “We were recruiting staff to work in major metropolitan areas (and even sending recruits to major cities for pre-field training), while our leadership team lived and worked in a small town. I remember well when a retired missionary, unhappy with the change, pointed out how Winona Lake was peaceful, comfortable, and safe. I replied, ‘That’s why it’s no longer the best place for us. We need to lead by example.’”
An even more significant change was a global reorganization from regions to missional networks. Like most other mission agencies, Encompass created teams according to where staff lived. In practical terms, that meant that teams were formed around the lowest common denominator: geography. “But what if we created teams according to shared passions and ministry goals,” Dave wondered, “regardless of their assignment location? The tools of globalization make that possible!”
In fact, he came to see that one of the most powerful tools in a leader’s toolbox is the authority to “determine the tables where people sit. Bringing together people with shared passions and goals helps promote the kind of creativity and momentum we need to meet the challenges of missions in today’s globalized world.” Today Encompass is organized around five missional networks: Church Planting, Church Equipping, Integrated Ministries, Crisis Response, and Mobilization Services.
In addition leading major changes at Encompass, Dave played a big part in helping create the global Charis Alliance. “The seeds were planted by Tom Julien in 1994 when he challenged us to find creative ways to bring identity, focus, and cooperation to the churches we’d help plant around the world. I’ve had the honor of helping Tom’s dream become a reality,” Dave reflected.
Today the Charis Alliance is comprised of leaders and churches from two dozen countries that share a common spiritual ancestry and a mutual commitment to Biblical Truth, Biblical Relationship, and Biblical Mission. Among the fruits of these cooperative efforts are the Charis Commitments to Common Identity (our Statement of Faith) and Charis Commitment to Common Mission (a manifesto for global and regional cooperation).
Some years ago, Dave announced his desire to turn over the reins of Encompass leadership to the next generation in 2020. While the COVID-19 pandemic slowed those plans, it didn’t derail them. During the first six months of 2023, he’s been orienting Mike Yoder (a former student when Dave was youth pastor during his Seminary years!). Mike will become Encompass’ new executive director on July 1, 2023. On August 1, Dave and Sue will take a four-month sabbatical, hoping to rest, recuperate, and visit grandkids (and their parents!). Dave also plans to complete a new book on interdependency. By late 2023, they’ll tackle their new assignment, where Dave will fill an expanded role as coordinator of the Charis Alliance while still serving Encompass as director of missional partnerships.
During this season of transition, Dave asks for prayer for three things: to be used by God to help Mike be successful, to have wisdom to guide the Charis Alliance toward living out the realities of interdependency, and to raise financial support for his new role.
If you want to connect with Dave to encourage him in this transition or learn more about his new role, you can contact him here.