By Don Fitzkee
I used to be a cross country runner (emphasis on “used to be”). Cross country always has been a fairly simple sport with the object to run far and run fast, or at least faster than members of other teams. During my years of running, the training was also simple: we were supposed to log a certain number of miles each week of the summer (emphasis on “supposed to”), adding up to hundreds of miles before the season even began. The way to train for long races, it seemed, was to run even longer in practice.
Now 30 years later, I have two kids running high school cross country. The sport itself hasn’t changed much, but the training is more complex. My kids are still expected to put in a certain number of miles, but now there’s a big emphasis on “core” strengthening which, as far as I can tell, refers mostly to back and stomach muscles that support the body. The philosophy for running today seems to be, “If you want to go far, you have to strengthen your core.”
I was reminded of this at Annual Conference in July. During the Tuesday evening worship service while an offering was taken to support the Core Ministries fund of the Church of the Brethren, a clever video played with the theme “strengthening our core” and highlighted the amazing breadth of our church’s ministries.
After worship, I returned to my hotel room where my son was stretched out on the floor doing a “plank”--a deceptively painful core-strengthening exercise where you balance on your forearms and toes, and hold the rest of your body rigid (like a plank). When I do this “plank” exercise, after a couple minutes (or more like 15 seconds), my back and stomach muscles start to ache and my legs shake uncontrollably. While I wouldn’t call this exercise fun, it does strengthen these “core” muscles that stabilize the body.
From my vantage point as the new chair of the Mission and Ministry Board, it has been extremely gratifying to see the generous outpouring of gifts to the Nigeria Crisis Fund. The needs of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Nigeria are heart-breaking, and Brethren are responding to meet those needs. Similarly, whenever any significant disaster strikes, Brethren give without hesitation through the Emergency Disaster Fund.
As much as I appreciate this generous short-term giving, I can’t help but think that if we want to go far, we have to strengthen our core. For the Mission and Ministry Board, our core is the many ministries that nurture the church and serve the world month after month, year after year. Core Ministries support congregations, ministers, church leaders, and domestic and international partners. Core Ministries provide opportunities for life-changing, faith-forming, community-building conferences, events, and resources to happen for Brethren of all ages.
While overall giving last year to all of the church’s work was incredibly strong, support of Core Ministries continued a long-term downward trend, one that persists into the current year. This shrinking pool of resources forces the board and our staff to choose which of our ongoing ministries must be scaled back or eliminated.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
My kids’ cross country coach is right: “If we want to go far, we have to strengthen our core.” We need to sustain the staff and ministries that meet the needs of the church and the world on an ongoing basis. These are the same staff and ministries that provide the structure and expertise to respond to other important needs--like Nigeria--when they arise.
To help us go far, we invite you to give generously to support the Core Ministries of the Church of the Brethren.
-- Don Fitzkee is chair of the Mission and Ministry Board of the Church of the Brethren. This letter was mailed to all the congregations of the denomination in September. To view the Core Ministries video that was shown at Annual Conference--which inspired this letter--and for a link to give online to the denomination’s Core Ministries, go to www.brethren.org/give .