Member Spotlight: Mark Blocher, Board Member

By Michael Miller  ·  Jun 20, 2023

Why SMI? The Blochers like the 'one anothers'

Disrupting health care in order to redeem it

Mark Blocher’s lifetime of finding ways to redeem health care is being put to service on the Samaritan Ministries Board of Directors.

Mark, who lives with Julie, his wife of 51 years, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was appointed by the Board to fill the final year of a term that will be open for election in 2024.

And while his presence on the Board is new, he has been serving Samaritan Ministries members nearly since Samaritan started, contributing worldview articles to the newsletter as far back as the 1990s. Samaritan also was involved in supporting Mark’s project of a lifetime: starting a direct primary care practice called Christian Healthcare Centers (CHCenters.org), which opened its doors in 2017. He’s now its chief executive officer.

“The bottom line for me is, I was very honored to even be asked to be considered for the Board because I love the ministry,” Mark said. “I love what Samaritan is about.”

Road to medical ethics

Much of Mark’s history has pointed to his work with Christian Healthcare Centers (CHC).

After Mark served as pastor for several years for a church in Montana, in 1985 he and Julie moved back into their Grand Rapids hometown, where he pastored another congregation.

From there, the Blochers’ ministry detoured into starting pregnancy crisis centers in Michigan and 11 other states over the next 10 years, including being one of the first to introduce ultrasound technology to such centers.

That experience led Mark to enter the field of medical ethics.

“I could see that there was a growing need for a Christian voice dealing with some of the moral and ethical issues related to medicine and health care,” Mark said.

To tackle that subject, Mark attained a master’s degree in philosophy and bioethics at Western Michigan University in 1998 and did additional graduate work at Georgetown University in 1996 and 1999.

“I did work on a Ph.D. but am officially ABD, which means ‘all but dissertation,’” Mark said.

Besides speaking at several colleges and universities, Mark also helped patients, pastors, and doctors “who wanted input on some of the ethical issues they were dealing with,” Mark said. “I eventually taught medical ethics courses at Western Michigan from 1992 to 1995, then moved to Cornerstone University, where I taught as part of the adjunct faculty from 1988 to 1997 and full time from 2000 to 2015.”

He also published several books, such as Right to Die? Caring Alternatives to Euthanasia, was pastor of education at his church while teaching at Cornerstone, and was a captain for the Michigan State Police Chaplain Corps for 14 years.

“I retired from all those things in 2015 and went full time to start Christian Healthcare Centers,” he said.

‘Pivotal time’ in history

Mark said he hopes his health care experience is valuable to Samaritan members.

“I agreed to be on the Samaritan Board because I think we’re at a very pivotal time in American history,” he said. “What we’re really facing is more than ‘how do we pay for medical expenses.’ We have to think about the kind of medical care that’s going to be available and what kind of oppression that we as Christians will face both in health care sharing and in the providing of health care services.”

Christian Healthcare Centers logo

CHC is facing that threat of oppression head-on in Michigan. A new state civil rights law requires faith-based facilities like CHC to hire people who do not share CHC’s faith, to prescribe cross-sex hormones to facilitate efforts to alter a patient’s biological sex, and to use pronouns for people that do not accord with a person’s biological sex, according to a news release from Alliance Defending Freedom. CHC is suing Michigan in federal court “because basically, they want to put us out of business” by forcing the practice to perform medicine and hire workers in such a way that violates their Christian beliefs.

Marginalized voice

CHC had been incubating in Mark’s mind since his years of starting pregnancy crisis centers.

“I knew that at some point, if you’re going to reach abortive, vulnerable women, then you’re going to have to provide medical services,” Mark said. “If your major competition is Planned Parenthood, then you have to, to some degree, mirror the services that they’re providing to be competitive.”When Hillary Clinton spearheaded her presidential husband’s task force on health care “reform” in the early 1990s, “I could see that Christianity’s voice and presence were being marginalized at a minimum and being pushed out of health care,” Mark said. “Since then, we’ve seen the fights over professional conscience protections at both the state and the federal level.”

Beginnings of CHC

In 2012, just after the Affordable Care Act had become law, Mark was teaching a discipleship group that included doctors and another man who works in orthotics.

“We would talk about health care after our studies, prayer, and so forth,” Mark said. “After many conversations, I came back to them and said, ‘Well, I’ve got an idea. What about starting a Christian health care system?’”

Mark was frustrated that so many Christian doctors felt they had to go overseas to perform what he calls “missional medicine.”

“Why don’t we create something here in this country that is a parallel health care system that shows that Christianity has a lot to say about how health care is done, how you take care of the sick?” he remembers asking. “Christianity has always had some medical ministry wherever the Gospel has gone. But in the 20th and 21st centuries, we’ve largely stayed on the sidelines in this country and let medicine become more and more secularized.”

Mark proposed in “broad-brush strokes this model of a Christian health care practice.”

One of the doctors he was talking with, Dr. Jeffery Woo, asked, “Where exactly is this medical utopia we’re talking about?”

“I told him that as far as I knew, it didn’t exist, so why don’t we create it?” Mark said.

By 2015, CHC incorporated, and its first office opened in July 2017. The practice operates along common direct primary care lines, charging a monthly fee for patients in exchange for checkups, timely access to a staff physician, extended visits, health management, and urgent care. Services include many types of labs and basic procedures, and medications are greatly discounted. Their membership also includes in-house X-rays and radiology reviews.

A second office for outpatient surgery and procedures opened one year ago in Newaygo, Michigan, which includes primary care as well as in-office procedures and minor outpatient surgeries.

“Through our daughter organization, Christian Healthcare Specialists, we provide a colonoscopy for $1,050, when the average around here is $2,500,” he said. In addition to what CHC provides, the organization secured discounted pricing on nearly every other medical service, including major surgeries. “We can secure an MRI for $500, but the average cost is $1,800 if you go through the hospitals. We’ve cared for patients from 39 Michigan counties, 16 states, and eight foreign countries.”

CHC has a staff of three dozen, including nine primary care physicians and three surgeons. They serve 3,200 CHC members between the two locations.

Starting a Christian practice

When a Christian medical provider asks Mark how to start a similar practice, Mark suggests they start by opening a clinic in a church or a small DPC office.

“One of the things you want to do is look at how many other DPC offices there are in your area, if any,” he said. “Then, find out who else is really energized like you are to want to do health care differently, to do a direct patient-care practice.

“And then there are the nuts and bolts. I’ve got an eight-page document that I send them, a checklist of all the steps they’ll have to take to bring one of these to fruition.”

But local churches are also an option. Mark devotes an entire chapter in his recent book Missional Medicine to the role of the local church in health care.

Church buildings sit empty most of the week, he said. “Why aren’t we using those facilities and stewarding them how we should be?” That’s a situation, he said, where doctors who feel like they need to go overseas to perform medical missions could instead do so right in their town.

“There’s no reason we can’t have medical clinics working out of every local church,” Mark said. “I’m trying to make a case that the Church can use medicine like the Church has used medicine throughout its history. We could have a medical ministry in every community, including smaller ones.

“That’s my passion. That’s what I’m focused on.”

Michael Miller is editor of the Samaritan Ministries newsletter.