Missional medicine: Restoring the soul of health care

By Mark Blocher of Christian Healthcare Centers  ·  Jul 21, 2021

Part 1 of 2

Modern health care has a mission problem.

Medicine is supposed to be about the patient—not the payment, the doctor, a hospital, insurance companies, or government bureaucracy. It is not about the latest gadgetry in the medical arsenal, the newest drugs, or the latest therapy. It is the patient that matters most.

However, modern medicine seems to have lost its way.

The result is that many doctors, including Christian doctors, want to find a way back to a model of medical practice more aligned with the values and motives that led them to pursue a medical career in the first place. We encourage Christian doctors to make medicine missional again, and for the Church—the Body of Christ—to return to its historical and strategic place in the vanguard of health care, because the practice of medicine and true caring for the sick suffers without it.

Fortunately, a growing movement in health care seeks to restore medicine’s mission: direct primary care.

Direct primary care is a model of health care delivery that restores the doctor-patient relationship, which leads to happier doctors and healthier patients. When this simple practice model is guided by a Biblical worldview, where medical practice is treated as ministry, the benefit for doctors and patients is immense. The doctors I interact with want to be part of a medical movement that integrates caring for the sick with Christ’s mission for the world, where patient care is a natural outgrowth of their faith.

It is time to create a “dissident” Christian medical community that disrupts the status quo of fee-for-service medicine, impersonal health care systems, third-party payors, and layers of bureaucracy that have little to do with patient care.

Christian medical ministry is a noble profession with a long track record of impact around the globe. Missional medicine finds its origins in the earthly ministry of Christ, the Great Physician. The Gospels tell us that wherever Jesus went, He both taught and healed. The early Church followed that same pattern, ultimately transforming a pagan Roman culture, and the rest of Church history reveals that wherever the Gospel has gone, medical ministry follows. The modern hospital movement in the U.S. was led by Christians, and the impact is seen in the number of medical institutions that still bear Christian and church-related names. In many respects, modern medicine owes a lot of its success to Christian medical pioneers.

The extensive heritage of missional medicine is built upon the common values of spiritual wellness, mercy, and compassion—values that flow from the parable of the Good Samaritan. Few themes have influenced medical practice more than those found in the parable of the Good Samaritan, given the number of health care institutions throughout the world that have “Samaritan” in their name. Throughout medical history, the image drawn from this parable of a benevolent stranger caring for someone injured and abandoned has been viewed as the essence of medical ministry. This is a vision needed in modern health care now more than ever.

Unfortunately, that mission has been hijacked by powerful commercial interests that appear more interested in maximizing profits than caring for the sick as well as by social engineers who want to use medicine to reshape society itself. We should be alarmed by both distortions of medicine’s mission, but what is the Christian response?

The response is to design a health care system defined by its distinctively Christian values and Spirit-led caregiving. It is time to create a “dissident” Christian medical community that disrupts the status quo of fee-for-service medicine, impersonal health care systems, third-party payors, and layers of bureaucracy that have little to do with patient care. It is time to demonstrate again that Biblical Christianity has a lot to say about how to care for the sick and hurting.

When we formed Christian Healthcare Centers in 2015 and saw our first patient in July 2017, we envisioned creating a health care system that would provide Christian doctors a platform to restore health care to its core mission as patient-focused ministry. CHC’s vision is “missional medicine”—a Christ-centered movement to restore the soul of health care. The driving force behind this effort is not simply to cut the cost of health care. Yes, health care costs too much, and our nation could practice better financial stewardship. However, fixing health care’s money problem will not revive its principal mission, and it will not reverse the harms that come from the alarming demise of Judeo-Christian values within health care.

Missional medicine’s aim is restoring the soul of health care, liberating doctors to be doctors, serving the sick in collaboration with the Great Physician, for the well-being of every patient.

Exhibit A of medicine’s drift from its core mission can be seen in doctors being pressured to abort babies in violation of their religious beliefs, or when they are expected to use their medical training to help gender-confused teens change their gender by mutilating their bodies and subjecting them to a lifelong journey of hormone medications. Hiding behind alleged “scientific research,” respected medical associations have staked out politically motivated positions on sexual orientation and gender that defy biological realities. It is also becoming commonplace to instruct obstetrical sonographers to not speak of unborn babies as boys or girls unless the mother has assigned gender to her unborn child. This is ideology masquerading as science. The only “science” being followed with this sort of medical practice is political and social. Fixing the economics of modern health care will do little to correct this problem. 

I frequently receive phone calls and emails from Christian physicians who are dissatisfied with what modern medicine has become. Their frustration is not just with the daily battles they wage with large hospital systems, insurance companies, or government regulators. They see where mainstream medicine is headed ethically and are increasingly concerned that they will be pressured by employers and peers to compromise strongly held Christian values or risk their medical careers. Many are looking for an offramp to a better model of medical practice, but the options are limited to overseas medical missions, inner-city medical clinics, community health centers, private practice models such as direct primary care, retirement, or finding another profession.

In the years since launching CHC in Grand Rapids, Michigan, our faithful band of Christian medical professionals has sacrificially and tirelessly worked to prove that exceptional medical care does not have to be expensive and can be delivered in a manner compatible with a Christian worldview. We aim to build an on-ramp for both doctors and patients to participate in a model of health care delivery built on the foundation of a Christian worldview. Christian Healthcare Centers is a Christian response to an increasingly commercialized, secular, impersonal, corporate-oriented health care system that takes too much of our money and cares too little about our Christian values.

That is why we need missional medicine, which, at its core, is an approach to health care focused on how Christ, the Great Physician, is preeminent in the doctor-patient relationship. It is that simple. Missional medicine’s aim is restoring the soul of health care, liberating doctors to be doctors, serving the sick in collaboration with the Great Physician, for the well-being of every patient. God is the One who heals; sometimes He uses doctors. This does not mean missional medicine replaces science and reason with blind faith. Missional medicine is also evidence-based medicine. It is not a tug of war between faith and reason, or between science and theology. Missional medicine is a full-package, bringing all that faith, reason, and science offer to Christian physicians as they care for patients.

In addition to the enhanced professional and personal satisfaction missional medicine brings to physicians, there are numerous practical benefits for patients and sharing ministries, such as improved quality of care, better wellness outcomes, and significant cost savings. These are some of the practical aspects of missional medicine we will discuss in part 2 of this series. 

Samaritan Ministries member Mark Blocher is the president/CEO of Christian Healthcare Centers. He served as a professor of interdisciplinary studies at Cornerstone University for 15 years. He is the author of The Right to Die? Caring Alternatives to Euthanasia and Vital Signs: Decisions that Determine the Quality of Life and Health.