Reflections on 30 years of missional, Bible-driven ministry
By Ray King · Aug 30, 2021
Above: Ted and Shari Pittenger and family
Former Samaritan VP looks back at Ted Pittenger's original vision for Samaritan and how it still guides leadership today
From its inception, Samaritan Ministries has been a missional, Bible-driven ministry, with Christian discipleship woven into the practice of health care sharing in Christian community. Ray King, one of the early leaders of Samaritan Ministries and currently the Editor Emeritus of Samaritan’s newsletter, reflects on why Christian discipleship has been so important throughout Samaritan’s history.
In the early 1970s, Ted Pittenger, who would later found Samaritan Ministries International, was involved in the Navigators, a person-to-person and small-group disciple-making ministry, at the University of Illinois. Through the Navigators, Ted first experienced intentional, personal discipleship—establishing a pattern for how he would put into practice his deep desire to be used by God to accomplish His work.
Ted worked with The Navigators for a while and then spent three years on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. At a training session, he learned that about 80 percent of American Christians became believers before age 18, meaning that the first 18 years of their lives was a strategic time to reach them. Ted began to feel pulled toward ministry to and through families more than toward ministry with college students.
“I thought maybe families are the more important thing—raising up godly mothers and fathers so they can raise up godly children,” he says.
Ted left Campus Crusade in summer 1981. Not knowing what else to do for the moment to support their growing family (his first child, Meg, had been born in 1980), the Pittengers moved to central Illinois, where Ted eventually established Pittenger Paint and Paper, a painting and wallpaper company.
I met Ted through an organization of home educators in the Peoria area. I had also been involved with the Navigators at the University of Illinois and was self-employed, so we had a lot in common. Eventually, I began working for Ted in his business and, while we painted, we would listen to talk radio and discuss leading our families and making disciples to reach the world for Jesus Christ.
During this time, Ted told me that he had joined a health care sharing ministry that he was excited about. I was skeptical and offered my “expert” opinion about what I considered the likely pitfalls of that approach. Ted had been in conversation with a local attorney, Brian Heller (who later became and still serves as General Counsel for Samaritan Ministries), about starting a new health care sharing ministry. Brian also was clear about the likely regulatory challenges such a ministry would face.
Community sharing was God’s idea and has been a part of the Church from the beginning for nearly 2,000 years.
Yet, knowing these hurdles, Ted continued seeking God about his desire to establish another health care sharing ministry.
Finally, one evening five of us met with Brian around Ted and [his wife] Shari’s dining room table to sign the incorporation papers for Samaritan Ministries International. Our desire was that Samaritan Ministries would be a health care sharing ministry committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ that applied everything Jesus commanded to every aspect of our lives. We even hoped that at some point, God would bless this ministry by expanding it to the Body of Christ internationally, which is why the ministry includes “International” in its name.
From a human perspective, we recognized that the vision we believed in was not only bold but impossible without God. We knew we weren’t wise or strong enough, or “connected” and experienced enough to accomplish it (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). We were also trying to do something that most of society would view with caution, at best. It wouldn’t be until businesses like Uber and Airbnb became popular that society at large would embrace the idea of what is now called a “sharing economy.”
But community sharing was God’s idea and has been a part of the Church from the beginning for nearly 2,000 years (Acts 4:32-37)!
It was our heartfelt desire that God would allow Samaritan Ministries International to be a part of Jesus’ work of making disciples of all nations and building a worldwide Church that the gates of hell would not be able to withstand. Our job was simply to depend on Jesus Christ and be faithful to what we believed God enabled us to do, to honor Jesus and do things Biblically, leaving the results up to Him.
God worked through Ted to call others to join the mission of Samaritan Ministries. One way Ted’s humble style of leadership is reflected in Samaritan Ministries International is that the ministry emphasis is not on strong personalities of the leaders but on the work of the Holy Spirit through the work of Samaritan members at the grassroots level.
It is the faithful Samaritan members—disciples of Jesus Christ who are committed to obeying all of God’s Word in every facet of their lives—who advance God’s mission every day. By God’s grace, there are now more than 280,000 Samaritan members, and it is our prayer that God would continue to bless this ministry—and use you—to strengthen this community and draw many more to serve for His glory.
Ted Pittenger hands off leadership of Samaritan Ministries to Mark Zander.
Get to know new CEO Mark Zander with this Q&A.
To glorify God by growing and equipping disciples of Jesus Christ to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love and care for their neighbor as themselves. (Matthew 28:18-20, 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-30)
To redeem health care by helping the Body of Christ love one another through sharing each other’s health care burdens, while experiencing authentic Biblical community. (Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10,12,13,15; John 13:34-35)