State of the Ministry 2021: In difficult times, Christ is still on His throne

By Ted Pittenger  ·  Dec 21, 2020

It is hard to believe that 2020 has already ended. The year was filled with challenges for Samaritan staff and members alike, many of which were related to the ongoing pandemic that seemed to change the world overnight. Through this turbulent season, one thing has not changed and never will change: Jesus Christ is on His throne.

None of the events of the past year caught Him off guard. He is the supreme Ruler of all things, and we can be confident in His faithful provision for His people. This past year alone, Samaritan members have reflected the Lord’s faithfulness by sharing $360 million in medical burdens. Samaritan staff and members around the world have also reminded one another of the Lord’s faithfulness through hundreds of thousands of letters, phone calls, chat messages, and emails. As we venture into 2021, I encourage you to turn your gaze away from the fleeting challenges we endure and turn it instead toward our loving Savior. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

As we remember the Lord’s faithfulness to us, I would like to briefly share some of the ways in which He has blessed, challenged, and grown His ministry at Samaritan over the past year.

Senior leadership changes

For more than 25 years the Lord has faithfully provided the leaders the ministry has needed at the exact time we needed them. In 2020, we saw the departure of two key senior staff members. We continue to praise God for providing these men for a season, and we are grateful for their years of excellent service, their many accomplishments for the ministry, and their servant leadership.

The Lord also provided some new senior leaders to the ministry. In February, we welcomed Will Cooper as our new Chief Information Officer. During his short time at Samaritan, Will has already fostered significant improvements to the ministry’s data security, interdepartmental communication, and general IT processes. In April, Mark Zander joined staff as our Senior Strategic Planning Advisor. Mark quickly acclimated to our complex organization and has already improved our operating plans and strategic planning efforts so that the ministry’s resources will be increasingly focused where they will have the most positive impact for Samaritan members.

We praise God for His abundant provision, and we watch with anti­cipation for what the Lord has in store for Will and Mark in the years to come.

COVID-19

Samaritan Ministries staff began tracking COVID-19 developments in January 2020. As the virus made its way toward our home state of Illinois, we were increasingly attentive as governmental and medical authorities speculated about the potential severity of the virus and how we might mitigate some of the perceived risks. In March, it became clear that our state was heading toward a shelter-in-place order for all “nonessential” businesses. Given our role in the health care industry, these restrictions did not apply to Samaritan Ministries. However, since so little was known about the virus and its associated risks, we moved 95 percent of the ministry’s 400 staff members to work from home. Thanks in part to the dedicated leadership of our staff COVID Task Force, we were able to make this monumental change in only one week.

One unexpected blessing that came from our move to remote work is our newfound ability to hire remote staff. We have been piloting remote work capabilities for a few years, but recent advances in our technological infrastructure and processes have allowed us to hire new staff members who work remotely from across the country—a first for Samaritan Ministries. This change greatly increases our ability to recruit excellent talent to serve the ministry’s members.

Although there are Samaritan members who have contracted COVID-19, we are very grateful that there are few reported cases among membership that have resulted in hospitalization or death. We continue to pray for the many families who have lost loved ones, suffered particularly severe cases of the virus, or experienced unfavorable changes in their careers due to this pandemic. It is my prayer that the Lord would give them a supernatural measure of comfort and peace as they trust His perfect provision through this challenging season.

Classic deficit-turned-surplus

While we were sending many staff members to work from home, the ministry’s members continued to share one another’s medical burdens. Although we did not see a significant number of COVID-related Needs submitted for sharing, we did see Needs consistently increase over the first half of the year. By summer, it was clear that Needs in Classic were significantly outpacing available Shares.

Eventually, after prayer and fasting, the Board proposed a Classic Share increase to the membership. Samaritan Ministries is a member-led ministry, and part of how we live that out is by having members vote on whether their Shares will increase. The proposed Share increase ultimately was not approved, which could have resulted in a season of increased proration and Needs only being partially met through the ministry of our members, but God had other plans.

Right around the time of the share increase vote, we saw a significant decrease in new Need submissions. Health care predictions indicated that we would see a corresponding surge in new Needs a few months later, but so far that surge has not come. In fact, the Lord has provided a miraculous $26 million favorable swing in our sharing between May and December. Now, instead of a sharing deficit and the likely need for a substantial Share increase, we have been blessed with a sharing surplus and a Share reduction for the month of December. We do not know what the Lord has in store for the coming year, but we trust in Him to provide regardless of what may come.

Samaritan Given

Early this spring, after a staff-only testing phase, we opened Samaritan Given to a limited number of existing Samaritan members to begin our Beta phase. By mid-summer, nearly 3,000 member households had switched to Given. They helped us test and improve many processes within the program and were gracious when issues arose. By late summer, the program was ready for a more intense test of its infrastructure and processes. We opened the Beta program to the public (i.e., nonmembers) in September and were pleasantly surprised with how many new members joined with little advertising. We began marketing the program publicly in November, which resulted in even more rapid growth.

By the end of November, we found that our infrastructure, staff, and processes were becoming overtaxed by the additional workload that came with rapid growth, so we decided to close the program to new starts on December 15 to allow our teams to focus on serving members well, improve processes where needed, and shore up infrastructure. We now have over 6,500 members in Samaritan Given, and we are grateful for their help as we continue to improve backend processes and support so that more members can join—and have an excellent sharing experience—when we reopen to additional members in 2021.

Slowed growth

Over the course of the year we have seen approximately 2% growth in total membership, which is much slower growth than in years past. We are grateful for the Lord’s provision because cash reserves that were saved during recent years of plenty allowed us to continue serving members to the best of our ability without layoffs and without reducing wages for ministry staff. We are grateful for the staff’s positive response to budget cuts that were made in our stewardship of administrative funds.

We trust that the Lord will bring the right members to this ministry in His time, and we are working on our program design and marketing efforts to steward our opportunities for growth well.

Public Policy

2020 appears to have been the beginning of a season of increased public policy and regulatory challenges. In order to steward our administrative dollars well and improve the likelihood of success in the legislative and regulatory realms, we rejoined the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries. We will pursue our common interests with the other member ministries in the Alliance (currently Medi-Share and Solidarity HealthShare) while we also work on our own for Samaritan-specific situations.

This year, we continued to navigate a significant challenge from the state of Maryland, which alleges that no health care sharing ministry meets the requirements of their safe harbor legislation and are thus operating illegally as insurance. Samaritan Ministries is not insurance, and we have been working with our general counsel, local counsel in Maryland, and the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries to demonstrate that SMI is lawfully assisting members within the state. For the time being, Samaritan will continue to operate as usual in Maryland.

We anticipate that unfavorable legislation will be proposed in several states in 2021, and we will be addressing those bills as needed in the coming months. Much of the discomfort regulators have toward health care sharing ministries is due to a few organizations that have not been operating transparently or ethically over the past few years. The Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries is working on an accreditation process for ministries that would help identify and protect the ministries who are following best practices for our industry and taking good care of their members. We endeavor to lead by example in this industry. You can see Samaritan’s Best Practices.

A call to prayer

As you can see, we have many reasons to praise the Lord for what He has done at and through Samaritan over the past year. There are also many matters that we will be steeping in prayer in the months to come. We are blessed to have a membership that knows and experiences the power of prayer. We humbly request that you pray for the following items in the coming months:

  • That we would all trust the Lord’s perfect provision for our health care burdens.
  • That staff and leadership would continue to steward the ministry’s resources well as they seek to serve SMI members to the glory of God.
  • That the Board of Directors and Senior Leadership Team would have wisdom as they lead.
  • That SMI membership would be increasingly healthy amid the current pandemic, and that Shares would continue to outpace Needs.
  • That Samaritan Given would be an increasingly fruitful venture and the ongoing backend development would effectively improve efficiencies and member experience.
  • That Samaritan Classic and Basic would continue to be a blessing to our members and the many who will join in the coming year.
  • That the Lord would continue to grow His ministry by bringing new households into membership in the coming year.
  • That the Lord would protect the ministry and its members from unjust or overly hostile government regulation.
  • That Samaritan Ministries and other health care sharing ministries would be used to spread the Gospel of Christ.
  • That the Lord would be glorified through Samaritan Ministries International and its members.

Conclusion: The Lord is faithful

As we enter 2021, we can walk with confidence because “Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast” (Psalms 119:90). Let us not live in fear of the days ahead, but instead let us seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. May we all keep our eyes on Him as we strive to love and serve one another.

For The Kingdom!

Ted Pittenger