October 3, 2022

Should an Employee Ask for Health Insurance?

Editors’ note: 

TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected]

I work for a Christian nonprofit that doesn’t provide health insurance for its employees. On the one hand, I know health insurance is very expensive, and I don’t want to seem greedy or faithless by asking to be insured. On the other hand, I don’t want to be fiscally irresponsible. I know that it just takes one accident or major surgery to bury a family in debt for decades. Should I ask for insurance? If so, what would be a gracious way to ask?

Thank you for caring both for your family and for the future of your organization. I believe your questions could be a part of improving the ethos and effectiveness of your nonprofit’s mission.

There are two aspects of your question that deserve thoughtful reflection.

Preparing for the Future

First, can the organization afford basic insurance, especially if they join in with other similar groups on a shared plan? There may be unexplored creative solutions.

If there’s absolutely no money, then the organization needs to evaluate its long-term strategies for hiring and retaining employees. Navigating the health insurance maze is very hard, and covering even some of the basic premiums is a significant expense. But studies have shown that employees will sacrifice some salary for the sake of good benefits, especially health and retirement.

When I assumed a new senior pastorate in the 1990s, I inherited poor financial stewardship. The staff of the church and its small K–8 private school were underpaid, with no benefits at all. I even faced “spiritual” opposition as I proposed changes. “We trust God for the future” and “ministry means sacrifice” were common refrains from some. But over time, our staff and teachers were given better salaries and benefits, and the morale improved.

Recent studies about clergy and nonprofit employee readiness for retirement have exposed serious financial issues. Preparing for the future and caring for our health in the present doesn’t indicate a lack of faith (Prov. 6:6–11; 1 Tim. 3:5; Luke 14:28). They’re ways we love our neighbor and steward well the mission we’re serving.

Caring for the Workers

A second issue is a bit deeper but vital for sustainability. One of the unbiblical principles we commonly face is the idea that nonprofits should pay employees much less than businesses and should expect more sacrifice from workers.

A kingdom-of-God ethos affirms that best practices apply to all organizations, and this compels boards and leaders to do the best they can for the ones they hire. Realistically, both business and nonprofit startups will demand sacrifices. But as soon as possible, the aim should be to create the best conditions so the work can be done well and all teammates can flourish. If an organization can’t care well for someone, it may be that it isn’t yet in a position to hire them. “The cost of doing business” must include at least minimal benefits, unless all workers are contracted.

Asking for Insurance

With these narratives and ideas in mind, take time to pray and offer your concerns to the Lord. And be encouraged by the truth that God cares about all aspects of our lives (Ps. 61:1–3; 62:5–8; Phil. 4:4–9).

To answer your specific question (at last!): there’s much good in asking for insurance—both for yourself and for others, and for the future of the organization. Motives matter. Making sure you’re prepared to care for your own or your family’s health costs is not selfish—it’s loving. In fact, managing a household well is a biblical qualification for church leadership (1 Tim. 3:4). It’s not hard to see that saving money (or purchasing insurance) for future expenses is important for managing a household with wisdom.

Making sure you are prepared to care for your own or your family’s health costs is not selfish—it’s loving.

A gracious way to ask might be, “Is there a way we can establish health insurance for our employees so they have a safety net and we can retain them longer?” If you meet some resistance, offer to research insurance options, with the blessings of the folks over you. You’re not a problem employee when your aim is the good of all.

If the best petitions fail, then you have some personal decisions ahead. If you love the mission and organization and they otherwise treat you well, then explore ways of joining health insurance plans and co-ops for professionals in a similar situation. If you’re unable to find a substitute, it may be time to prayerfully consider an employment change.

You’re not faithless if you are insured, but wise. Sometimes our loving Lord heals us instantly; other times we see lingering afflictions—and the wise person is prepared for either outcome (Matt. 8–9; 2 Cor. 12:7–10). Throughout history, Christians and churches have not ignored health care needs, but have led the way in offering help for the vulnerable, including pioneering the first hospitals.

May our loving Lord hear your prayers and petitions, and may he empower all the works of your hands as you serve with joy and hope.

Should an Employee Ask for Health Insurance?