Dr Mark Pickering assumed his role as chief executive officer of the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) in March this year, after God made it clear to him that he was to relocate from Yorkshire to London to strengthen the vital network of Christian medical professionals who serve vulnerable populations in the UK and overseas.

In many ways, and despite logisticalc challenges, this opening couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for him and the growing evangelical healthcare community. No stranger to the Evangelical Alliance member organisation, Mark joined CMF over two decades ago in the mid-1990s, when he was a London-based medical student, and went on to be involved in its ministry at all levels while working as a prison GP.

Now, as CMF celebrates its 70th birthday, and Mark continues to set in place the building blocks that will underpin the next season of this Christian medical ministry, Mark shares his heart’s desire to see the network grow and become more robust so that Jesus can work through His people to expose and overcome injustice.

How did you come to work in prisons and for marginalised and vulnerable groups?


My wife Rachael and I grew up in Yorkshire, coming to London for medical school and then GP training. As GPs we both found opportunities to work in secure environments – Rachael in police stations and me in a secure psychiatric hospital. These eventually led us both into prison medicine. 

I spent seven years working as a GP in various prisons in Yorkshire, whilst Rachael started a medical nongovernmental organisation called Integritas Healthcare, specialising in offender healthcare in resource-poor countries such as the Philippines.

As Christians we are called to service, and that will look different for each person. For many of us, the challenge is to go beyond the daily grind of the usual career pathways, to look around us and to simply ask God what He might be asking us to do within the context He’s already put us.

Was becoming the CEO of CMF the natural next step in your journey?

In many ways yes, but it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting to do at this point in life. I’ve been involved as a member of CMF for 25 years, I’ve headed up its ministry to medical students from 2002-09, and I’ve been on the Board of Trustees, so I have a long history with CMF and I love what it does.

Coming back on staff was something I had considered doing at some point. But when the CEO position became vacant last year, I couldn’t see how it could possibly fit my family’s domestic circumstances, and I had just been promoted to a regional prison GP role in Yorkshire, so I wasn’t looking for a new challenge.

I prayed that dangerous prayer: Lord, if this is what you want me to do, you’re going to have to make it really clear to me.” After a few months the barriers that had seemed insuperable had melted away and I was heading to London for the final interview.

It’s been a real journey of faith for our family, and God’s hand has been clearly in evidence at each step of the way. I have been hugely excited about coming back to work with a great and talented staff team, many of whom I already knew and had worked with over the years. So, in many ways it feels like coming home.

Why is it important that Christian doctors and nurses are mobilised and supported to live and speak for Jesus at work?

Doctors and nurses meet people in great need; they deal with issues of life and death including ethical issues that go to the heart of who we are as human beings. They have opportunities to share the love of Jesus in word and deed with people who may never go to church, and their professions open doors for them to work in mission situations all over the world. They are a really strategic group of believers, but also have unique stresses and strains, often in ways that mean most church leaders find it hard to resource and support them adequately.

It’s vital that Christian doctors and nurses are networked together for mutual support and resourced to deal with the unique ethical and workplace challenges they face, in order to serve God effectively in the mission fields of the NHS and beyond. CMF has been doing that for 70 years amongst doctors and medical students. Our ministry with nurses and midwives has been growing steadily for several years now and is hugely exciting.

How can Christian healthcare workers share Jesus without getting in trouble?

The NHS recognises the value of spiritual support for patients through its chaplaincy networks, and many patients value appropriate discussion of spiritual issues. Within CMF we know the value of the gospel in bringing forgiveness and hope, and also how many of the problems that are present in a healthcare setting have spiritual aspects.

Yet we need to remember that healthcare professionals must maintain appropriate boundaries and bear in mind the power imbalance with patients, especially vulnerable ones. Both the medical and nursing regulators have guidance forbidding the inappropriate sharing of personal beliefs, such as religious ones. However, that leaves room for appropriate discussion of faith in some situations.

CMF provides training called Saline Solution, which teaches how to raise spiritual issues sensitively and appropriately, often with simple questions such as do you have a faith that helps you at a time like this?” Referring on to chaplaincy provision is another option that can be very useful.

Problems can occasionally arise, sometimes through overstepping boundaries, and sometimes through misunderstanding or militant secular opposition. When necessary we have been hugely grateful for the support of our Christian legal partner organisations.

How can Christian medical professionals influence the NHS and wider society?

We are called to be both salt and light in society (Matthew 5:13 – 16). This involves both preserving against decay and shining the light of God’s truth into dark places. We encourage our members to be involved in leadership within local NHS structures and national medical organisations. We also respond to many consultations from government and other agencies that contribute to law and professional guidance in relevant areas.

CMF also seeks to promote Christian values in bioethics and healthcare. What does this look like in practical terms?

UK society is rapidly abandoning the Christian values that have underpinned it for many years. We are seeing multiple areas where the value of vulnerable individual human beings is being eroded, where God-ordained boundaries are being intentionally blurred, and where personal autonomy has become the new religion.

This comes out clearly in moves to make abortion available on demand for any reason, in pressure to introduce assisted suicide, in moves to see gender as something fluid and subjective, and in the erosion of marriage between one man and one woman.

There is a dilemma here: Christians involved in these key pressure areas of bioethics can often be defined in terms of what they oppose and what they are against. In reality we want to speak out for God’s values in society, to champion a better way, but this is difficult when media outlets often want to spin Christian values as negative or bigoted. Wisdom and courage are needed in equal measure!

We work with parliamentarians, produce written resources, respond to government submissions, speak in the media, and work alongside numerous other partner organisations. Christians need to think deeply in order to present the timeless truths of our Creator in secular language that non-Christians can understand and relate to.

What are the biggest justice issues facing the UK? And how should we respond?

Within UK prisons there are huge problems of overcrowding, addiction, bullying and violence, mental health, self-harm and suicide. Many dedicated people work tirelessly to support prisoners, to improve conditions and to promote rehabilitation, but it is a huge ongoing challenge.

For those in prison, the challenges don’t end once they are released. The transition from prison to the community often adds further instability to lives that can be chaotic to begin with. Problems accessing accommodation, healthcare, benefits and community support often lead to homelessness and simply perpetuating the cycle of crime and addiction.

Churches and individual Christians can do a huge amount, visiting and supporting prisoners through chaplaincy teams, supporting ex-offender community projects, and helping to integrate ex-offenders into church life. The gospel message of hope and forgiveness is incredibly relevant to those struggling to rehabilitate both during and after time in prison.

Are there any challenges that CMF sees on the horizon and how is the CMF is likely to respond?

Of our 6,000 members, hundreds are already engaged in working overseas in lower income countries, either long term or short term. Many others are engaged in serving vulnerable populations in the UK such as the homeless, refugees and asylum seekers, prisoners, and those with mental health and addiction problems. We are very conscious of the need to support, resource and network those who are already engaged in these vital but challenging areas, and to encourage others to consider getting involved.

With this in mind, we are developing a project called Biblical Justice. It’s essentially social justice within a biblical framework – responding to the God of justice who calls us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). I’m really excited about the possibilities as we start to formulate what that will look like.

How does CMF partner with other Christian organisations and individuals who don’t work in the NHS?

CMF works in partnership with many other organisations. Often our role is to bring specific medical expertise to support their more focused activities. We often work as part of wider networks, such as the Care Not Killing Alliance, opposing assisted suicide and promoting palliative care.

Globally we are part of the International Christian Medical and Dental Association (ICMDA), a network of 84 national member movements like CMF, as well as many others that are working towards membership. CMF helps support the growth of other smaller, younger movements with our resources and experience, through conferences and other means. 

CMF’s previous CEO, Peter Saunders, is now CEO of ICMDA, so we maintain very strong links with them. We are also part of NCFI, the Nurses Christian Fellowship International, that similarly links together more than 30 national Christian nursing fellowships.

What can members of the Evangelical Alliance do to support the CMF’s work?

For those in healthcare, join up! Those working or studying in medicine, nursing and midwifery can become members. Others can become associate members – see www​.cmf​.org​.uk/join. If you have friends or family members who could join, please spread the word.

Others who are interested in our work can become a Friend of CMF’ free of charge and receive regular updates – see cmf​.org​.uk/​f​r​iends. We have a wealth of resources on issues at the interface of Christianity and healthcare at cmf​.org​.uk/​r​e​s​o​urces – these are especially relevant to church leaders, giving biblical responses to the bewildering array of health-related issues in the news, many of which affect church members pastorally.