Diakonia

Diakonia is essential to Christfulness; it’s the marking practice of the Christ-in-you-aspect of Christfulness, because we meet others looking for God’s image in them, looking for Christ in them. Diakonia is the common mark of being a follower or disciple of Christ:

“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28).

Diakonia was reinvented in the European churches in the 19th century mainly as the social work of the Church, care for the sick and humanitarian aid. But seen from a New Testament and Early Church perspective diakonia is more than that. Deacons had administrative tasks, and as a part of that the distribution of money to the poor and the widows. In the early Church deacons were understood as the eyes, ears, mouths, and hands of the bishop. They were like the angels caring messages between God and the congregation and vice versa, as they proclaimed the Gospel og conducted the prayers of the Church for the world. As those who had a deep knowledge of the lives of the members in the congregation they were also mediators helping members to become reconciled.

Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement (WWC Publications, Geneva 2002, p. 305) defines diakonia as “responsible service of the Gospel by deeds and by words performed by Christians in response to the needs of people.” Thus, Diakonia is faith in practice and attentive presence with people, yet never without the Gospel. Diakonia is the responsibility and duty of every Christian:

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:16-17).

Diakonia results in life change, reconciliation and empowerment (helping the other to taking care of his/her life and situation, and to develop the ability and finding the power/ energy to do so) in the given context.

All diakonia starts as seeing or listening. We’ll have to be challenged from the needs we meet with individuals, groups of people, society and environment.

We may listen to the situation of marginalized people, those who suffer from the increasing gap between the richest and the poorest in society. Our eyes may be opened to mentally ill and people with special needs. Or minority groups. Or we may on our way find people who are searching for the right orientation in life, for wholeness and healing. Or we see the foreigners in our society: migrants, refugees, foreign students.

When we have seen and heard the needs in the context where we live, the next step of Diakonia is reflecting. We’ll have to consider what the needs of this milieu really is, how these needs may be met, and if the Church or Community has the resources to meet the needs. We may use the insights and methods well-known from the long history of diakonia and faith practice, but it’s also about human resources, experience, education and economy. Reflecting on the needs of the milieu in question we’ll also have to ask if there are areas in which Christians will have to learn new skills and develop new insights. We also need to consider how the worldview, tradition, culture and spiritual practices in the given milieu challenge or should be challenged by the Gospel and the Christian faith.

To see and to hear and to reflect aims at practice. Thus, diakonia is action. Diakonia is about sharing the Gospel with others, so that they receive faith, and so that those in need gains a new life and have their human dignity restored. Diakonia is walking with people in a common learning process, so that they get help in helping themselves. Diakonia is caring for the sick and the ill and helping people to taking care of their own health. Diakonia includes active listening, soul care (pastoral care and spiritual guidance), listening to confessions, praying for inner healing and for the sick, exorcism, building self supporting communities, organizing workers and groups of needy. Diakoni is supported through the intercessions of the Christian community.

Diakonia may be part of the diapractice of more religious communities and faiths, in peace and reconciliation efforts, concerning ecology, climate and environment, or active social engagement in the local or national milieu.

Diaconia may have a profetic dimension. Diakonia embodies the norms of God’s kingdom in a world that too often has forgotten the dignity of creation and humankind. Diakonia expresses another measure for a whole and succesful life. Servant love is the norm and measure. Diakonia challenges power structures, serves the week and needy and make the disciples their spokesmen and -women. Diakonia is about justice for the marginalized, and creates a space for every human being irrespective of faith, race, sex, or age.

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