Skip to main content

Recently, I ran across my copy of a little book by Ralph Kee called Diakonia: The Church at Work, from one of my MDiv classes at Gordon Conwell Theological School Boston campus. In this brief 26 page book, he argues that diakonia (service), is much more than a religious word. It’s a movement—something that is “the word being done.” And it’s something still critical for the church today.  

You can download Ralph Kee’s book, Diakonia: The Church at Work. It’s a short read. It’s kinda older (1987), and I’m not sure if I agree with everything, but it got me thinking. 

Kee says, Diakonia is about the church as God’s servant people. We get that and like that. The church has been good at serving—giving, providing, and doing for. Serving makes us feel good, and scientific studies even show this. When we imagine serving, we often think of individual acts of charity, such as visiting the sick or distributing food to the hungry. While these are good things, is it enough?

Kee says there is another way: “Diakonia should not be limited to this kind of individualistic or private discipleship. The local church, as a clearly identifiable historical/spatial community of Christian believers, is also called to engage in public acts of discipleship, in cooperative diakonia. A neighborhood church, for example, as it joins its community in its struggle for such things as quality education, decent housing, adequate health care, and public transportation, is exercising diakonia in public discipleship.”

To live into this kind of cooperative serving, I think it might be helpful to think about sharing as a primary way of serving: sharing in the lives of others and sharing in the life of our community. When we share, both parties have something to offer. When we share, we’re developing a relationship. When we share, we stand with one another—we both hurt, heal, and hope for restoration. Cooperative diakonia is about sharing. It is the freedom to stand in solidarity with one’s neighbor and to participate with him or her in the struggle, rather than as something which one does for someone else.

Cooperative service or sharing would mean understanding the history of how and why someone is in poverty, what systems have contributed to it, and what justice has to do with it. It would mean seeing God in our neighbors and neighborhoods. It would mean discovering the strengths of the people and places. It would mean developing mutual relationships and understanding what we both have to offer. This kind of service is about mercy AND justice.

What do you think? 

Do you see how sharing is a new way of serving? How are you doing that?

How are you and your congregation “standing in solidarity with” others?

What would cooperative diakonia look like in your congregation and community?

Let’s connect! I’d love to learn what you’re up to and have a conversation about your congregation’s diakonia and the deacons’ work.  


The Church Order of the CRC comes at the role of Deacons from this perspective. When deacons get ordained to their office it would be good for church Councils to do two things:

1. Remind the members that they are the ones called to diakonia.

2. Ask the Deacons to be accountable for the systems that facilitate diaconal work, and not be simply the doers. Wouldn't it be great if the Benevolence Committee, for instance, was made up of a group of commissioned social workers with renewable terms, rather than deacons who rotate out after a term?

I really like your idea, Andy, of a  "Benevolence Committee, for instance, was made up of a group of commissioned social workers with renewable terms, rather than deacons who rotate out after a term."   I think that this is an idea that might be excellent to work out with developing a model Job Description, model process to put this in place, and guidelines for healthy benevolence.  And then sharing this model and process as part of the deacon essentials training coming out of CRCNA. Just a thought. 

In developing the essentials, hope they include what ALL of us and deacons will find "essential" in benevolence, community transformation, justice, stewardship. Things like - shifting our mindset from needs to Strengths, what it means to be focused on our community, importance of listening, understanding history and injustice.  There are great examples of social workers working and using their gifts in churches. As a MSW I found it extremely helpful in my role as Pastor of Community Restoration. It would be great to look at new model for ministry as would a discussion about what "terms" mean.

Let's Discuss

We love your comments! Thank you for helping us uphold the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Login or Register to Comment

We want to hear from you.

Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.

Add Your Post