Through forty years of ministry with World Renew I have been privileged to participate in the effectiveness of the Church’s diaconal calling at the international level. Working with Muslim communities in a post-war Bangladesh, reviving communities living on trash heaps in the Philippines, walking with Christian partners through drought in the Sahel, and responding to earthquakes in Haiti, typhoons in the Philippines, and Hurricanes in Louisiana, God has given me and many others a heart and passion for His justice and a longing to see it played out more effectively in the context of our local church communities.
World Renew’s ministry continues to be known as a model for effective community transformation and innovative disaster response in communities where poverty has been the norm and hope crushed. World Renew was formed out of the desire by deacons to live out their calling to a world of hurt, with deacons recognizing that they needed a formal structure to respond to the calling the church has placed on them at that level.
Now World Renew, Indigenous Ministry (Canada), Centre for Public Dialogue (Canada), Disability Concerns , Office of Social Justice, Race Relations ,and Safe Church, the Mercy and Justice Ministries of the CRCNA remain effective tools for today’s deacons to help live into that ongoing call to equip the church for Diakonia. Yet our task in the context of today’s world is as challenging and as needed as ever and requires greater effort in order to address the need.
This calling on the deacon is a profound one and remains in place today. Here is how it reads currently in the Form for Installation of Elders and Deacons (2016):
Deacons serve by leading and equipping the church to serve its members and the world in a rich diversity of ministries, awakening compassion, demonstrating mercy, seeking justice, and collaborating with God’s Spirit for the transformation of persons and communities. In imitation of Christ’s mercy, deacons summon the church to help relieve victims of injustice, equip the church for ministries of reconciliation and peacemaking, seek opportunities for advocacy, and call God’s people to faithful stewardship of the gifts of creation. By this they show that Christians live by the Spirit of the kingdom, fervently desiring to give life the shape of things to come. Deacons are therefore to identify and develop gifts in both the church and community, assess needs, promote generous stewardship, and offer wise and respectful care for the poor. By adding to all this words of encouragement and hope, deacons demonstrate in word and deed the care of the Lord himself.
Dr. Mariano Avila, Professor of New Testament at Calvin Seminary, served as part of the Diakonia Remixed Taskforce, 2010-2013, whose report led to the current calling on our elders and deacons. In an extensive paper on “Ministry as Diakonia” Dr. Avila lays out a beautiful biblical foundation for our calling to Diakonia. Here is a portion of this major paper as a biblical reflection:
Jesus, Agent of Reconciliation and Shalom Maker
A most interesting tension, which we discovered in the Gospels, is developed also in Ephesians: The Sovereign Lord of all the universe exercises his power and dominion through diakonia: the giving of his life as an act of humble service for the well-being of others (2:11-22) and as an offering to worship God (5:1-2).
to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (1:10).
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (2:14-18)
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (5:1-2)
The purpose of the death of Jesus is explained in terms of shalom making. He died to reconcile Jews and Gentiles into one body, a new humanity and creation. And such sacrifice in the cross, the supreme diakonia, giving himself up for us, was an act of worship, a liturgy of love to God.
diakonein [the verbal form to serve] is now much more than a comprehensive term for any loving assistance rendered to the neighbor. It is understood as full and perfect sacrifice, as the offering of life which is the very essence of service, of being for others, whether in life or in death. Thus the concept of diakoneinachieves its final theological depth. (TDNT, diakonia).
The task to live into this calling is seemingly overwhelming, not just at an international level, but increasingly at a national and local level. We not only need ongoing innovation from World Renew and other CRC and RCA agencies, but we need visionary diaconal leadership in our own communities. Here are just a few current headlines taken from this week’s FOX and CNN news headlines:
As deacons then, what questions should we now be asking as we address our calling in this context? Here are a few thoughts:
- What are the tasks and areas of ministry that we can take on as a congregation that will be proportionate to our resources and membership?
- How can we collaborate with neighboring churches to maximize our impact?
- Which agencies or organizations do we network with in developing our responses?
- How do we ensure, as deacons, that the membership is involved and committed?
- What justice issues are being raised in our context that we need to facilitate discussion on so they are not ignored by the church?
- How do we ensure that as our vision for a fuller diaconal mandate emerges that it is supported and sustained by our Council?
Refer to other posts on the Network for additional resource materials.