Holy Communion in a Lutheran church in Mongolia. © LCS
The LWF Global Consultation on “Prophetic Diakonia - For the Healing of the World,” which met in 2002, challenged the tradition of understanding diakonia as self-effacing, humble service. It articulated the vision of diakonia that aims at transforming communities and societies, advocating for justice, and calling for alternative sustainable communities. Extracts from the consultation’s Message follow.
Click for the full Message from the LWF Global Consultation on “Prophetic Diakonia - For the Healing of the World”. (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
Diakonia is central to what it means to be the church. As a core component of the gospel, diakonia is not an option but an essential part of discipleship. Diakonia reaches out to all persons, who are created in God’s image. While diakonia begins as unconditional service to the neighbor in need, it leads inevitably to social change that restores, reforms and transforms.
All Christians are called through baptism to live out diakonia - Sii Khiu Lutheran Church, Thailand. © LWF/Kee
All Christians are called through baptism to live out diakonia through what they do and how they live in their daily life in the world. This is the first and most fundamental expression of diakonia. More organized expressions of diakonia occur at the congregational level, as well as through those who are specifically set apart for diaconal ministry. More specialized forms of diaconal work are organized to carry out what individuals or congregations are unable to do on their own.
Sharing at the table © LWF/J. Schep
Because of the holistic mission of God, diakonia is deeply interrelated with Kerygma (proclamation of the Word) and Koinonia (sharing at the Table). Diakonia is witnessing through deeds. It is rooted in the sharing of the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. The mutual sharing inherent in the communion of the church can transform the unjust power relations that often are present in diaconal work, such as between “wealthy givers” and “poor recipients.” In diakonia, those served and those serving are both transformed. At the same time, the purpose of diakonia is not to proselytize.
Diakonia is more than the strong serving the weak. © LWF/J. Schep
Diakonia is more than the strong serving the weak, which can lead to paternalistic assumptions and practices, and imply that some churches are unable to engage in diakonia because of their lack of resources or expertise. Diakonia is part of the calling of all churches and all Christians in the world.
Especially for Lutheran churches, a theology of the cross shapes the understanding and practice of being the church, and compels the church to identify with and for the suffering rather than the successful.
Implications for the Practice of Diakonia
Poverty, violence and HIV/AIDS are three of the major issues in our day that churches cannot ignore. They provoke the church to move into more prophetic expressions of diakonia. There are many ways in which the LWF, member churches and related organizations, as well as the ecumenical movement as a whole, have been analyzing and addressing these challenges.
Hope for abundant life for all.
As agents of transformation, healing and reconciliation, the church must engage with people who are marginalized, such as those who live with HIV/AIDS, live in poverty, or are affected by violence. Christ is the source of the church’s hope for abundant life for all, but structures and practices can sometimes impede that hope from being realized. Such realities call for change.
- In order to be effective and credible agents of prophetic diakonia, all levels of the church regularly need to assess internal structures and governance models for the sake of transparency and accountability.
- Leadership at all levels is essential. This means leaders who equip all Christians to take up their call to serve, education for diakonia and integration of diakonia into all the ministries of the church.
- Although diakonia has explicitly Christian grounds, God is active throughout creation and not only through the church. Building strategic alliances is crucial, with other partners ecumenically, with those of other faiths, with governments and intergovernmental organizations, and with others in civil society.
Each LWF region has its own accents when it comes to diaconal ministry, though many common themes and concerns can be identified. A trip through the Lutheran communion at the October 2008 Global Consultation on Diakonia revealed a wealth of activity, potential and challenges for the future.
For further information please contact:
Rev. Dr Musa P. Filibus, DMD Director
Mr Stefan Niederberger, Administrative Assistant