At the core of United Methodism is diakonia, the servant ministry of the church. We, like the prophet Isaiah and the teenage girl Mary, can sing, “Here I am, Lord.” Jesus’ primary form of ministry was diakonia. Despite his disciples’ cries, he allowed the little children to come to him. He talked and shared the Way with the Samaritan woman. He sat at table with sinners. He washed the feet of his disciples. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and touched the leper. As diakonos (servant) Jesus was the bridge between Word and world; between the Healer and the broken; between God and humanity.
The Book of Discipline tells us that the ministry of the baptized is diaokonia. “All Christians are called through their baptism to this ministry of servanthood in the world to the glory of God and for human fulfillment,” the Discipline states. We ask new members, “Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church, and uphold it by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?” The Book of Discipline says we make disciples as we “send persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel.”
God’s grace is given to all of creation. As justified Christians, we begin the process of sanctification; the process of holiness. The Christian strives for Christian perfection. Christians have the privilege of being in a deeply spiritual relationship with God. Christians also have an obligation to respond through holy living. “The Christian life,” writes Bishop Scott Jones, “is one of growing in grace toward perfection in love, until one attains the mind which was in Christ Jesus.” Christians are “little Christs” responding to God’s grace in their lives by loving others. As “little Christs” we follow Christ’s example of servanthood; of touching the untouchable and linking our love of God with love of neighbor.
Servant ministry is about responding to our love for God by showing love to our neighbor. Servant ministries “represent the love of Christ,” as Margaret Ann Crain points out. Servant ministry is not something we “do” just on a mission trip or something we “do” on a Sunday afternoon at the soup kitchen. Servant ministry is a way of life. It is a life that embraces worship, mission, evangelism, service, and social witness. Servant ministry is about bearing God to others.
The United Methodist Deacon interprets to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world so that the community of faith can love God and love neighbor. The deacon not only feeds the hungry and cares for the stranger, but empowers the community to serve by healing the sick and feeding the hungry. The deacon educates the community to the needs of a “groaning creation” (Romans 8:21). The deacon sits at table with those who are neglected and rejected to hear their stories.
This is diakonia.