The Diaconate of all Christians, part 1

During these summer months, I have been teaching and learning about the diaconate of all believers at Otterbein UMC, Lancaster, PA. We started by sharing how each of us volunteers in service in the community. Then, we asked, Where is God in these relationships?

Listen to our podcast about “Diakonia, how and why we serve God.”

This program at Otterbein UMC was funded by a Dewees grant from the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Service is part of discipleship. When a new member joins a United Methodist congregation, the pastor asks, “Will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?” Each new member affirms, “yes.” Then, as a congregation, we respond by renewing our covenant to do the same. But what does service have to do with our faith?

All of us serve others in some way or another. We might offer a kind word, a friendly greeting, or perhaps a meal for someone recently out of the hospital or someone who does not earn enough money to make ends meet. Sometimes we experience such joy serving others that it does not really seem like work.

“Doing good” is one of John Wesley’s three simple rules. Wesley believed that we love our neighbors as ourselves through good works. When we serve others, we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit. In theological terms, Wesley taught that works of mercy are a means of grace. We can experience God by loving each other!

Wesley was careful to say that we do not earn our salvation by serving others. Rather, service is one way that we practice our faith. We grow in faith by exercising our spiritual muscles. When we attend to the needs of others as if they were our own, we grow closer to our neighbors and to God.

At Otterbein, we learned that every Christian is called to participate in service to neighbor, self, and community. “Diakonia” is the Greek word in the Bible for faith-motivated service. From this word we get the titles deacon and deaconess. Diakonia is the gospel in action, through our hands and feet. Diakonia describes our participation in God’s ongoing activity of love and justice in the world.

Where is God showing up in your life? If you are looking for Jesus, look no further than the persons you encounter every day in our neighborhood. What can you do to serve your neighbors? Through service, we not only participate in the work of the church. We also gain a glimpse of the Kin-dom of God.