How does diaconal ministry relate to such important theological concepts as the Trinity and the Incarnation?
The Trinity as we express confessionally as God the Father, the Son incarnate in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are the very foundation of any ministry, and I think especially of diaconal ministry. We are called to the boundaries of church and the world, and to minister with our perspective always on that boundary and those living on the edges or marginalized in our world. This call means that we minister neither fully within the church nor fully outside of the church. These are the same places we continually find God.
We don’t create the communities within we minister, rather God creates the community, and our call is to nurture and give expression to that community, and to extend community into the world. Yet, the world’s needs, those needs we find throughout our community of context, are not our prime motivation for ministry. Rather diaconal ministry addresses the hurts and needs of a broken world through the divine love manifested on the cross. As Diaconal Ministers we must discern, integrate and articulate how, within a particular context, our call embodies the cross of Christ. Diaconal ministry as an embodied reality of the cross of Christ must also remember that the Cross of Christ is about Christ’s whole life brought to the cross, and not only what happened on the cross. The particular life that Jesus lived is important and it can be dangerous to assume that others are remembering this life of Jesus that brought him to the cross. We need to tell the stories of Jesus, and not only the abstract theology. These stories of Jesus include Jesus going out into the community, and can be of particular use within our diaconal ministry contexts.
I also think it is very important to remember that Diaconal Ministry is a call to ministry of word and service (not just to service). A ministry of the word includes a ministry of Jesus Christ incarnate; John 1. 14 says “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (NRSV) As ministers we must be prepared to share the Word of God as we find it expressed in and by Jesus Christ incarnate, the Word of God as proclamation of God’s message to us (the living word), and the written Word of God as found in holy scripture.
Looking at the Pauline Epistles the foundation for Diaconal Ministry are found not in Paul’s linguistics, but in Paul’s Pneumatology. The Holy Spirit is at work in all Christians, and is at work in each person, including diaconal ministers, the same way the Holy Spirit worked through the Apostle Paul (and other scripture writers). This also means that there is no hierarchy in who is doing the work of the Spirit. Having no hierarchy between rosters holds us accountable for our ministry.
The pattern for ministry is found in Paul’s Christology. Looking at what Jesus had done forms and shapes our ministry. As we intentionally engage in cruciform leadership we remember that above all Christ acted in faithful obedience to accomplish righteousness (right relationships), redemption (liberation), and reconciliation (end of enmity). We are ministers of God’s reconciliation. This cruciform leadership must always be formed by the cross and in the form of the cross.
The Holy Spirit gives us gifts, grace gifts, for ministry in order to empower us to bring the reality of the Body of Christ into the world. Romans 12.6 tells us “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith.” While the Holy Spirit, in helping us discern our gifts, can harness our human talents as gifts these are not synonymous. Rather our gifts for ministry are given to us (we do not create them) to build the body of Christ and take Christ out into the dark and messy world. As diaconal ministers we embrace that role and acknowledge that our call to word and service is going to be more intentionally messy.
I am reminded that these gifts of grace are not given for our sake, but to help the body of Christ function. Also that justification by grace includes the gifts of the spirit for ministry, and that faith is that which the Holy Spirit produces through Christ crucified. It is through the cross of Christ that we are transferred from sin’s dominion to Christ’s dominion, and that my cruciform leadership began at my baptism. Through this message of Christ crucified the Spirit forms faith in us. I am reconciled to God and others in order to be given a ministry of reconciliation. I am no longer in charge of my life; Christ is in charge.
In addition to being gifted by the spirit we are fruited by the spirit:
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.
Galatians 5.22-26 (NRSV)
While the gifts of the spirit are intended for this age only in order to build up the body of Christ and its mission, the fruit of the spirit is eternal and meant for both this age and the next. Every Christian receives this fruit of the spirit as it is holistic and inclusively worked by the spirit in each Christian.
Remembering that I am ministering as part of the larger body of Christ and being led by the Spirit makes me bold as I minister on the edges of community and church and address the needs of the broken and hurting world. It especially makes me bold when I think of my ministry to those carrying grief and broken with the weight of loss in this world. There is not a cure in this world, and yet there is healing.
**Disclaimer? — please remember that I am sharing these as first response answers to questions to my Diaconal Ministry Formation Event and not as polished, researched essays. Although I welcome responses, please do keep this in mind when you respond (as well as the fact that my current schedule limits how often I can reply to comments) **