The diaconal church and its leadership are servants of the kingdom community. The diaconal church’s mission task is thus the building of groups, organizations, institutions and societies which manifest the gifts of that community – life, liberation, love and learning. But how does the diaconal church go about that task?
I start from Christ’s assurance that the kingdom is always present throughout the whole of society, even if the riches of its gifts are not yet recognized or used to the full. Therefore, the first task of the diaconal church, through its members dispersed across every sector of society, and effectively supported by its leaders, is to discern where the gifts of the kingdom community are at work. Where these gifts are in evidence, the mission task is to further their transformational impact; where these gifts are ignored or rejected, the mission task is to help redeem and transform that situation. In every case, the church dispersed in society will also be seeking, as and when possible, to point those with whom they are in contact to the source of the gifts of the kingdom community.
I recognize that discerning the gifts of the kingdom community is no easy task. It requires both ‘a journey in’ and a ‘journey out’ – a journey in to help attune ourselves to how the gifts of life, liberation, love and learning impact on and transform our own lives; a journey out to use our spiritual antennae to pick up the presence of those gifts in everyday life.
I describe these signals of the 4Ls at work as ‘signs’ or ‘critical incidents’. Signs offer recurring indicators of the presence of the kingdom community’s gifts. For example, in the workplace, the gift of liberation is likely to be recognizable where initiative and risk-taking are encouraged. Critical incidents are one-off happenings which reveal the presence of one or more of the 4Ls. For example, the gift of life is being surely being denied where a manufacturing firm intentionally produces goods which have built-in short-term obsolescence.
Signs and critical incidents are often small scale. That doesn’t matter. All signs and incidents reveal the overall communal strength of a collective and point the way to how communal transformation might be triggered.
Intervention is what we do when discernment has identified and clarified where the mission task of communal transformation needs to be focused.
We can intervene through a diversity of actions – either on
our own or in partnership with others. For example, we can look for communal change through dialogue – what we say and the way we say it. We can intervene through the use of symbols or slogans. We can pursue our mission task through prayer and worship.
The importance of support groups
Discernment and intervention to bring about communal transformation is a tough undertaking. Intervention can be costly. So it is important that where possible those engaged in kingdom community building meet together in small groups to equip and encourage one another for their mission task. Here the role of the church leader as mission enabler and mentor also comes to the fore.