Diakonia and ecumenical solidarity

Care for our fellow humanity, modelled on Christ’s compassion and example.


Diakonia is the care that Christians offer to their fellow humanity, modelled on Christ’s compassion, example and teachings. Such service can be described as “the liturgy after the liturgy.” The word diakonia is derived from the Greek word diákonos (διάκονος), meaning servant. When the World Council of Churches was created in 1948, the care of refugees in the aftermath of World War II was a major priority and has influenced policy ever since. But diakonia goes far beyond emergency relief: Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life, life in all its fullness” (John 10:10). How best to provide such care, particularly in an ecumenical context – with limited resources and huge demand – continues to be a major challenge for churches.

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). Accordingly, our understanding of diakonia is that it a core part of Christian service. In all countries, demand on public services for social care is great: in many countries lack of funds means that publicly-run social care services do not exist. This reality places huge responsibilities on churches and non-governmental organizations to offer care. Challenges affecting Christian diakonia include economic injustice, poverty, climate change, lack of availability of public services, migration, racism, religious and ethnic conflict, inadequate healthcare, lack of education, crime, violence, isolation and abuse against individuals and groups. There are numerous ways to deliver diakonia – such as through professional and specialized ministries or in the day-to-day work of congregations, often by unpaid volunteers.

Our understanding of social care in a Christian context leads us to the concept of ecumenical diakonia. To be effective witnesses and practitioners, collaboration between churches and agencies, nationally and internationally, is essential. Jesus said, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31). For Christians, our neighbourhood is global: given that effective ecumenism also depends on mutual support and mutual accountability, our diaconal service must be global as well as local.

Ecumenical diakonia cannot be confined to service. It is also about building a transformative role: a call to transform society. An assets-based diakonia  can help build and strengthen fellowship among churches and their ecumenical partners, making it possible to turn communities into agents of change and transformation.

In 2014, a consultation in Malawi led to work on a major paper, "Called to Transformative Action: Ecumenical Diakonia.” In June 2018 the WCC central committee of the WCC asked for further work on the paper; it will be presented to the central committee in 2021.


  • Church organizations explore ways of strengthening relationships

    Addressing challenges in the way of cooperation between churches and church-based development organizations, also known as “specialized ministries” – an international consultation in Malawi has been promoting mutual collaboration and a common vision of working together for justice and peace.

  • Forum strengthens ecumenical commitment to diakonia

    Ecumenical diakonia means complementing each other in what we do best: serving our communities, thus bringing visible church unity to the world, agreed participants at an Ecumenical Strategic Forum on Diakonia and Sustainable Development convened by the World Council of Churches (WCC) last week.

  • WCC explores ecumenical diakonia as way towards renewed unity

    “The invitation to a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace has presented a new opportunity for reorienting our understanding of diakonia, and to join together ecumenically in our diaconal work,” said Rev. Dr Kjell Nordstokke, speaking to the World Council of Churches (WCC) central committee on 16 June.

  • WCC, ACT reflect on ecumenical diakonia in historic meeting

    On a Joint Day of Reflection on Ecumenical Diakonia and Sustainable Development held 1 November, the World Council of Churches (WCC) and ACT Alliance reflected together on how the organisations work together in service to the world and how that work contributes to the broader agenda for sustainable development.

  • Ecumenical diakonia: sharing God’s gifts at all tables

    "Maybe through ecumenical diakonia, hence by jointly preparing the tables for the marginalized and hungry, the theologies will emerge among us that will allow us to eventually accept the invitation of Christ to receive and share God's gifts at one table”, said Rev. Dr Kjell Nordstokke, during the Ecumenical Strategic Forum on Diakonia and Sustainable Development. The concept of “ecumenical diakonia” has been a key element of inspiration in the discussions taking place at the headquarters of the World Council of Churches (WCC), in Geneva, Switzerland, between 3-6 October.

Churches aim to re-ignite their service in a hurting world

Seventy years ago, at its founding, the World Council of Churches (WCC) had already engaged in years of diaconial work, facilitating resettlement of hundreds of thousands of refugees after World War II. Now, two generations later, the WCC and sister ecumenical organizations have joined forces to re-envision and reignite diakonia for a new and radically different context.

Diakonia: “a tool to reach abundance of life”

“Christ’s call for abundant life (John 10:10) means that the church must work to address the enormity of challenges, including access to water resources, care for creation, and adequate health care,” said Rev. Matthew Ross during a World Council of Churches (WCC) seminar on young people’s involvement in “Ecumenical Diakonia and Sustainable Development,” held in Matanzas, Cuba, July 15-20.

9.5 Theses for a new quest for unity and peace through Ecumenical Diakonia

9.5 Theses for a new quest for unity and peace through Ecumenical Diakonia (In the month commemorating 500 years of Reformation, a modest contribution to our joint reflection and actions for a new transformation of the world towards unity, justice and peace, might be expressed in one-tenth the number of theses that initiated the transformation called the “Reformation”.)

General Secretary


The following article by Teresa Joan White is the entry on diakonia from the revised edition of the Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement published jointly by the World Council of Churches and the Wm. Eerdmans in 2002.

WCC Programmes

Rev. Matthew Ross, programme executive for Diakonia and Capacity Building

email: [email protected]

phone: +41 22 791 6322