When Jesus took the towel and basin and stooped to wash the disciples' feet, he provided a vivid picture of servanthood and a model for diaconal ministry. "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet." John 13:14
In New Testament times, deaconesses and deacons were set apart to assist and lead the church in caring for the poor, marginalized, powerless people whom it would have been so easy to forget. Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2), Lydia (Acts 16: 13-15, 40), and Dorcas (Acts 9:36-41) are women of the early church whom were identified by the apostles for their examples of diakonia.
Through the ages, the diaconate has shaped itself in various ways, but the heart has always been the same - to reach out in Christian love to those in need.
Deaconesses/deacons formed their servant-leader identity through education in theology, support from an international community, intentional spiritual reflection, and experience in ministry. God calls these people to a ministry of word and service (diakonia), a different emphasis from ordained ministry.
Deaconesses/deacons may do ministry through a variety of jobs. Their work cannot be classified into any one category. But through their diaconal identity, they use their gifts to serve. Deaconesses/deacons express their servant identity always, applying it to all aspects of their lives. They respect the history of those that have gone before and bond with the community for support and affirmation. They are also flexible to adapt to the changing needs of the world.