Why churches should recognize women as deacons

"The key verse for this discussion is right in the middle: verse 11 says, 'Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.'"  Cripplegate

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Wayne Wilson's picture

We have an elder board, a deacon board, and a deaconess board. The deaconess board has certain specific areas of responsibility, as do the deacons. The deacon board, as one of it's main duties, is to oversee finances and the overall church budget. It works quite well.

Bert Perry's picture

I'm not opposed to deaconess boards per se, but what bothers me here is that the analysis doesn't really ask what a "deaconess" will do.  Is she part of the board that sets the church budget and therefore clearly exercises a fair amount of authority, or is she planning funeral lunches and the like?  So the article really dodges the issue of male headship in these areas.

Also, it strikes me that the passage in question clearly uses the word "deacons" in a male context in verses 9, 10, and 12, but uses the term "women" in verse 11 for a somewhat different set of qualifications than is set for the deacons.  So in the context, verse 11 is strictly speaking for deacons' wives, who might be considered deaconesses because they are  under the headship of their husbands.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ron Bean's picture

Could it be that a deaconess is just a female deacon? Romans 16:1 seems to verify this. The only problem I see is in churches where deacons have authority instead of simply being servants.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Shaynus's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

Could it be that a deaconess is just a female deacon? Romans 16:1 seems to verify this. The only problem I see is in churches where deacons have authority instead of simply being servants.

Right, so for churches who don't have female deacons, but seem to think it's a good idea, first move to an elder rule setup. Really there shouldn't be such thing as a deacon "board" at all since that implies that a group of deacons should be able to vote on something. Each deacon is individually to be subordinate to the elders. For churches that don't have official female deacons, I'd bet you have them unofficially. You may have that lady that organizes the meals for the new moms. She's a deacon or servant of the church, but you might as well make sure she fits the biblical qualifications of the office you put her over.

Wayne Wilson's picture

Shaynus wrote:

Right, so for churches who don't have female deacons, but seem to think it's a good idea, first move to an elder rule setup. Really there shouldn't be such thing as a deacon "board" at all since that implies that a group of deacons should be able to vote on something. Each deacon is individually to be subordinate to the elders. For churches that don't have official female deacons, I'd bet you have them unofficially. You may have that lady that organizes the meals for the new moms. She's a deacon or servant of the church, but you might as well make sure she fits the biblical qualifications of the office you put her over.

In our church, we did establish elders first. That's essential. The deacons are a board in our church because they are able to vote on things in their sphere of authority...the budget for example. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

This entire argument for deaconess' has always struck me as a desperate argument from silence. I don't believe you can walk through 1 Tim 3:8-13, in order, and get it from the text. I think you can infer, if you want to try. The plain reading of the text (and the Greek) indicates to me that men are in view.

Romans 16:1 is much more intriguing. I'd be interested in some historical theology on this issue. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Shaynus's picture

Wayne Wilson wrote:

 

Shaynus wrote:

 

Right, so for churches who don't have female deacons, but seem to think it's a good idea, first move to an elder rule setup. Really there shouldn't be such thing as a deacon "board" at all since that implies that a group of deacons should be able to vote on something. Each deacon is individually to be subordinate to the elders. For churches that don't have official female deacons, I'd bet you have them unofficially. You may have that lady that organizes the meals for the new moms. She's a deacon or servant of the church, but you might as well make sure she fits the biblical qualifications of the office you put her over.

 

 

In our church, we did establish elders first. That's essential. The deacons are a board in our church because they are able to vote on things in their sphere of authority...the budget for example. 

The budget should be an elders thing ultimately. The budget is a statement of the spiritual direction of a church as anything else it is. Deacons should help draft it, but I think it's wiser that deacons be put individually over specific spheres or tasks. That seems to be the pattern in Acts. A set of deacons had the specific duty to take care of the widows, not set the agenda for the church.

 

Wayne Wilson's picture

Shaynus wrote:

The budget should be an elders thing ultimately. The budget is a statement of the spiritual direction of a church as anything else it is. Deacons should help draft it, but I think it's wiser that deacons be put individually over specific spheres or tasks. That seems to be the pattern in Acts. A set of deacons had the specific duty to take care of the widows, not set the agenda for the church.

I would have to disagree here. Deacons exist to free the elders from things like how much to budget for sound equipment. It seems to me that is what Acts 6 is really all about. And qualified deacons are very capable of sound spiritual direction. The Acts 6 deacons are described as "men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom." I think men like that can handle the budget, and our experience shows that they can. Maybe we're special, but the boards work in harmony here.  If the elders have budgetary requests, which is rare, the deacons would certainly factor that in. 

Bert Perry's picture

It's worth noting that the major distinction between a deacon and an elder in terms of qualifications is that the elder must be "apt to teach."  So the historic distinction in roles between spiritual leadership and handling of earthly matters has at least a hint in 1 Timothy 3.  

Either way, unless we simply view deacons as serving tables and little else, I cannot separate the male diaconate from the concept of authority, and in that case, the patriarchal nature of Scripture--from Genesis to Revelation--poses an insoluble problem in my mind.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

It's also important to remember that titles of leaders are only ever used for for the eleder's/bishop's position, and never used in conjunction with the deacon's position. Throughout the New Testament, elders are held up as having positions of authority within the local assembly, but that is never the case with deacons - not once.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Shaynus's picture

Wayne Wilson wrote:

 

Shaynus wrote:

 

The budget should be an elders thing ultimately. The budget is a statement of the spiritual direction of a church as anything else it is. Deacons should help draft it, but I think it's wiser that deacons be put individually over specific spheres or tasks. That seems to be the pattern in Acts. A set of deacons had the specific duty to take care of the widows, not set the agenda for the church.

 

 

I would have to disagree here. Deacons exist to free the elders from things like how much to budget for sound equipment. It seems to me that is what Acts 6 is really all about. And qualified deacons are very capable of sound spiritual direction. The Acts 6 deacons are described as "men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom." I think men like that can handle the budget, and our experience shows that they can. Maybe we're special, but the boards work in harmony here.  If the elders have budgetary requests, which is rare, the deacons would certainly factor that in. 

Right, so a deacon of finance or group of deacons and their advisors would draft a budget and send to the elders. Again I stand by my statement that a budget is a statement of spiritual values and the elders have authority even in mundane things. I'm with Chip in that deacons have no authority in themselves. It may be that elders grant limited authority over specific tasks (as they did in acts on taking care of widows), and that's fine. But a board of deacons approving a budget implies too strongly that they are in authority over the budget of the church, and they should not be in an ultimate sense. 

 

wkessel1's picture

The Romans 16:1 issue doesn't seem that insurmountable, when you go beyond the fact that some English translation uses deaconess .  The Greek word simply means servant and is used to refer to the office of Deacon, so the text would have to dictate its meaning.  Romans 16:1 says Phoebe was a servant of the church of Cenchrea.  Nothing in the context demands or indicates that it is an the office she holds.  Paul often refers to himself and others as slaves and bondservants  It says that she has been a help to many and of Paul as well, she is a good servant.  Also the Greek word here is feminine.  All the uses where context is speaking of an office are masculine.

I also think the context of 1 Timothy 3 as whole is speaking of leadership.  There are only two office in the church, both are given basically the same qualifications (except for teaching) and one is a leader at some level and other is not?  At some capacity, it would seem the office office of deacon has responsibility intended.  Presuming Acts 6 is the first deacons, they are given reasonability to take leadership of the daily operations so the Apostles could spend time on the Word and prayer.  Since leadership Scripturally is given to the men, not because of some sexist idea of Paul's but it is rooted in Genesis, it follow that deacons should be men.  I also find it interesting that in Acts 6 they chose 7 men and not 6 men and 1 women or some other combination.

Ultimately all Christians should be good servants of the Lord.  All the women I have known that serve in many different capacity in our ministry, they don't serve to have a title, they serve because they love the Lord.

Wayne Wilson's picture

Julie Anne wrote:

I'm worried about your church, Wayne  ;)

Aww...thanks. I worry about it, too, every day. But not about our structure, which allows maximum use of gifts, divides responsibilities (and in some sense, even authority), and works so well.  It is also thoroughly biblical. Frankly, I can't imagine dumping budgeting responsibilities on the elders, who have so much to do ministry-wise.  I should add that, as the pastor, the Constitution gives me a place on the deacon board as well, and I attend their meetings, and may vote on matters. So the elder's perspective is present and always given full consideration. The deacons don't see their role as conflicting with the elders, but using their wisdom to facilitate ministry as they are able. We always work for unanimity anyway on all the boards. 

I suppose the fear of shared authority comes from worries about losing control, or bitter conflicts erupting. We just don't have that.  The elders set the tone for trust and harmony among the boards. Everyone bends over backward to work in a cooperative way. 

I will refrain from discussing our Women Mentoring Women group here.

Crystal's picture

Wayne Wilson wrote:

 

 

I will refrain from discussing our Women Mentoring Women group here.

I would love to hear about that group at some point if you have time.  Even via private message if you prefer.  

Wayne Wilson's picture

Oh, I don’t mind answering here Crystal. I was just being playful.

We formed a group called Women Mentoring Women about a dozen years back in response to some local Titus 2 style ministries that had some good elements, but didn’t seem to have the proper relationship to good doctrine or elder oversight.  Our WMW ladies are a ministry team, but do a lot of individual counseling and discipleship. These are spiritually mature sisters who meet "elder" qualifications. 

As I’ve said above, we have an Elder Board, Deacon Board and Deaconess Board...all elected. The WMW ladies are not elected, but chosen by the elders and are directly accountable to the elder board. One of their primary guiding principles is that they are completely under the elder's authority...not just in a formal sense, but it's a key aspect of the heart they want in the women who serve with them.  

It has been convenient to have them meet at the same time the elders are meeting.  They pray together, study the word, discuss any problems, and encourage each other.  They are ladies we can point women to who need a fiend, counselor, or just want to grow. 

Their focus is entirely on spiritual matters related to the women in the church. I think there are eight or so ladies currently serving. They plan women's retreats, studies, etc. but their main focus is one-on-one discipleship. Some of them have taken courses (a couple have moved pretty far along) in formal training in biblical counseling, but that is not essential. They are mentors and disciple women who are struggling, or just want to grow. They do such a good job I really don't counsel women anymore, though on occasion I will counsel jointly with one of the WMW ladies on a short term basis. 

Each of the ladies is to have at least one person they are meeting with and encouraging on a regular basis. That's not a hard rule, as people's circumstances do not always allow for that level of commitment in every season of the year. But that's what they aim for. They recently added a single gal to the group which was new, and helpful.

I believe it's one of the most effective ministries of our small church, and we have seen real fruit from it in terms of growth and stability among the ladies.  Most of the group are elder’s wives (my wife is one), and one is a deacon’s wife.  

 

Julie Anne's picture

Wayne, it's always encouraging to see churches utilize the gifts of all its members. I think women are often left out of ministry opportunities because of their gender. I find this troubling and squelching and don't think God would be pleased.

Wayne Wilson's picture

Julie Anne wrote:

Wayne, it's always encouraging to see churches utilize the gifts of all its members. I think women are often left out of ministry opportunities because of their gender. I find this troubling and squelching and don't think God would be pleased.

Well, it certainly doesn't make sense to not use all that giftedness, talent, experience, and energy for the Lord's work. Half the world is made up of women. That's a substantial field for ministry. And, frankly, women understand each other more than we fellas do. 

jreeseSr's picture

In our church we have a budget and finance committee to come together to "prepare" a budget for the congregation to vote approval.  If your church allows women members to "vote" that church has a problem not allowing women to serve in preparation of the budget. A budget is usually driven by a "vision" of ruling Bishops...filled by elders. I believe the "vision" is given to male leadership as teacher/exhorters, the mechanics of the budget to finance that vision has no authority until authorized by the congregation at large by a corporate vote that allows gender participation as there is no opportunity for the "type" of the woman usurping authority over a man that is clearly not allowed by scripture by that practice.

I also agree that women in the church( here is where I lose some of you) all are gifted as men in all the spiritual gifts including Teaching , Exhortation and Administration. The burden on church leadership is to utilize these assets without allowing for the "image" of a women usurping authority over the man which outside of the Genisis direction also distorts the "Type" of Christ and his church as husband and wife. 

Let me now really shake your boat : the original sin was not the eating of the fruit but Adam submitting to the authority of his mate.

 

  

Jim

Bert Perry's picture

Jim, keep in mind that there was one sin to be committed at the time;eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge.  You're arguing that Adam and Eve were guilty of violating a command that they had never received.  I cannot go there.  

Regarding the duty of the church to utilize assets--really earthly abilities--I don't see any justification for that in Scripture.  Whatever one's position on gender qualifications for church office, one ought to concede that most of the other qualifications are not rooted in ability, but are moral qualifications.  The only exception as far as I see it is that an elder/overseer ought to be "apt to teach."  

We might infer that the spiritual gifts spoken of in 1 Cor. 12 might very often be exercised without an official church office.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

We are beginning to implement our new constitution. (Pleural Eldership)

We saw a Biblical call for diakonoi to be men and women. But with this, we noted that diakonoi wasn't an office with authority in the Word. And we observed that many in our congregation equated "Deacon" with Church Leader. Therefore, we chose to use the term "Servant" for diakonoi. 

Also, as a transition to pleural elders, we specified that the "Deacons" elected under the previous constitution would finish their terms on the Elder Board. 

Our intention, after a few years of Elders and Servants is to rename the diakonoi "Deacons."

Also, we believe that a budget (and many other things) ought to be an expression of Biblical values. The input Servants/Deacons have is to be in submission to the Elder Board. 

jreeseSr's picture

      Dan, we  clearly see the believers together with different spiritual gifts serving together. Agreed oversight and leadership gifts are directed to Elders in the office of Bishops, but to deny the service gifts that are distributed to all including Elders out of office, would definitely reflect a different picture. Unless of course one limits the royal priesthood to a flock of mindless impotent sheeple with one gifted Preacher/teacher with a big stick (staff). It is clear that that was not the model until Rome wanted more structure (control) in the second century.  

     As for original sin I agree with the party line of the one instruction but to ignore the obvious inference of the subjective position of eve to Adam would indeed be neglect of the obvious.

    

Jim

Dan Miller's picture

I do not deny the service gifts are distributed to all.