Mailbag

The Mailbag: Deaconesses- That’ll Preach!

 

At my church we have female deacons (deaconesses) who are formally supposed to be in a service role not leading men. One of them is the leader of children’s ministry. She occasionally gives announcements during the worship service, but every time she goes into a monologue that sounds like a mini-sermon, exhorting the congregation from Scripture. I don’t think this is biblically appropriate. Your thoughts?

It’s always good to revisit the topic of women’s roles in the church. We want to be sure we’re being obedient to Scripture- not taking unbiblical liberties, but also not imposing unbiblical prohibitions.

There are actually two issues in the reader’s question that I’d like to deal with separately:

Are non-ordained deaconesses who don’t teach men or hold authority over them in the church biblical?

Yes, with a few clarifications:

♦ When I say “yes, that can be biblical,” I am speaking of a Scriptural understanding of a deaconess’s duties and position, not the understanding many churches currently have of the (male) office of deacon. In many churches male deacons function as, and are given the authority of elders, carrying out teaching, leadership, authority, and other duties and characteristics that would be biblically inappropriate for women.

♦ The Greek word διάκονος (diákonos), “deacon,” simply means “servant” and “a waiter- at table or in other menial duties” It comes from the root διάκω (diákō), which means “to run on errands.” As you can see, this is a position of humility, anonymity, and servanthood, not power, influence, and rulership. We can see this from the description of the duties of the first deacons in Acts, who “waited on tables” providing food for the church’s widows. Certainly, it would be biblically right and good for women – individually or as a set aside group – to act as servants, care for widows, run errands, wait tables, and carry out menial tasks in service to their brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, most Christian women who are faithful church members are already doing things like that. The Bible says “serve one another,” so if you want to get right down to it, every Christian is called to be a deacon or deaconess in some form or fashion.

♦ Because of the current confusion in the church over the role deacons are actually supposed to fulfill (i.e. servants, not leaders), if a church wishes to set aside a group of women as servants, the pastor and other leadership might want to call them something other than “deaconesses”. On the other hand, having a group of women who biblically fill out the role of, and are named, “deaconesses” could help to reclaim the proper Scriptural definition of deacon/deaconess and set a good example for other churches. Just something to consider.

How should we address the issue of a woman (regardless of whether or not she holds a position of leadership) who steps beyond the confines of making announcements in the worship service into “preaching”?

I’ve personally witnessed basically the same type of scenario this reader mentioned in her e-mail to me. I once watched a televised worship service that took place the Sunday after this particular church’s Vacation Bible School. The VBS director (a woman) got up on the platform to report on how the week had gone, what the kids had learned, etc., all of which was fine and good. However, she then veered off into exhorting the congregation with Scripture as to how they should be raising their children, making sure their children were in church, and so forth – essentially, preaching.

Although there’s nothing wrong with a woman making a quick announcement in church during the time reserved for that (more on that here), rabbit trailing off into preaching is not appropriate, and it does need to be addressed. First, it’s not this woman’s (or any other woman’s) place to be instructing the congregation. Second, it can take a huge chunk of time (10-15 minutes in the case I observed) out of the worship service, ultimately causing the person who is supposed to be preaching – the pastor – to cut his sermon short.

It doesn’t have to be a big, major ordeal, she just needs to be quietly taken aside for a few minutes by whoever is her immediate “supervisor” (the pastor, the elder who oversees ministries, etc.) and told that she should simply and briefly make the announcement she’s responsible for and leave it at that. If she’s not clear on why, she needs to have the aforementioned two reasons why explained to her. (Don’t wimp out and blame it on time constraints alone. This is a teaching moment, and it’s important she be instructed on the biblical aspect of her error.) If she abides by this instruction henceforth, super. If not, she doesn’t get to make announcements in church any more.

Additional Resources

Can women serve as deacons in the church? at GotQuestions

Was Phoebe a Deaconess? at Grace to You

Can Women Serve as Deacons? at WWUTT

Does the Bible Support Female Deacons? No. by Guy Waters

Does the Bible Support Female Deacons? Yes. by Thomas Schreiner


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Church

You Don’t Need the Internet, You Need a Pastor

Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook Can Fill the Role Played by Churches,” declared recent headlines.

It should come as no surprise to us that Mark could reach such a conclusion. He sees people’s innate desire for community. He’s a decent guy (by the world’s standards) and wants to give something back. He sees his profession as a way to do that. It makes sense if you look at things from his perspective.

To Mark, church is merely a gathering of people for social interaction and encouragement. Like a coffee klatch. Or a support group. But the thing is, Mark isn’t a believer. His mind hasn’t been transformed by Christ to a biblical way of thinking, so it’s understandable that he doesn’t get it.

What should shock us is that, long before Mark’s thoughts on church popped up in our news feeds, people who identify as Christians were saying the same thing. Or at least acting like it.

I don’t need to join a church. I can just watch sermons online.

I’ve been hurt by a church, so I’m done with it altogether. I’ll just hang out in my Christian Facebook group instead.

I like my online friends way better than the people at the churches around here.

It seems like a lot of Christians -who should be thinking biblically – don’t get it either.

Sure, there are times of illness, tragedy, work, being out of town, and other circumstances that can temporarily prevent us from being with our church family. In those cases, social media and the internet are a godsend that can keep us connected, in a minimal way, to the body of Christ. But, in much the same way that it would be unhealthy to replace every meal with a Snickers bar simply because you don’t want to make the effort to cook, choosing a steady diet of internet “church” when there’s a spiritually healthy meal available is a sure fire way to deteriorate into a diseased, malnourished Christian.

There are lots of reasons why being a faithful, active member of a local church isn’t optional for Christians, but now it seems necessary to also explain that the internet isn’t your local church. It can’t be. There’s just too much missing: church ordinances, practicing the “one anothers”, serving in church ministries, making sacrifices for others, church discipline, ecclesiastical structure and authority, and…you know…actual face to face interaction with other humanoids. There’s far more to church than hearing a good sermon and the occasional carefully-edited chat with other Christians.

And perhaps one of the most important things that’s missing at First Church of the Interwebs is a pastor.

Not a preacher. A pastor. Your pastor.

You need a pastor – a man who labors in prayer over the sheep God has entrusted to him, who nurtures and serves those under his care, whose heart so beats with the Body that he knows whether they need encouragement, rebuke, comfort, training, or guidance, and lovingly provides it.

A blogger isn’t going to come to your house and comfort you at 3:00 a.m. when your spouse has just passed away.

A Facebook group can’t possibly grasp all the nuances of the situation with your prodigal child and provide correct biblical counsel on how to deal with it.

A sermon web site isn’t led by the Holy Spirit to choose the sermon you need to hear. You choose what you want to hear.

Even the most doctrinally sound preacher on the web can’t marry you, bury you, baptize you, or administer the Lord’s Supper to you.

Your Twitter friends won’t visit the hospital and pray with you before surgery.

Your favorite Christian podcaster can’t look you in the eye and know when something’s wrong or that you need help.

And even if they could, it’s not their place.

You see, when you have real, serious spiritual needs, reaching out to a blogger, internet pastor, or other online personality to fill those needs doesn’t work right and could even be harmful to your situation, because you’re asking us to step in where we don’t belong. To usurp the place God has reserved for the man He has called to shepherd you.

God didn’t ordain the office of blogger. He didn’t breathe out Scripture to train and encourage podcasters. And there aren’t any biblical qualifications for social media groups.

God created pastors.

God created pastors because He thought that was the best way for Christians to be cared for until Christ returns to take us home. And if God thought that was the best way, isn’t any other way we come up with going to be less than what’s best for us? Who are we to second guess the God of the universe and try to replace His plan with one of our own making?

Yes, there are wolves out there masquerading as shepherds, and it can be hard to find a doctrinally sound church and pastor. That doesn’t mean you give up and settle for something that’s not biblical. As far as it’s within your ability, you search, you pray, you make sacrifices, maybe you even pack up and move, but you find a reasonably healthy church with a pastor you can submit to, and you plug in. That’s what people did before there was an internet, you know.

Nobody on the internet can take the place of a living, breathing, boots on the ground pastor and church family, so stop trying to replace them with people you’ll likely never meet, who don’t love you as much, can’t care for you, and aren’t as invested in you as those God has ordained to fill that need in your heart and life.

You don’t need the internet. You need a pastor.

Christian women, Church, Discernment

Throwback Thursday ~ Nine Reasons Discerning Women Are Leaving Your Church

Originally published July 24, 2015
9 disc women leave

 

Earlier this week, Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay, pubished a blog article entitled “Six Reasons Why Women May Be Leaving Your Church.” Although I am not particularly a fan of Dr. Rainer (due to his allowing materials from false teachers to be sold at LifeWay), I thought this article was a good one, and I agreed with several of the issues he raised, especially, that these issues need to be addressed by church leadership.

As a ministry wife and someone in the field of women’s ministry myself, I, too, have noticed women leaving the church. Not just women in general, but a certain subset of church-attending ladies: discerning women. While Scripture is pretty clear that we can expect women (and men) who are false converts to eventually fall away from the gathering of believers, why are godly, genuinely regenerated women who love Christ, His word, and His church, leaving their local churches?

1. Eisegetical or otherwise unbiblical preaching
Discerning women don’t want to hear pastors twist God’s word. The Bible is not about us, our problems, and making all our hopes and dreams come true. We don’t want to hear seeker-driven or Word of Faith false doctrine. We don’t need self-improvement motivational speeches or a list of life tips to follow. We want to hear a pastor rightly handle God’s word from a trustworthy translation and simply exegete the text.

2. The worship hour has become a variety show
Skits, guest stars, movie clips, dance routines, rock concerts, elaborate sets, light shows, and smoke machines. We didn’t sign on for Saturday Night Live on Sunday. This is supposed to be church. Get rid of all that junk, turn the lights on, give us solid preaching, prayer, and some theologically sound songs we can actually sing, and maybe we’ll stick around.

*3. Women in improper places of church leadership
The Bible could not be more clear that women are not to be pastors, instruct men in the Scriptures, or hold authority over men in other capacities in the church. If your church has a female pastor, worship leader, or elders, or if women are teaching and leading men in Sunday school, small groups, or from the platform in the worship service, or if women are heading up certain committees, departments, or ministries which place them in improper authority over men, you’re disobeying Scripture, and we don’t want to help you do that by attending your church.

4. Children are being entertained, not trained
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of play time or crafts for younger children, but we want our children trained in the Scriptures, not entertained for a couple of hours. We want their teachers to open God’s word and read and explain it to them at a level they can understand. We want them memorizing verses, learning to pray, and demonstrating an age-appropriate comprehension of the gospel. We want them to understand that church is joyful, yet, serious, not a Jesus-laced party at Chuck E. Cheese. We need church to bolster the Scriptural training we’re giving our kids at home.

5. Women’s “Bible” Studies
The majority (and I don’t use that term flippantly) of churches holding women’s Bible studies are using materials written by Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Joyce Meyer, Lysa TerKeurst, Sarah Young, and others who teach unbiblical ideas and false doctrine. Not minor denominational differences of opinion. Not secondary and tertiary unimportant issues that can be overlooked. False doctrine. While we long to study God’s word with other women, discerning women will not sacrifice sound doctrine nor the integrity of Scripture to do so.

6. Ecumenism
Is your church partnering with other “churches” whose orthodoxy and/or orthopraxy are at odds with Scripture? “Churches” which approve of homosexuality or female pastors, or which hold to an unbiblical soteriology (grace plus works, baptismal regeneration, Mary as co-redemptrix with Christ, etc.)? Are you partnering with those who deny the biblical Christ altogether such as Muslims, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, Mormons, or Buddhists? Discerning women know Scripture forbids yoking ourselves to unbelievers and we want no part of it.

7. Ageism
Look around at your pastor and staff, your lay leadership, your music team, the “face” of your church. How many of those people are over 40? Usually, discernment and spiritual maturity come through walking with the Lord over many years, yet, increasingly, by design, churches are run by twentysomething pastors, staff, and other leadership, who are often spiritually immature and/or lack the wisdom and life experience that come with age. The staff is often specifically structured this way in order to attract young people to the church. The counsel and wisdom mature, godly men and women have to offer is brushed off as old fashioned, and middle aged and older church members feel alienated and unwanted. While there are those among the twentysomething set who are godly and growing into maturity, discerning women value the wisdom and teaching of their godly elders.

8. The “troublemaker” label
Discerning women who see unbiblical things happening in their churches and stand up for what God’s word says about biblical ecclesiology and teaching are often vilified and labeled as troublemakers. We are called haters, threats to unity, complainers, gossips, negative, and a myriad of other scornful names. All this for wanting things done according to Scripture. Can you blame us for shaking the dust off our high heels and leaving?

9. Spineless or stiff-necked pastors
Discerning women have little respect for, and find themselves unable to submit to the authority of pastors who see people in their churches acting overtly sinful or propagating false teaching yet are so afraid of confrontation that they will not set things right. By the same token, we cannot continue to attend a church in which we bring scriptural evidence of false teaching or sin to the pastor and he outright denies the biblical truth we present to him. We cannot be members of churches in which pastors will not submit to Scripture or carry out biblical mandates.

 

Frequently, the discerning women you see tearfully leaving your church have been there for years. Sometimes they leave your church because it was never doctrinally sound to begin with, and God has opened their eyes to this as they grow and mature in Christ. Sometimes they leave because false doctrine and unbiblical practices have crept in and taken over a church that was once a refuge of trustworthy biblical teaching. Either way, these things should not be.

Maybe it’s not that discerning women are leaving the church**, but that the church is leaving them.


*If you disagree with this point and are considering writing a comment arguing that women SHOULD be pastors and have other unbiblical positions of leadership, please save yourself some time, because I will not be printing it. As it says in my “welcome” tab (top of this page), I do not print false doctrine without refuting it, and at the moment, I do not have the time. If you are truly interested in what the Bible ACTUALLY says about the proper role of women in the church, click here and explore the Scriptures that address this topic.

**While it may be necessary to leave a church that is not operating biblically, Hebrews 10:24-25 makes it clear that meeting together for worship and the teaching of God’s word is not optional for Christians. Please see my follow up article, Six Ways Not to Forsake the Assembly for more on this topic.

Mark Bible Study

Mark: Lesson 11

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Mark 8:

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.


Questions to Consider

1. In verses 1-10, what need of the people had Jesus already met (2), and what need was He about to meet (1-3)? How does this passage demonstrate that God cares about and provides for both our material and spiritual needs? How does this passage mesh with, and provide a real life example of the truth of Matthew 6:25-33? Considering verse 4, why do you think none of the disciples seemed to remember Jesus feeding the 5000 and asked Him to provide in the same way? How could this incident have instilled greater trust and dependence on Christ in the disciples and the crowd?

2. Examine verses 11-13. Compare and contrast the crowd’s satisfaction (8) with the dissatisfaction of the Pharisees. How would you apply the following words to the crowd versus the Pharisees as they related to and interacted with Jesus: enough/not enough, content/discontent, not demanding/demanding, humble/proud? What was Jesus’ response to the Pharisees?

3. Jesus’ teaching, compassion, provision, healing, and miracles were sufficient in God’s eyes to provide for the spiritual needs of all people and to fulfill God’s purposes, yet the Pharisees judged God’s ways not to be enough to satisfy them and demanded signs and miracles that were above and beyond God’s ways. Compare the Pharisees and their demands with “churches” today who are not satisfied with God’s sufficient written Word and ways, and demand things like hearing God’s voice, ecstatic utterances (“speaking in tongues”), faith healing, fortune telling-esque “prophecies,” miracles, etc.

4. Read verses 14-21 in light of the miracle the disciples had just witnessed in verses 1-10, the interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees in verses 11-13, and the fact that the disciples had forgotten to bring bread (14,16). Notice how Jesus uses a metaphorical interplay between “bread” (1-10, 14,16) and “leaven” (15). What does this passage teach us about rightly handling God’s word? How did the disciples mess up by taking Jesus’ words literally instead of metaphorically, as He meant them? Compare Jesus’ use of metaphor here to “He said this plainly” in verse 32. What did Jesus’ warning in verse 15 mean? Re-read question 3 above. What teaching(s) of the Pharisees was Jesus warning against?

5. Compare the healing of the blind man in verses 22-26 to healings we’ve seen in previous lessons. How did the man get to Jesus, and who interceded for him? (22) Why did Jesus take him out of the village before healing him (23) and instruct him not to return afterwards (26)? What method did Jesus use for healing the man? (23-25)

6. Examine verses 27-38. Think about what John the Baptist, Elijah, and the Old Testament prophets preached and the miracles they (Elijah and the prophets) performed. Considering what the people had seen Jesus do and heard Him preach, why would they more readily have compared Jesus to John and the prophets than recognizing Him as the Messiah (hint: think about the kind of messiah they were expecting)?

7. Most of Israel, including at least some of the disciples, expected a Messiah like David- one who would free them from Roman tyranny, reestablish Israel as an independent nation, and reign as a literal, political king. Compare Peter’s identification of Jesus as the Messiah (29) with his rebuke of Jesus (32) for saying that He would be crucified. What kind of Messiah do you think Peter was expecting? Why would Peter have been surprised or confused when Jesus said He would suffer, be rejected, and be killed? (31-32)

8. What is the significance of Jesus “turning and seeing His disciples” in verse 33? Compare Jesus’ rebuke of Peter (33) to Jesus’ rebuke (12) and warning (15) about the Pharisees. In what ways were they each believing and spreading “leaven” (false doctrine)? How were each setting their minds on the things of man instead of the things of God? (33)

9. Imagine you’re one of the disciples listening to what Jesus is saying in verses 31-38. What might you be thinking as Jesus dispels the idea that He will reign over Israel as an earthly king (and that you might have a significant position in His court), and teaches the exact opposite: that He will be humiliated, rejected, and murdered, and that the same is in store for His followers? Consider your own service to Christ- do you serve Him hoping for glory and high position, or do you embrace anonymity, suffering, persecution, and humiliation?


Homework

Take some time to examine the Open Doors web site. What might Jesus’ words in 34-38 mean to a Christian in North Korea, Somalia, or Afghanistan compared to a Christian in the United States?

Intercede for a different prayer request each day this week, and donate if you’re able.


Suggested Memory Verse

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 
Mark 8:34-35

Sin

Biblical Resources on Pornography

Pornography is a serious sin, and one that increasingly affects Christian families. Ladies, if you, your husband, or your child are viewing pornography, it’s time to stop, repent, and flee from that sin. If you need help and support, set up an appointment with your pastor for counseling, even if you are the only one who will go. Here are some additional biblical resources which may help:

When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography Theology Gals, Episode 22 with Vicki Tiede (be sure to check out all of Vicki’s links under “Episode Resources”)

How to Stop Looking at Porn from When We Understand the Text

When We Understand the Text Q&A on Pornography (23:13 mark) with Gabriel Hughes

Hey, Porn Addict: Stop It by Gabriel Hughes

What Does the Bible Say About Pornography? at Got Questions

Dealing with Private Sins by John MacArthur

Pornography Resources from Wretched Radio

God Over Porn

Should Christian Couples Watch Pornography Together?

Covenant Eyes: Internet Accountability and Filtering

Support Groups Have No Place in the Church at No Compromise Radio
(Not specifically about pornography, but important points to consider if you’re thinking about a church support group or accountability partner related to pornography usage.)