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.

4 thoughts on “The Mailbag: Deaconesses- That’ll Preach!”

  1. Michelle, what are your reasons for listing this office for a woman as “non-ordained?” Would you consider the office for a man to be “ordained?” And, in Scripture, we do not have a record of the deacons and elders taking vows, right?

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    1. When I say “ordained,” I am speaking of the ordination process and ceremony (being presented to the church and the laying on of hands) commonly used for ordaining men to pastoral ministry and ordaining deacons in the churches I’m familiar with. Because this ordination process/ceremony is for men who are being installed into male-only offices it is neither necessary nor biblically appropriate for churches to ordain women in this way.

      I don’t know of any instances in Scripture in which deacons/elders take vows, but it would not be biblically inappropriate for a deacon or elder being ordained to promise to uphold Scripture, faithfully preach the Word, etc.

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  2. Right, I agree that it would not be inappropriate for church officers to take those vows. I guess what I’m asking, if I understand you correctly, you are saying that (in certain conditions) there can be deaconesses, however, they should not be ordained as the deacons and elders are?

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