Rock Your Role

Deaconesses and Female Deacons

The role of women in the church. It can be a sticky wicket sometimes, you know? Some things are pretty clear. Like, women aren’t to pastor churches. That’s clear in Scripture. Complementarians and egalitarians disagree on this point for various reasons, but none of those reasons include disagreeing on what a pastor is. Both camps pretty much agree that the pastor is the primary undershepherd of the church.

But sometimes, the sticking point is the fact that, even within our own camp, we disagree, or have different perspectives on, the definition of a term. And that can leave doctrinally sound, complementarian, brothers and sisters in Christ in a bit of a quandary. We start off with the same orthodoxy but end up with differing orthopraxies.

Such is the case with the question of women serving as deacons or deaconesses. Different churches define these terms differently. But what does the Bible say?

We find the English word deacon in only two passages in the New Testament: in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, where God spells out the biblical qualifications for deacons, and in Philippians 1:1, Paul’s greeting to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”. Although the English word “deacon” isn’t used in this passage, a significant sector of Christian thought considers Acts 6:1-6 to be a description of the appointment of the first deacons in the New Testament church. In fact, this idea is so widely accepted that one reliable English translation titles this passage with the section heading “The First Seven Deacons Appointed”.

The Greek word διάκονος (diákonos), “deacon,” used or implied in these passages, 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,” and involves neither teaching nor authority. 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 seven chosen men – presumably the first deacons – in Acts, who “waited on tables” providing food for the church’s widows.

Most churches would basically be in agreement with all of this (at least “on paper”) up to this point. Where we start to diverge is, how does this flesh itself out in practice in the local church body? Though there are undoubtedly more, I’ve run into five main perspectives on the diaconate in the church (the descriptors that follow are only general touchstones based solely on my own personal experience, they are not universally definitive / applicable. I gotta call them something, folks.) :

  • The traditional Southern Baptist perspective: The office of deacon exists and is restricted to men. Deacons must meet the biblical qualifications for the office, and are set apart to the diaconate by way of the ordination process (nomination, examination, voting, and the laying on of hands). There is no category of deaconess. All Christians are expected to be servants.
  • John MacArthur’s perspective: Because diákonos means “servant,” and all Christians are to be servants, all church members who serve in some way are deacons. There is no office, position, or official title of deacon.
  • The Baptistic hybrid perspective: Various blendings of the traditional Southern Baptist and John MacArthur perspectives. Some churches have the traditional, ordained male diaconate with a separate, non-ordained, less formal group of women deaconesses who see to the tangible needs of women and children when called upon by the deacons. Some churches have a group of non-ordained deacons and deaconesses a bit more set apart than the “everybody’s a deacon” perspective. The deacons generally minister to men and the deaconesses to women and children, or each deacon or deaconess is attached to a specific ministry in the church (deaconess of media, deacon of benevolence ministry, etc.)
  • The progressive – egalitarian perspective: Usually found in “mainstream” (i.e. theologically liberal) Protestant churches. The office of deacon does exist and is open to both men and women who undergo the same ordination process, perform the same duties, hold the same positions of authority (if any), etc. There is no need for a separate category of deaconess.
  • The Charismatic – egalitarian perspective: Usually found in Charismatic churches with female “pastors” or co-“pastors”. The formal office or position of both deacon and deaconess exist and may operate somewhat independently from one another. Both deacons and deaconesses seem to function as elders in some ways. Deaconesses often operate in a “ruling elders meets women’s ministry” sort of way.

The two final categories are obviously unbiblical because they are fruit of the poisonous tree (egalitarianism), but what about the first three?

The issue of deaconesses and female deacons recently placed itself in my path, so I wanted to take a fresh look at it to make sure my beliefs and position are as much in line with Scripture as possible. It never hurts to do that, right? We grow in Christ, we grow in the Word, and we strive to increasingly align with Scripture accordingly. Let me share with you where I currently am on all of this in case it might help as you think through your own beliefs.

I continue to hold to the “traditional Southern Baptist perspective” on the diaconate. I think the Bible more robustly supports this perspective than the “John MacArthur” or “hybrid” perspectives for the following reasons:

  • I have long said on the issue of women pastors and elders that if you will take out the chapter and verse markings and look at 1 Timothy 2:11-3:7 as one continuous stream of thought (as it was originally written), the passage starts off by describing who is not qualified for the office of elder (women) and why, followed by who is qualified for the office of elder (men) and how. I do not usually extend that passage to include 3:8-13, because what I’m usually asked about is women preaching and pastoring, not women being deacons. But when dealing with the topic of women serving as deacons, there is no reason not to include 3:8-13 in that continuous stream of thought (i.e. women are excluded in 2:11-15, qualified men are described in 3:1-13), and every reason to include it, as the word “likewise” in verse 8 indicates that 8-13 is part of the same thought as 2:11-3:7.
  • The word “likewise” in 3:8 also indicates the similarity of 3:8-13 to the form and content of 3:1-7. There’s no transition or contrast between the two passages indicating that “pastor/elder is a set apart office for qualified men only” in 1-7, but “deacon is not a set apart office for qualified men only” in 8-13. In fact, “likewise” would seem to indicate to the contrary – that they are both set apart offices of the church for qualified men only.
  • Chapter 3, verses 1-2 speak of deacons as husbands with wives, indicating that deacons are men. If Paul meant that women were qualified for the office of deacon, there is a way to make that clear in Greek. He differentiates between “wives” and “women in general” in other passages – why not here? And if he meant that women could be deacons, why not make that crystal clear in 3:8-13, since he just said basically the same things about elders being the husband of one wife in 3:2-5? (And we certainly use that qualification to help prove that only men can be pastors/elders, don’t we?)
  • I think the preponderance of evidence points to the seven men of Acts 6 being deacons, or at least the precedent for deacons, regardless of whether this was an impromptu, temporary assemblage of men or whether they served the church on a permanent basis. They were a group of men, set apart to serve. No women were appointed. This was the example later codified and explained in 1 Timothy 3:8-13.
  • If Phoebe, or any of the other women of Romans 16, were considered “deacons” on par with the seven men in Acts 6 or the parameters of 1 Timothy 3:8-13, why would translators not simply render Romans 16:1 as “deacon” instead of servant? Choosing those two different words in those two different passages seems to draw a distinction between someone who is qualified and set apart to the office of deacon and any random Christian who serves in some way.
  • To say that all Christians are to serve, therefore all Christians are deacons is imprecise and confusing. All Christians are also to share the gospel. Should we therefore say that all Christians are evangelists in the Ephesians 4:11-12 sense?
  • Look at the widows of godly character in 1 Timothy 5:3-16. These are godly women who, in addition to having served their families well, have a history of serving the church prior to being widowed. Notice verse 11: “having a reputation for good works: if she…has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.” Does this passage – just two chapters after qualifications for deacons – indicate in any way that these women were set apart as, or carried the title of “deacon” or “deaconess”? Does it indicate that women need to be set apart as deacons / deaconesses or bear the title of “deacon” or “deaconess” in order to serve in these ways? No. The women of 1 Timothy 5 took it upon themselves to fill the needs of the saints they were aware of – no office or title needed, just as most Christian women continue to do today.

Now, I say all of that to explain how I arrived at the beliefs and position I hold on this issue. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, to be construed to mean that I think those who hold to the “John MacArthur” or “hybrid” perspectives are wrong, unbiblical, heretical, or false teachers. Not at all.

I stand shoulder to shoulder, without a second thought about it, with many who hold the “John MacArthur” or “hybrid” perspectives. I don’t think either of those perspectives, as I’ve described and understand them, are unbiblical. Personally, I would have no problem joining a church that held to either of those perspectives. My main point of divergence with those two perspectives is that calling women who serve “deacons” or “deaconesses” – because of the wide array of definitions that can be attached to those two terms – is confusing and could lead someone to think a church is doing something unbiblical when it actually is not.

Certainly, it is biblically right and good for women – individually or as a set aside group, titled or untitled – 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. We see Paul commending Phoebe and the other women of Romans 16 for doing these very sorts of things. In fact, most Christian women who are faithful church members are already doing things like that. The Bible says “serve one another,” so every Christian ought to be serving the church in some way.

But because of the current confusion and different perspectives in the church over what deacons actually are and who may or may not serve as a deacon, if a church wishes to set aside a group of women as servants, the pastor and other leadership might want to consider call them something other than deacons or deaconesses. Just a thought.

In the end, whatever our position on the finer points of deacons, female deacons, and deaconesses, I think we can all agree that, as brothers and sisters, we are all to serve one another in love and humility.

In the end, whatever our position on the finer points of deacons, female deacons, and deaconesses, I think we can all agree that, as brothers and sisters, we are all to serve one another in love and humility.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

1 Peter 4:11, Mark 10:45, Philippians 2:3-4

Postscript:

The issue of women serving as deacons or deaconesses arose for me after my most recent request for recommendations of doctrinally sound churches to add to my list of Reader Recommended Churches. I noticed that a significant number of the recommended churches listed female deacons or deaconesses on their websites, and that these churches also seemed to be doctrinally sound, usually Reformed or Calvinistic churches, often pastored by graduates of The Master’s Seminary – churches I would normally add to the list in a heartbeat.

In the past, I’ve received a handful of recommendations for churches with female deacons, but they were all of the “progressive-” or “Charismatic- egalitarian perspectives,” and were excluded from the list for that reason. Therefore, my initial inclination upon seeing women listed as “deacons” or “deaconesses” on a church website was to exclude these churches from the list.

But because there is such a dearth of doctrinally sound churches available out there, I didn’t want to exclude any church that didn’t, biblically speaking, have to be excluded. So I revisited the issue of deaconesses and female deacons.

Going forward, I’ll be including these doctrinally sound churches with deaconesses / female deacons (as long as they appear to hold to the “John MacArthur” or “hybrid” perspectives). I’ve made a note on the list that some of the churches listed have deaconesses / female deacons, and that if a searcher is uncomfortable with that idea, or has questions about the church’s position, she should ask the pastor about it.


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

The Office of Deacon by New Beginnings Church

Qualified Servants for the Church–Deacons, Part 1 by John MacArthur

“No. Women May NOT be Pastors.” But Can They be Deacons? at Truth+Fire

Rock Your Role

Rock Your Role FAQs

RYR FAQs

Rock Your Role is my series examining the “go to” and hot button Scriptures that relate to and help us understand our role as women in the church. The articles have garnered a lot of great questions from readers. I’ve been extremely encouraged to hear from so many women who love the Lord and want to obey Him. So, I thought it might be handy to have all of the questions and my answers¹, in one place.

(My Rock Your Role articles also help answer many of the questions below, so I would recommend reading them, if you haven’t already, in addition to the questions and answers that follow. My article Jill in the Pulpit is fundamental to understanding most of the FAQ answers below.)


1. Is a man violating Scripture if he seeks out or voluntarily sits under the teaching or preaching of a female Bible teacher or “pastor”?

Yes. Read more about that here.


2. Is there ever a time when it’s OK for a man to be in the room while a woman is teaching the Bible to other women?

Yes. There are some biblically legitimate reasons for a man to be in the room while a woman is teaching the Bible to other women. For example, if my pastor, an elder, or even my husband wanted to sit in on a Bible study I’m teaching to make sure I’m handling God’s word correctly and not teaching false doctrine to the women of the church, I would welcome that, and it would be perfectly biblical (frankly, more pastors, elders, and husbands should do just that). Likewise, it would be fine for a husband or father to sit in temporarily and check me out for his wife or daughter. Other scenarios might include a male reporter covering me or the class (I can’t imagine why anyone would, but…) or a male videographer recording the class.


3. What about Christian women bloggers, authors, and content creators? Aren’t they teaching men if men consume their content? Am I “teaching” men in violation of Scripture if I post biblical things on my social media page?

The short answer is no. Click here for the long answer.

Regarding posting on social media, a supplementary note: My short answer (above) of “no” and the principles in the linked article apply to 99+% of social media posts about biblical things for your general audience of friends and family.

The only things I would really caution against would be a) any post aimed specifically at men (or a particular man) exhorting them as to how they’ve failed and/or what they need to do to shape up, be a better Christian, husband, etc., you “preaching,” so to speak, directly at them, and, b) any prolonged advising, counseling, or discipling of a man in the comments section of a post. If a man needs such counsel, he should set up an appointment with his pastor or talk to a godly older man in his church. (If he’s unchurched, you can, of course, point him to a good church, a biblical counselor, your husband, or another godly man to talk to. If he’s unsaved, you can share the gospel with him – see #11.)


4. If I’m a member of a co-ed Bible study or Sunday School class led by a man, is it “teaching” the men in the class if I ask or answer a question, make a comment, or participate in the discussion?

No, assuming that this is a Q&A type of class in which discussion is encouraged (speaking out during a lecture-style class isn’t “teaching” either, its just disruptive and rude and would fall more under the 1 Corinthians 14 principle of being quiet so people can hear the pastor or teacher).

Asking and answering questions, making brief, appropriate comments, or participating in class discussion is not teaching any more than it would be if you were in a science or math class. The teacher is the one in the position of authority. He is supposed to be knowledgeable enough about what he’s teaching to guide the discussion and affirm insightful comments or correct misinformed comments. He is also in control of class logistics (for example, when to cut off discussion and return to teaching). In summary, the teacher is in charge, not you, and you are asking questions, commenting, and discussing under the umbrella of his authority and control.

If, however, a woman goes beyond simply asking or answering a question or commenting, essentially takes over the class, and begins lecturing everybody, that would be inappropriate.


5. What if I’m in a co-ed Bible study or Sunday School class taught by a man, and either the teacher or one of the male members of the class says something that’s in error, biblically? Should I speak out?

It really depends on the situation. Ideally, if a male member of the class makes an erroneous comment, the teacher should know the Bible well enough to correct him, or, at the very least, one of the other men in the class should do so. Likewise, if the teacher says something biblically off, the best case scenario would be for one of the men in the class to correct him (if you’re married, let your husband take the lead if he is with you and able to do so). If not, there are several factors to consider before jumping in with a corrective:

a) Are you sure you heard him correctly?

b) Is it possible he made a slip of the tongue and actually meant to say the right thing?

c) Does the majority of the class understand what he meant even if he accidentally chose the wrong word (for example, accidentally saying “Elisha” when the text is clearly about Elijah)?

d) Does this need to be corrected now so others won’t believe false doctrine, or is it something that you (or your husband) could talk to him about after class (think Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos)?

If the male teacher or class member says something incorrectly that’s unimportant, its best to just let it go. But if he says something completely unbiblical (and its not a slip of the tongue or a misunderstanding), nobody else is speaking up, and it can’t wait for a private discussion after class because it might lead others astray, then, yes, a correcting comment made gently, with a humble spirit, and backed up by Scripture is absolutely appropriate. A great way to seek or offer clarification in a way that’s not undermining or usurping the teacher is to ask a question rather than make a statement.


6. Is it OK for women to teach at Christian middle schools, high schools, or colleges?

Of course. A school, even a Christian school, is not a church. The biblical prohibition is against women teaching men the Scriptures, and applies to the gathering of the church. However, I believe it is most in keeping with the spirit of Scripture for a man to teach (co-ed) Bible classes starting around the middle school level. And, since chapel is a worship service, it should be led by a biblically qualified man.


7. What about women preaching or teaching the Bible (to Christians) at a Bible study / small group in someone’s home, the workplace, a coffee shop, etc., at co-ed Christian conferences, campus ministries, youth ministries, or parachurch ministries? Is that OK since they’re not preaching and teaching “in the church”? 

Here, we need to remember what the definition of “church” is. The church is not a building, it is a body of born again believers gathered for the purpose of worship, prayer, the ordinances, and/or the study of God’s word. Those things can take place in a church building, a home (as with the first century churches in Acts), in a campus or office building, outdoors, in a conference center, in a sports arena, or anywhere else. So, when a body of believers comes together for these purposes, regardless of the building in which they meet, or whether you call it “church” or not, they are the church, and the biblical parameters about women teaching and holding authority over men applies.

This includes leading or facilitating co-ed Bible study groups / small groups meeting in homes. They should be led by men, and if the regular male leader is occasionally unable to lead, another man should fill in for him. (More here, 3rd section)

There are occasions when it is perfectly appropriate for a woman to address a co-ed audience at a Christian conference. For example, a woman who’s a computer expert teaching a breakout session on software that can be helpful to the church, or a woman experienced in children’s ministry teaching a session on security screening procedures, background checks, etc., or possibly even a situation like a women’s ministry leader addressing a group of pastors to give them insight into the struggles particular to Christian women, false teachers popular among Christian women, or how pastors can help the women in their church. The speaker would merely be handing the pastors a tool they can take back to their churches and implement. It’s akin to a nurse handing a doctor a scalpel during surgery so he can use it to operate. The biblical prohibition is against women instructing men in the Scriptures and exercising authority over men, not sharing their expertise or disseminating information on non-biblical topics. So women should not be preaching or teaching Bible lessons to mixed audiences at conferences, but there are other types of conference teaching and leadership that are perfectly biblical.

All of that being said, women who teach and speak, especially in the public eye, should give strong consideration to whether or not to speak on biblically-related topics (ex: discipleship, women’s or children’s ministry, ecclesiology, etc.) to audiences containing men, even if they are not technically teaching the Bible in that particular session. For one thing, it is nearly impossible to divorce teaching biblical topics from teaching Scripture. Indeed, biblical topics should be rooted in, and saturated with Scripture in order to teach them properly. Additionally, there are so many high profile Christian celebrities who violate Scripture’s prohibition on women teaching men that women speakers should consider how much more counter-culturally impactful it could be to the church, and to setting an example for women, to refuse to teach men.

Pastor Josh Buice does a wonderful job of restricting co-ed conference teaching to male pastors and teachers, while allowing doctrinally sound women to teach women’s breakout sessions at the annual G3 Conference he founded and leads. He explains more about women teaching at conferences (and other issues related to women teaching in the church) in his excellent article Why Women Should Not Teach the Bible to Men.


8. I teach at a Christian high school. My pastor says our school is an extension of the church. Is it OK for me to give a brief devotion and prayer in home room as required by my job description?

Yes. Again, regardless of what church or denominational leaders say about a Christian school being an extension, ministry, or outreach of the church, the fact of the matter is that a Christian school is not the same entity as a church. They are two different entities with two different purposes, parameters, and audiences (I mean, your church doesn’t charge tuition, right? And your school teaches subjects other than the Bible, yes? They’re different.).

The biblical admonition pertains to the church- the body of believers gathered for worship. These students are not gathered for worship, they are gathered for school, and the majority of them are probably not even believers. Additionally, these students are not yet adults, and are under your authority as their teacher in the classroom (similar to parental authority), not as their spiritual leader in a Bible study type of situation.


9. If I’m listening to a female Bible teacher and my husband walks through the room, should I turn off the program so he isn’t “taught” by the woman I’m listening to?

No, that’s not necessary. A man who overhears a female Bible teacher you’re listening to as he’s walking through the room is no more being “taught” than someone who gets a pie in the face is “eating.” He’s likely not even paying attention to it.


10. If I’m teaching a women’s Bible study and a man comes in wanting to join the class, should I stop teaching and ask him to leave? Should I put a sign on the door that says “women only”?

If you feel that a sign on the door would be helpful, then, by all means, post a sign. Usually if you advertise (on fliers, in announcements, etc.) the class as a “women’s Bible study” ahead of time, men get the picture and don’t show up.

If a man comes to your women’s Bible study and he isn’t there for another legitimate reason (such as the ones I mentioned earlier) but has come to the class seeking to be taught the Bible for himself, it would absolutely be appropriate for a female teacher to gently say something when he comes in like, “I’m sorry, but this is a women’s only class. Maybe you were looking for Joe Blow’s class down the hall?” Be kind. These days a lot of men don’t even know it’s unbiblical for a woman to teach men.


11. What about evangelism? Can women share the gospel with men at work, among friends and family, at the store, through an outreach ministry?

Women not only can share the gospel at every opportunity, the Great Commission mandates it for every Christian. However, it is important for godly women to use caution and wisdom when interacting with men in any situation, especially one that can turn out to be very personal and emotionally intimate, as with witnessing.

My counsel would be that you’re generally OK if you’re in a public place and it’s a one time encounter (for example, witnessing to a stranger at the store). However, if we’re talking about multiple encounters – for example, a male friend or co-worker who wants to continue meeting with you over time to talk about the gospel – it might be best to meet with him a couple of times (in a public area) and then “hand him off” to your husband, pastor, elder, brother, friend, etc., for further discussion.

There are several reasons for this.

It protects your reputation. If people see you meeting with a man on an ongoing basis (especially if one or both of you are married) they can jump to the wrong conclusion, and your reputation, and Christ’s, can be sullied.

It protects your virtue. Unfortunately, some men, who have no interest in the gospel, might see your eagerness to meet with them as an opportunity to take advantage of you.

It protects both of you from temptation. A personal relationship with Christ is exactly that- personal. Discussing sin, conviction, and other matters related to salvation can lead to emotional intimacy, which can then lead to physical intimacy. You don’t want what started as a witnessing encounter to end up as sin.

When it comes to outreach ministries (for example, a meal for the homeless, followed by a group gospel presentation or Bible lesson), it’s best for a man to lead co-ed (or male only) adult groups in anything that could be construed as preaching or teaching the Bible. Not because this is in the church setting and the situation falls directly under the parameters of 1 Timothy 2:12, but because…

…there are a lot of highly visible female preachers (Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Gloria Copeland, Christine Caine, etc.) out there, all of whom are in disobedience to 1 Timothy 2:12 and teach false doctrine (usually Word of Faith/New Apostolic Reformation).

The Bible says we’re to avoid even the appearance of evil, and you don’t want to appear to be one of those women if it’s avoidable. Having a man lead the teaching helps distance you and your church from those types of sinful women and their bad theology, and sets a godly example for the people you’re ministering to.

…the Great Commission is clear that we’re not just to make converts, we’re to make disciples. That means the ultimate goal of evangelism is to get the newly saved person plugged in to a local, biblical church. Why confuse a new Christian by having women lead out “in the field” when it’s not going to be that way in the church?

…there are very few examples in the world of what it really means to be a man. Men are constantly emasculated on TV and in society and receive all kinds of conflicting messages regarding what real manhood is. What an impact on lost men (and women) to see an example of a godly, masculine man who leads well, fulfills his duties and responsibilities, and is totally sold out to Christ. If you have someone like that, why wouldn’t you want him to lead?

Basic Training: The Great Commission

The Mailbag: Is it biblical for women to carry out The Great Commission?

Street Preaching: A Call to Arms (see links in 2nd paragraph)


12. What about teaching my sons the Bible? Should I stop when they are teenagers? If my husband isn’t saved, should I be the primary Bible teacher for my children?

This is a little bit of a different question because now we’re talking about the home instead of the church. We’re also talking about minor children who are under your authority as a parent rather than men or youth in your church who are not under your authority. Additionally, there is no Scripture which clearly addresses a specific age at which a mother should stop formally teaching her sons the Bible.

Ideally, Dad should regularly lead the whole family in Bible study, because the Bible says he is to be the spiritual leader of the home. But if your husband is OK with you also teaching your sons the Bible at another time of day in a way that complements what he’s doing in family worship time, there’s no biblical problem with that.

My husband leads our family worship, but I also teach my teenage sons a chapter of the Bible every morning before we start school. My husband is fine with that because it goes hand in hand with what he’s doing as our spiritual leader.

My counsel would be to talk it over with your husband and decide together what would be right for your family according to the limited biblical principles we have that address this issue. My thought is that as long as long as these children are in your home under your parental authority, and your husband is OK with it, it’s fine to formally teach them the Bible.

If your husband isn’t saved, yes, you should definitely be teaching your children the Bible. (If your husband is averse to this in any way, I would recommend setting up an appointment with your pastor for some counsel on navigating this situation.) Remember, this is the same situation Lois and Eunice were in, and they trained Timothy up in the faith.


13. What about teaching the boys in my church’s youth group?

Women should not serve as youth pastors. The Bible restricts pastoral and elder roles to men.

As to teaching the Bible to co-ed groups of minors (in Sunday School, as a youth helper, etc.), there is no hard and fast rule, but my recommendation is that a good time for women to break from teaching boys at church is around the time they start middle school. In the Bible, boys traditionally moved from childhood to adulthood at age thirteen. Jesus exhibited growth toward manhood and engaged the rabbis in the temple at age twelve. Of course, these are both anecdotal and neither means this age is the basis of any sort of law for Christian women about teaching boys, but there seems to be some wisdom there- a good rule of thumb. Once they hit their early teens, boys really need the guidance of godly men who can lead by example and teach them what it means to grow into godly manhood. When it comes to teaching adolescent boys at church, it’s much less about what women are “allowed” to do and much more about the best way to grow godly men. Only men can train boys to be men.

Additionally, though we adults may still see teenage boys as children, that is not how they think of themselves. When a woman teaches or holds authority over them in the church, they don’t think, “Oh, this is OK because I’m still a child,” they think “Oh, if she’s teaching me, it must be OK for women to teach men.” When women teach teenage boys, they’re unwittingly teaching by example that women teaching men is acceptable.


14. Is it OK for women to make announcements, or give mission reports or personal testimonies during the worship service?

I don’t see why these would be a problem biblically, as long as she doesn’t veer off into preaching, exhorting, or instructing the congregation… (A few more details in question #2 of this article.)

I’ve personally witnessed a few women who have veered off into preaching in these situations. 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, testimony, or report 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.


15. Should women lead prayers or read Scripture aloud (verbatim, no commentary or teaching) from the platform during the worship service?

My answer below assumes that the woman praying is not using her prayer as an opportunity to basically preach at or exhort the congregation. I have seen that done (similar to preaching/exhorting when making an announcement, see #14, above), and it is unbiblical.

I would discourage both for several reasons.

First, while neither is technically a violation of the “letter of the law,” so to speak, in the times we live in where so many women and their churches are in rebellion against the biblical role of women in the church, having a woman lead prayer or read Scripture from the pulpit or platform may send a message – to visitors and church members – that your church doesn’t want to send.

If a visitor walks in and sees a woman leading in this way she could draw the conclusion that your church is egalitarian. If she’s looking for an egalitarian church and thinks she’s found one, you’ll eventually have to disabuse her of that idea, possibly months down the road after she has already joined the church. If a visitor who’s complementarian comes in and sees women leading in this way, she could also draw the conclusion that your church is egalitarian and get up in the middle of the service and leave before you have a chance to explain the situation. The same kinds of conclusions could be drawn by the members of your church with similar results, causing unrest in your church. Why put a stumbling block in front of your visitors or members?

And on that same note, as a church member, you should take note if your church has a good history of male leadership, and suddenly starts having women pray or read Scripture from the platform during the worship service, especially if you’ve started noticing other red flags along the way. This could be the first sign that your church’s leadership wants to move in a more egalitarian direction, and they’re trying to slowly ease the church body into it. Set up an appointment with your pastor to kindly ask him about it.

Second, there seems to be a tragic dearth of male leadership in the church in general. So many men are either too lazy or too afraid to lead, or they see very few examples of what leadership by a godly man looks like. I think it would be great for the pastor to sometimes ask men who need to learn leadership skills to dip a toe in the water by leading a prayer during church, and at other times ask a spiritually mature man to model leadership skills by leading prayer during worship. Sometimes, these kinds of situations aren’t about women’s roles, but men’s needs.

Finally, you’ll notice the question specifically says, “from the platform during the worship service”. What about a situation like the (male) teacher of a co-ed adult Sunday School class asking for a volunteer to read a Scripture or pray, or calling on a particular female member of the class to read a Scripture or pray?

If you’re in a rock solid complementarian church, and there’s no concern that someone in the class will misconstrue what’s happening, that’s probably fine, unless your pastor has asked teachers to only call on men for those things, or something like that.


16. Should women serve as worship leaders? What about singing solos, singing in the choir, playing an instrument, etc.?

No, women should not serve as the worship leader. The primary reason I say this has more to do with the position of minister of music – a term I think we need to get back to – than the role of women in the church. For the secondary reason, see #15 above…Singing in the choir or on the praise team, singing solos, playing an instrument, etc., under the leadership of the minister of music, is, of course, fine… (See the remainder of my answer to this question in #4 of this article. And be sure to read Scott Aniol’s excellent article on this subject: Who Leads Worship?)


17. Should women serve as deacons/deaconesses?

It depends. Please see my article Deaconesses and Female Deacons.


18. Can women be missionaries? Is it biblical for women to carry out the Great Commission?

Yes. Absolutely. In fact, we need more women – single and married – to serve as missionaries (more men, too). The only caveat is that women who serve as missionaries need to do so in a way that is in keeping with Scriptural principles of women’s roles in the church. (For example, female missionaries should not be pastoring churches on the mission field. A missionary’s job is to share the gospel with people and then disciple them in sound doctrine, and you don’t want to be teaching false doctrine through the act of preaching to men.) But there are oodles of mission opportunities that fit the bill… (See the remainder of my answer to this question in this article.

The Mailbag: Is it biblical for women to carry out The Great Commission?


19. Can women perform baptisms?

Although there is no biblical prohibition against it, what seems to be most in keeping with the pattern of both Scripture and church history is for pastors and elders to perform baptisms. This would preclude women, as well as most men, from performing baptisms. For more details, see my article Basic Training: Baptism.


20. I’ve heard people say it’s OK for women to preach or teach the Bible to co-ed groups as long as they are doing so under their pastor’s and/or husband’s authority. Is this true?

No. There is no Scripture that says it’s OK for pastors/husbands to extend some sort of mantel of authority to a woman to do these things. When God says “no” about something, no man has a right to say “yes.” I’ve written more about this in my article Fencing off the Forbidden Fruit Tree. (Also see #24 below.)


21. Is it biblical for women to serve as children’s directors or children’s pastors/ministers?

It could be, depending on the situation. (Women should not bear the title Children’s “Pastor” or “Minister”, though. Biblically, women are not pastors/ministers, so carrying that title would be dishonest and misleading.)

It is perfectly biblical for women to teach and lead children in the church setting. (And when I say “children”, I mean birth to about age 12. I’ve addressed women teaching youth/teens above in #13.) The biblical prohibition is against teaching and holding authority over men in the church. Male children are not men.

The potential 1 Timothy 2:12 issue is not with teaching and leading children or supervising other women who teach children. The issue at play is whether or not a female children’s director will be holding unbiblical authority over any men who work or volunteer in the children’s department as Sunday school teachers, Awana leaders, nursery workers, etc. And that’s something that’s got to be examined on a case by case basis. It could be completely biblical for a woman to serve as a children’s director in one church but not in another simply due to circumstances of the environment.

Does the church have only women working in the children’s department? Is there an associate pastor or elder over the female children’s director that handles any issues of authority? Would she have to train, evaluate, or correct male volunteers? What kinds of things would male volunteers need to come to her about? These and other questions all need to be carefully considered by her pastor, elders, husband, and the woman herself.

If a pastor or elder oversees the children’s director’s leadership so that she is acting under his authority and at his direction (including the pastor/elder vetting and approving any curricula and materials, guest speakers, activities, etc., she wishes to use), and she is not violating Scripture by preaching to men, teaching men Scripture, or exercising authority over men, I don’t see why it would be a problem for a woman to lead the children’s ministry. In fact, Christian women and churches who handle this properly could be a superb example and model for other Christian women and churches.


22. Is it biblical for women to help take up the offering (“pass the plate”) during the worship service?

There’s nothing in Scripture that either instructs it or prohibits it, but churches have typically assigned this task to deacons and ushers, who have typically been men (see #17 above). If a church that has typically had deacons and ushers take up the offering suddenly decides to start adding women to that task, my question and concern would be, “Why?”. If they’re doing it as a first “baby step” toward egalitarianism, that’s problematic. If there’s a logistical or (in context, rightly handled) biblical reason for doing it, that’s another matter. I’d suggest asking your pastor about it. If he gives a good logistical (e.g. “We’re in a dangerous area and so many of the deacons are patrolling the property that we don’t have enough of them to take up the offering.”) or biblical reason, and everything else about the church is doctrinally sound, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. It’s certainly not something I would leave that church over.


23. What about women officiating weddings?

A woman “pastor” performed my wedding ceremony. Are my husband and I truly married in God’s eyes?

Yes, you’re still just as married as if a female justice of the peace, ship’s captain, etc. had performed the ceremony. God considers you just as married as He considers your atheist neighbors married who got married at the courthouse on their lunch break (of course, there are Christians who do this, too, and that’s fine).

I have heard from a few readers who, prior to getting saved, were married by civil officiants outside the church. After they got saved they decided to dedicate their marriage to God by renewing their vows in a church ceremony performed by their pastor. If, looking back, you’re uncomfortable that a woman “pastor” performed your ceremony, perhaps you’d like to do something like that.

Is a woman who is licensed by the state to perform weddings the same thing as a woman being a pastor? Is it biblical for women to be civilly licensed as wedding officiants?

Please see my article The Mailbag: Potpourri (Breastfeeding videos…Women performing weddings…Only God is awesome?).

Is it biblical for me to attend a wedding that’s being officiated by a woman “pastor”?

Please see my article The Mailbag: Potpourri (Female officiant, JMac attack, Google 101…).


24. Is it OK for a woman to “co-teach” a co-ed adult Sunday School, Bible study, small group, etc., class with her husband (or another man)?

It depends on what you and your church mean by that term. What the term “co-teaching” actually means is that you and another teacher(s) take turns teaching the class the Bible lesson. If that’s how you and your church are using that term, then, no, you shouldn’t be co-teaching. It doesn’t matter whether you’re teaching every week or every other week or once a month or whatever. You’re still teaching men the Bible, and that’s still a sin.

However, some churches / Christians will say that, for example, a husband and wife are “co-teaching” a Sunday School class when what they really mean is that the husband is doing all of the actual Bible teaching and the wife is taking care of the administrative duties of the class like making the coffee, taking attendance, organizing fellowships, contacting those who have been absent, etc., but not doing any of the actual teaching. That is absolutely fine, but they need to stop calling it “co-teaching” – a) because it’s not, and b) because it leads others to believe they and their church are sinning when they’re actually not.

(Also see #20, above.)


There are thousands of practical scenarios we could go through about women teaching men, but at the end of the day, we ladies have to examine our hearts honestly and ask ourselves: Is it my heart’s desire to do everything I can to obey and submit to Scripture out of love for Christ, or is it my heart’s desire to do what I want to do and either ignore Scripture or twist Scripture to make it fit what I want out of love for myself? That’s ultimately the heart of the matter.


¹It’s important that we ladies remember whose authority we’re under. First and foremost, we are under the authority of Christ and His word, and we are to submit to and obey Him. Next, if you’re a minor still living at home, you are under your parents’ authority, and God’s word directs you to honor and obey them. If you are married, the Bible says that you are to submit to and respect your husband. Finally, SCRIPTURE tells us that we are to submit to the biblical instruction of godly pastors and elders
I remind us of these authorities in our lives because, while I can provide answers to questions, I am not an authority in your life. Your husband, parents, or pastor might prefer that you act in ways other than those I’ve outlined above, so, as long as those ways are in compliance with Scripture, please be sure you’re submitting to them.