Should Women Serve As Deacons In Southern Baptist Churches?

women.jpg

I am currently preaching through the book of 1 Timothy at Fairview Baptist Church. This morning we examined the qualifications of pastors/elders and deacons from 1 Timothy 3:1-13. During this particular sermon, I argued the following:

“Based on Scripture, I do believe it’s possible for women to serve as deacons in some settings.”

This statement flowed from an exegetical study, and a willingness to reexamine my own assumptions, presuppositions, biases, historical understandings, and personal filters. I am conservative in my theology. To some people, a statement like the one above is often associated with moderate or liberal Baptists.

Therefore, I would like to explain why I believe this can be the case from Scripture, and then consider how church context plays into the discussion.

The Biblical Evidence

There are basically two schools of thought. Good conservative Bible-believing scholars and pastors differ on this complex issue. Therefore, I think we should be careful by approaching it with wisdom and grace.

In 1 Timothy 3:8-13 Paul lays out the qualifications for deacons. In general, I would argue that deacons provide leadership in the service-oriented and administrative matters pertaining to the physical needs of the church (Acts 6:1-4). This is important for the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, in the sense that deacons serve in areas like finances (1 Tim. 3:8), administration (1 Tim. 3:12), visitation (1 Tim. 3:11), and meeting to the needs of the church family (Acts 6:1-4).

In reference to women serving as deacons, the debate centers around verse 11 and its surrounding context, namely, does Paul mean deacons wives, deacons along with their wives, or women serving as deacons? Consider a few translations:

  • “In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything” (NIV).
  • “Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (ESV).
  • “Wives, too, must be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything” (CSB).
  • “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things” (NASB).

One of the first things you will notice is that the text, depending on the version, translates this verse as “their wives”, “wives too”, or “women”. First, the pronoun “their” is actually not in the Greek, the original language of the New Testament. Some Bible translators argue that it is implied, but it’s certainly not explicit. Therefore, we must admit there is some ambiguity here. Even still, it is very possible that the best translation for verse 11 is not “their wives”, but wives or women. It seems that Paul is referring to women in general or married women (wives).

Some have argued that Paul is referring to deacons as a married couple (male and female) serving together in this office. Both husband and wife could inevitably be involved in the deacon ministry to some extent and, therefore, needed to be of good Christian character. However, the absence of the pronoun “their” (as in “their wives”) makes this interpretation less likely.

The second thing to notice is the adverb “too” or “likewise”. This is important for the context. The argument is, Paul begins by addressing deacons in general, switches the attention to women in verse 11, and then to men in verse 12 (one woman man, the leader in the home), and back to deacons in general in verse 13. Paul used the word “too/likewise” in order to transition from talking about elders in verse 7 to talking about deacons in verse 8. Paul then used this same word “too/likewise” in verse 11 to transition into talking about wives or women. The more natural reading of the original language is first pastors/elders (men) likewise, to deacons likewise.

Third, why does Paul not give qualifications for pastor/elders wives? After giving specific responsibilities for male elder’s in the home (1 Timothy 3:1-7), why is there no mention of their wives?

Fourth, some may argue that based on Acts 6:3, deacons should only be men. That is because the text reads “select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” Acts 6:1-6 records the choice of “the seven” to diaconal service. While it does not use the technical term and noun “deacon” for their status or work, it surely provides the background to and informs the content of the New Testament office of deacon. (The Greek verb from which we get the English word deacon, to serve, is used in 6:2.) The question is, should we read this passage as descriptive of the early church or prescriptive for all churches? If we read it as prescriptive, then how does one deal with Romans 16:1, where the word often translated deacon is used of Phoebe (a woman)? Phoebe is referred to as a “servant of the church” (a specific church), which would seem to point to a diaconal role. Moreover, the description of her ministry in Romans 16:2 fits well with the type of ministry associated with New Testament deacons.

Fifth, the qualifications for deacons do not require the “ability to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2), which is a requirement given to men as pastor/elders. To be clear, I believe that the pattern of the New Testament presents the case pastoral ministry is limited to men (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). That is much easier to argue than the case for deacons as men only. Even the Baptist Faith and Message (2000), the conservative standard of doctrine for Southern Baptist Churches makes this clear, arguing that the “…scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

The Contextual Considerations

Depending on what tradition you were raised in, you’re probably already inclined to lean toward a specific position regarding women as deacons. However, this should not be decided from our preference or tradition; it’s up to the Word. Personally, I believe that God’s word is authoritative. As the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) reads, “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.”

Yet, even while we agree that the Word is the final authority, the Word is not entirely clear or explicit in this instance. While one’s tradition may lean towards a certain understanding, conservative biblical scholars are on both sides of this issue. What is clear? The primary focus of deacon ministry is centered on the service-oriented and administrative tasks primarily related to the physical needs of the church, allowing the pastors/elders (called men) to be fully devoted to the spiritual needs of the church. This is why I argued, “…it’s possible for women to serve as deacons in some settings.”

Why the qualifier “some” settings? In many Southern Baptist churches, the deacons serve as quasi-elders or a board of directors. In these cases, the deacons play a significant leadership role in the church that blurs the lines between pastor/elder and deacon. In these cases, I would argue that women should probably not serve in a deacon capacity. In other cases where the men serve as pastor/elders, and the role of pastor/elder and deacon is clearly differentiated, I think women can and should serve as deacons. Even if your church holds to deacons as men only view, I would challenge you to consider how women are serving the body. I would be willing to bet (no, I don’t gamble), many of the women are already serving in a deacon-like manner.

The central issue here, and how we answer the question, should women serve as deacons, must be shaped and limited by the word of God. All of us would recognize that we approach the word of God with assumptions, presuppositions, biases, historical understandings, and personal filters. There are Southern Baptist Churches that limit the role of deacon to men, there are other Southern Baptist Churches that have men serving as elder/pastors, and both men and women serving as deacons. This is why it is important to consider the context of the church, and why humility, openness, and community become so important in discussions like these.

Further Resources 

Summer Reading List

Quote (2)

I recently joined a podcast called “The Front Pew” with Chris Griggs and Ben Rudolph. The podcast is a conversation between three pastors in North Carolina about life, ministry, church and mission as they see it…from the front pew.

This past episode, we discussed the importance of reading and offered a list of books to read over the summer. Here is our list.

The Christian Life

Theology

Ecclesiology

Pastoral Ministry

Biography/History

Fun/Enjoyment

Take up and read!

COUNSEL FOR PASTORAL COUNSELORS

louis-blythe-192943.jpg

I have a new article at For The Church exploring thoughts on pastoral counseling. Here is an excerpt.

“Pastoral counseling is both a privilege and burden. Paul Tripp has aptly reminded us that “We must not let ourselves become comfortable with the casual, where ministry is limited to offering general principles that would fit anyone’s story. The genius of personal ministry is that it is [deeply] personal…This means that effective, God-honoring, heart-changing personal ministry is dependent on a rich base of personal information. You cannot minister well to someone you do not know” (Instruments In The Redeemers Hands, 165). The nature of pastoral ministry, true biblical shepherding, means that we will know more about those in our congregations than others will. Sometimes that knowledge deeply affects us as pastors. In heavy pastoral counseling situations, we must understand that grief will often accompany us as we journey with the counselee towards healing. We need to have an intentional plan for our own health, and the counselees good. Having a plan can help forge a path to walk with a hurting church member towards hope. More importantly, we must intentionally walk them towards our only hope, the great physician, Jesus Christ. So when we weep, we weep with perspective. When we weep, we do not weep as those who have no hope. As pastors, it is important that we cast all of our pastoral burdens on God, because he cares for us, just like he cares for those under our spiritual care (1 Pet. 5:7).”

Read the whole thing at For The Church.

The Curious Christian

hero-cover-2Curiosity is such a childish word, right? Not so fast. Just because we grow up doesn’t mean we should lose our wonder at the world, or the people around us. When we do, we lose so much because curious is how God made us to be.

My friend Barnabas Piper is on to something here. Without curiosity a Christian’s life is incomplete. “Without curiosity he can never discover deep things, deep connections God tucked below the banal surface of life.”

In his new book, Piper explores what curiosity is, and how it affects relationships. Here are a few good quotes!

  • Curiosity is more than a mere trait. It is a discipline, a skill, a habit – one that will expand your life in magnificent, if subtle, ways.
  • Imagination guides and shapes our use of information.
  • God is echoed in rhythms of music, meter of poems, strokes of brush, taps of a hammer, numbers on a pivot table, laughs with a friend, fantastical fiction, icicles, acorns, sweet tea, oak trees, walleye, alloy metals, espresso, and cirrus clouds.
  • You and I were created to create and discover, created for the vocation of reflecting God’s image.
  • Curiosity combined with courage presses in and digs deeper in relationship.
  • If curiosity is not increasing our joy and capacity for enjoyment then something is amiss.
  • Curiosity is a hunger to know more truth so that we can show people more truth so that our world will see more of God.
  • Curious people create more, find better solutions to problems, overcome challenges, meet needs that arise, make connections, and prepare better for the future.
  • Open-mindedness, at its best, is humility and grace blended with curiosity – but not without conviction.
  • The Christian faith should be curious, not blind. It should be full of questions, not fear questions.
  • True curiosity is the pursuit of truth, the exploration of God’s creation and will for the world.
  • Questions are the currency of curiosity. But unlike other currency there is no withdrawal limit and they multiply themselves. Spend liberally.

Be curious. By all means, invest the time to read this book.

The Gospel of Jesus in Jonah

jonah

What does Jonah have to do with Jesus? Here is one thought…

“The good news of the gospel is that Jesus has provided a way of salvation. Jesus (though He did not deserve it like Jonah did) hurled himself into the storm of God’s wrath so that you and I might be saved. When Jesus sunk to the depths of death on our behalf, he made it possible for us to arrive safely on the shore of eternity. That is not only good news for us; it’s also good news for those around us.”

This is an excerpt from a reflection on the gospel of Jesus in the book of Jonah that I wrote for The Gospel Project. You can read the whole thing here.

Eugene Peterson and The Pastoral Imagination

There is something special about pastoring a local church.

Being called to shepherd a local congregation and being a part of a particular church family is a blessing.

In the American church we often hold the megachurch pastors in high esteem becuase of the breadth of their influence. This is something we can be thankful for, if they steward their influence well.

However, let us not forget that the depth of ministry in a local community – through a local congregation – is a powerful witness to the kingdom of God.

While local church ministry happens in obscurity, it has profound implications on eternity.

In the past few years I have come to appreciate the ministry of Eugene Peterson. His writings have profoundly shaped my pastoral imagination.

Take a few minutes and watch this video from Nav Press and you will see why. Also, if you have not read any of Peterson’s books – I encourage you to do so. Here is a link to his Amazon Author’s Page.

Community (Part 2)

As stated in my last post, I recently contributed to a free 10-week Bible study for the North Carolina Baptist State Convention called Patterned. This curriculum explores what it means to be a disciple-maker.

This free curriculum includes a downloadable workbook and videos for each session. Here is a list of the topics covered in the curriculum. I wrote the sessions for week 6 on community.

Week 1: Praying for the Lost
Week 2: Defining Evangelism and Discipleship
Week 3: Studying the Bible
Week 4: Telling your Story
Week 5: Gospel Conversations
Week 6: Community
Week 7: Unreached People Groups
Week 8: Ministry Opportunities/Storying
Week 9: Living Intentionally
Week 10: Transformation, not Information; Sending

Visit the website to find out more: Patterned