“Its 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.” -2000 Baptist Faith and Message
It’s Time To Take a Closer Look
Should women be deaconesses? Yes. Is this something I just made up? No. According to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, it seems that the office of pastor is the only office limited to men.
“The office of pastor is limited to men.”
So why don’t we see more women serving as deacons in our Southern Baptist churches? Because deacons tend to function like elders, instead of the way the Bible defines them. When we define these offices based on what the Bible has prescribed will we start to remove the barrier for women to fully use the gifts that God has equipped them with? I believe, at least for, Southern Baptists, we have long kept women in our churches from carrying out their gifts in this biblical office. It’s time we revise our statement of faith in this area so that we, together as a denomination, can enable the women God has raised up to serve our local churches in a God-ordained, and God-glorifying office.
It’s Time to Stop Limiting Women in Our Churches
According to the present structure in the majority of our Southern Baptist churches, women cannot be deacons because they would be functioning outside of the Biblical mandate. What I mean by this is that the way a lot of SBC churches are setup deacons act as pastors. According to Scripture, deacons do not have authority in the church. Pastor/Elder is the only office that has been ordained by God to hold authority. Now, most churches may not specifically define that deacons have authority in their church’s doctrine, but this is what they are practically living out as a church. Especially if you take a closer look at how a deacon board is run. Most business meetings may be moderated by a pastor, but most cases a man called the “head deacon” has the final say. The role of the “head deacon” is an extra-biblical term and because most churches give this position authority it is not from God. This man-made structure has caused women who would be willing to demonstrate their gifts to shy away.
God has gifted Christian women with gifts of service. Some women have been set apart by God to meet the qualification of deacon. But because our churches have gone the traditional man-made route of how they view deacons we have restricted what God has designed.
It’s Time to Revise How Autonomous SBC Churches Should Be
I trace part of this problem to the autonomy of churches. Autonomous churches are able to make decisions based on how they interpret Scripture. Of course, our hope as Southern Baptists is that these churches who give to the Cooperative Program would also act like an SBC church and affirm the BF&M 2000. But there is a difference between affirming a statement of faith and living it out in the church. Autonomous churches are able to govern and define leadership roles as they choose, but this has proven to be unhelpful especially when it comes to hindering women who are biblically qualified for the deacon office. Though the Southern Baptist Convention may make a resolution toward a Biblical view of church government the local churches do not have to adhere to it. It’s more of a statement than an applied or constituted action. On the other hand, if Southern Baptists want to reflect honesty and bring candor back to its denomination they will submit to a firm Biblical view of ecclesiology. It starts with a good lesson in Baptist History. There is a lot to be written on this crucial issue. It needs to be solved. This is a hill worth dying on. I have known many women in the past who struggle with leading in the church and this is one way a woman can lead and not be in a position of authority. There’s a difference in having the authority and leading through service.
It’s Time to Clarify the Diaconate
One of my pastors has written an excellent post at a site called Thinking & Theology on how our church has revised the roles of the deacons. This is a step that every SBC church needs to take. I think it’s safe to say that when the last two generations defined deacons they weren’t always looking to the Scriptures. This has done too much harm to our churches. We need to revise the diaconate both in what the Bible says their responsibilities in the church are and who can be a deacon. As Southern Baptists, we need to reconsider our position biblically and doctrinally if women should be left out of the diaconate. According to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, which all SBC churches should affirm, states the pastorate is limited to men. This should be interpreted then that women should be allowed to be considered for the office of deacon.
It’s Time We Start to Do Church God’s Way
If you were to join a Southern Baptist church in the deep south, it wouldn’t take long to see who had the authority in the church. Historically, the people of the church had the final say on matters within the church. As we turn the clock from the late 1800’s to the late 20th century that has not been the case. Most SBC churches in the south are made up of one pastor, a board of deacons, and the body of believers. While the pastor should spend most of his time in prayer and studying the Word it turns out this is not the case. Instead of this, the pastor tends to do everything in the church from ordering flowers for a funeral, changing the church sign, mowing the grass, and closing up the church. The responsibilities that the pastor takes on usually should be divided up to the deacons who biblically speaking are responsible for serving the church building and grounds so the pastor/pastors can study, handle membership interviews, pray, and make hospital visits. Also, something that needs to be said is that church members have responsibilities too! There may be specific qualifications and expectations for elders and deacons in the Bible. But this doesn’t mean that church members don’t have tasks too. When we start doing church God’s way, the pastor(s) will be less likely to face burn out, the deacons will not take a misstep of authority, and the congregation will see that they are a vital part in the life of the church. When the body of believers starts taking steps towards biblically healthy habits then they might start fulfilling the Great Commission. When we don’t follow God’s instructions for church polity the church body can confuse God’s mission for the church.
Our SBC churches must consider whether or not they want to honor men or honor God. When we choose to honor God we will start to examine our churches through the lens of the Word. We have looked to man-made models that exist in worldly structures too quickly. Man-made created positions within the church have caused confusion. Church members who don’t partake of the Word have allowed power-hungry leaders stir the church off the path of the biblical way. As a Christian and a Southern Baptist, I desire that women don’t have to tip-toe around how much they should lead. Revising the diaconate with the Word of God will prove that women are welcome to serve as deaconesses. The “Phoebes” of the church will rise up and it will be better for the church. Women in seminary can be trained for more than just counselors. They can be trained for the church as members and aspire to be deacons. This is not just a Presbyterian idea, but a biblical idea.
Here are some articles I’ve found helpful
On the biblical role of deacon:
The Role, Requirements, and Reward of a Deacon by Nathan Rose, Pastor at Liberty Baptist Church
On the support of women as deaconesses:
I’m a Complementarian, But… Women Can Be Deacons by Thabiti Anyabwile, Pastor at Anacostia River Church
Woman Servants by Ligonier Ministries
The Case for Commissioning (Not Ordaining) Deaconesses by Tim Keller
What are your thoughts? Should the SBC revise their statement on who can be a deacon or deaconess? As a Convention, are we limiting women who are qualified to serve as deaconesses?