You will find that I speak more often about Baptist churches because it is what I know. My background is 53 years of active service as an adult in my Baptist churches. In the little Baptist church where I grew up, my father was the pianist, and a deacon, and a licensed Baptist minister. I worked for Baptist General Convention of Texas for almost 15 years and my blogs, Twitter and website reflect my Baptist background. My blog and my books are written because of this Baptist heritage. So it is with both confidence and anguish that I write.
Each denomination determines what its pastoral and lay leaders are called, whether they are called pastors, teaching ministers, or elders and deacons.
Almost all Baptists structure their churches with the Pastor being the head of the church (even though they might choose different words to frame it), with deacons being the governing/ministry body of the church. Some few have elders. Deacons are almost always men, because 1 Timothy 3:12 says they must be the husband of one wife, and everybody knows that wives cannot be husbands. This is the same qualification used for choosing a pastor. The big difference is that a pastor is paid and actually determines the direction of the church; while deacons are unpaid volunteers and generally follow the pastor’s lead (if they like him).
Deacons are men who are chosen by the church body, and are ordained into the ministry of deacon for life. The Bible does not say that deacons have to be ordained. Women are denied ordination to any service in a Baptist church, including that of being a deacon. Ordination is how the church has chosen to set aside the office of deacon. If the deacon leaves the church that ordained him, he qualifies to be a deacon in his new church. He may or may not choose to do so, however, and it is not guaranteed that the new church will have a place for him.
Deacons were instituted in the Early Church so they could serve those who were in need, as we read in Acts 5:2, “So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.’”
So, in Baptist churches, deacons serve the Lord’s Supper, even though that is not the table that was being referred to in Acts 5:2. The table in Acts 5:2 means distributing food to the widows.
The strange thing about the qualifications for a deacon as given in 1 Timothy 3, is that nothing is said about a deacon’s duties to the church or its members. However, the word deacon means servant, so they are to serve. That is noble, honorable, and spiritual. It is also something that women can do.
Deacons do not preach, they often do not teach a Sunday school class, and mainly they attend meetings. They are often charged with the financial side of ministry (building programs, maintenance, etc.). Deacons do not administer the Food Pantry in churches, and helping the hungry is seldom their responsibility.
In my 53 years of being a Baptist, I have never had a deacon call me or express any interest in my family’s well-being, perhaps because I was in church every Sunday. At a church my husband and I attended for 12 years, a deacon was assigned to each church member. One year they began promoting a deacon/flock dinner and the deacons were to send invitations to their flock, inviting them to the dinner. Don and I were not invited. This was before my church had any inkling that I was about to become radical and promote women’s equality. Finally, the day before the dinner, I called to find out who our deacon was and invited myself and Don to the dinner.
The reason the above information is important to know is that this church, like most Baptist churches, adheres strictly to the men-only qualification for deacons. It does not seem to matter what a deacon does, as long as he is male. A deacon can be as good or as indifferent as he chooses to be. Being a deacon is a position of servanthood that women are denied, simply because they are not men. It gives the church a false sense of following the Bible’s teaching.
Being a deacon is a ministry of service. It was instituted in the Early Church as a way of helping people. Why are women making such a big deal about not being allowed to serve as a deacon? Let me turn that question around and ask this of you. Why is the church making such a big deal of being a deacon that women are denied this opportunity of service?
Give that some thought.