Deaconess Role & Qualifications: What is the role of the Deaconess in the church?
1. There is a general consensus regarding the Black Baptist Church's understanding of the character of the Deaconess, if for no other reason, the character of a Deaconess is spelled out very clearly in First Timothy 3:11. In this passage the word women is interpreted by Baptists to mean "wives" of male deacons.
2. Traditionally, the Deaconess is the female wife of her husband who is a Deacon. Traditionally she assists in the following areas:
a. Assists her husband in home and hospital visits
b. Assists the Deacons in carrying out Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
c. Provide spiritual counseling to females of the church
d. Provide instruction for single women, wives and young teens in church etiquette and church protocol and general matters of faith.
3. In the last 20 years or so, there has been a growing defection from the traditional understanding of the Deaconess and therefore the role of the Deaconess. This departure stems from a re-visitation of the texts that have been traditionally interpreted as deaconess or servant when the Bible passage is referring to women. For example Romans 16:1 states, according to the King James Version, "I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is in Cenchreae..." Some Baptist interpret servant to mean deaconess because the word in Greek, diakonos, is the same word used in other places for a male Deacon. Such is the case in first Timothy 3:8. Since some pastors' theology of ministry leadership, especially ordained leadership, does not permit women to be ordained, Phoebe could not be called a Deacon, so they have given females servants the name deaconess.
This decision to give female servants the name deaconess to distinguish them from male deacons who are ordained, they justify theologically by additional New Testament texts; Jesus' own decision to not call women to his side as his special appointed/ordained disciples, and Black Baptist church tradition.
Pastors who have decided to not make a gender distinction between males and females have justified ordaining female deacons on the basis of theological interpretations of texts, as well as, precedents established by the theological interpretation by the early church fathers.
For example, the early church Father, John Chrysostom in Homilies on Roman 31 (on Rom 16:1; late 4th century), understood diakonos to be a term of rank and that "even women are instituted deacons in the church."
Ignatius, Bishop of Rome at the turn of the century, twice refers to a deacon of one church serving as an ambassador to another church. (Ignatius Letter to the Philadelphians 10:1; Letter to the Ephesians 2.1)
Women were also among the ranks of deacons in the Ephesians church: "Women (deacons), likewise, are to be worthy of respect, not slanderers, temperate, and trustworthy in everything" (I Timothy 3:11 my translation.).
Dr. Linda Belville in her article, Women Leaders in the Bible, DISCOVERING BIBLICAL EQUALITY: COMPLEMENTARITY WITHOUT HIERARCHY, INTERVARSITY PRESS 2004, P.122) states, "That Paul is speaking of women in a recognized leadership role is apparent not only from the listing of credentials but also from the fact that these credentials are duplicates of those listed for male deacons in I Timothy 3:8-10. Also, the Greek word order of I Timothy 3:8 and 11 is identical: "[Male] deacons likewise [diakonous hosautos] must be serious, not double-tongue, not indulging in much wine...Women likewise must be serious, not slanders, but temperate" (I Tim 3:8,11 NRSV).
Clement of Alexandria (second-third centuries) says, "For we know what the honorable Paul in one of his letters to Timothy prescribed regarding women deacons." Clement of Alexandria Strategies 3.6.53).