When My Friend (a She) Became a Deacon

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 6.31.20 AMBy Traci Rhodes, at Arise and CBE

Traci Rhoades writes, from her Michigan countryside kitchen, over at tracesoffaith.com (a bit of a play on her name). When she first started blogging, she wondered what unique voice she could bring. She’s landed on this one-line description: “A Country Girl Goes To Church.” 

It all began because I wanted to stir things up a little bit. The idea wouldn’t have even occurred to me twenty or even ten years earlier. I had probably just finished Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge. Or maybe Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey. Of course, looking back now, I realize that I read and discussed both of these books with Amy.

Every year, our church hands out ballots to nominate deacons and elders and every year, I write down the names of a few women, including my friend Amy. Nothing ever came of it. Nothing that I could see anyway.

How often do we doubt that God is at work because we don’t see immediate results?

God began to do a work in our governing body. It started with closed door meetings. The deacons and elders of our church took a hard look at Scripture. They dialogued with other churches who had walked through the process of ordaining women.

With open hearts, our leaders turned to Scripture again. They reread passages very familiar to them. They returned to the book of Romans, to Phoebe and the word “deacon.” They learned a new thing.

These decisions shouldn’t be made lightly. I’d be disappointed if they were.

I remember telling Amy about my voting record, about how I was such a rebel for Jesus in nominating women. Her husband was a deacon at the time and she often shared about her role and work on several of his projects regardless of any title.

A stirring of hearts continued in our church. And then, a few months ago, we got our consistory ballots and I wrote down the names of my Christian sisters again. Later, I learned that several other church members had nominated women.

I began praying about what God would do, first in our hearts and then in our midst.

With open hearts, our leaders turned to Scripture again. They reread passages very familiar to them. They returned to the book of Romans, to Phoebe and the word “deacon.” They learned a new thing.

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae” (Romans 16:1 NIV).

God’s answer to our prayers and months of research and soul-searching by our leaders was delivered to the congregation in August. Our pastor preached a sermon on women in leadership, announcing that the church leadership has changed its mind about the inclusion of women as deacons.

We cast our ballots for the new consistory a few weeks later and, for the first time in its history, our Reformed church appointed two female deacons.

 About a month later, we held the ordination. I shared these thoughts on Facebook that Sunday afternoon:

“Today our church commissioned one of two women deacons. A dear friend of mine. Now I know some denominations have women in all kinds of leadership positions. But for this former Southern Baptist, this was a very big deal. It felt momentous. Except it also sort of felt ordinary. Like this is how it should always be. She didn’t look out of place up there among all those men. I know she’ll seek God in her service to our church and community. I heard the Spirit whisper to me, this is good. This is a beginning.”

I wondered if that’s how it felt for more than eight million women when they voted in local elections for the first time in 1920. Without a doubt, voting was a big deal for women, but I wonder if it also seemed like they were doing what they should have been doing all along.

We cast our ballots for the new consistory a few weeks later and, for the first time in its history, our Reformed church appointed two female deacons.

Let me tell you about my friend Amy. She grew up in the church. She comes from generation after generation of devout Protestants. She knows her Bible inside and out. She reads it still. She lives it. When I learned that my church had nominated her as a deacon, my first thought wasn’t that a woman had finally made the cut. My first thought was:

Thank you Lord that this godly woman, who has mentored me in a thousand ways for years, has seen her sphere of influence expand. Others will know you better because of her impact.

Now, let me tell you about my pastor. He also grew up in the church, born and raised Baptist. He holds a Master of Divinity. He knows his Bible inside and out. He reads it still. He lives it. As I sat and listened to his sermon on women taking leadership roles in the church, my first thought wasn’t that it was about time. My first thought was:

Thank you Lord for a godly pastor who never claims to have arrived. Thank you for our consistory. They’re still seeking you and are willing to work through the tough theological issues that directly affect both our church and their core belief systems.

Our churches are filled with godly men and women who want to follow Jesus well. The “jerks” are the exceptions. We read the same Bible and sometimes, we reach different conclusions. Folks, we’ve been doing that for thousands of years!

Some of us have been taught a certain way since we were little children. So give grace when where you are spiritually looks different than where other believers are at any given moment.

It’s what families do.

But there’s great hope. Through the glorious process of sanctification, the Holy Spirit works in us to show us new things. Pray that we’ll all continue to do the work. Pray for open hearts and minds that are willing to let God take us to new places.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.


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