I grew up in a tradition that didn’t have female deacons or elders. They took Paul’s admonition that a woman should live in all submission very seriously. The women were quiet in all of the meetings that we had. However, when I reached my late teens women were allowed to pray in the prayer meeting. They had always been allowed to pray silently alongside the men, but now they were allowed to pray out loud. Some would say that it was hypocrisy because women were allowed to lead in prayer, but not at the weekends. Others would say that the church of God became more whole when this move was made.
In chapter 16 of Romans Phoebe is listed as a deacon, diakonos, or servant. This is where we get our word minister. Can a woman be a minister? I hope that it is beyond debate that men and women both minister in the church. The question is not whether a woman ministers, it is how a woman ministers. The phrasing below seems to indicate that Phoebe had a respected position in the church of Cenchreae. The emphasis, though, is not on her title but on her service. In many church squabbles, the fight is one of power and status. In this instance, a woman is commended for her leadership in serving others. Men are called to the same type of leadership.
Men and women need to work together to see the needs in home, church, and community. Rather than be nagged into submission by a ‘submissive’ wife, a man needs to look for ways the community is best served. A woman often sees what needs to be done and serves by taking care of it. Whether that role is empowered by using the title Deacon or whether the actions are behind the scenes, such a woman has the mind of Christ.
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. 2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.