Should there be a diaconate in a church? First of all we need to know what a diaconate is. It is a group of church members who have been appointed as deacons in a church who meet together to discuss and decide corporately, on issues related to church business. Let us consider this issue.
It is clear from scripture that there should be deacons in a church. At Philippi for example. Paul and Timothy writes To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: (Phil 1:1). In Acts 6 with those appointed to resolve the issues of the dispute of allocation of resources among the widows we appear to have the prototype deacons established. These are men who take on a responsibility for practical church matters so as to allow the elders to function in their shepherding role.
The Acts 6 passage is most helpful in guiding us to the conclusion that deacons are appointed to serve in certain responsibilities. So deacons should not just be generically appointed to be deacons. Rather they should be appointed to certain tasks. So you have a deacon responsible for the buildings or responsible for the finances or responsible for stewarding or responsible for music etc.. The key thing is that they are taking on the supervising of tasks so as to release the elders for their leading ministry.
It is the elders who are to meet together to discuss and decide corporately on issues related to church business. Which all means that there should not be a diaconate in a church. Deacons serve certain ministries (generally of a practical nature), they are not a collective decision making body in a church.
It seems to be an increasing phenomenon that churches have deacons who are ladies and “women workers”. I just want to consider this issue.
The initial thing to consider is whether or not there should be women deacons in a church. The key passage here is 1 Timothy 3:8-13 and in particular v11. In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. The word women here can also be rendered “wives”; the context determines which it is to be. If it is taken as wives then it is very curious that no mention is made of the elders wives in vv 1-7 where the qualifications of elders are stated. Accordingly, it is best to take it as meaning “women”
So if there are women then are they to be recognised as deacons? It is clear from v12 that the deacon is a male, after all he has to be married to a woman. So the women described in v11 cannot be deacons.
However, their description is stated within the passage giving the qualifications for deacons and so it seems that their ministry is closely connected to that of deacons, but they are not deacons. The use of the term “in like manner” indicates that they are a different, but similar, category to the deacons.
So to refer to “the women” simply as that would not be untoward. But the terms “women deacons”, “women servants” or “women workers” all seem to be appropriate designations. The mentioning of Phoebe in Romans 16:1 as the “diakonos” of the church in Cenchreae would refer to a woman of this ilk.
So what would their ministry be? It would be the like that of the deacons, but probably with an emphasis on those ministries to other women which would be more appropriate for them to undertake.