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Different Titles, Same Roles

June 11, 2013

Churches have differing theological positions on women being in ministry. While I am not prepared to tackle a series on that topic, I will address one of the peripheral issues – job titles and duties. To give you a better understanding, I will give you several examples:

– A man is a deacon but a woman holds the title deaconess for the same role.

– There is a “Men’s Pastor” but a “Women’s Director”

– A man is a Worship Pastor (or Youth Pastor). When he is replaced a woman is hired and the title is changed to Music Leader or Worship Director (or Youth Director)

The rub here is churches are changing the titles for women in positions. The same positions men held, with the same duties as a man, but the title is changed to ensure she is not called a pastor due to a church’s theological position. Again, I am not addressing the greater issue here. I am addressing the fundamental problem with changing titles.

First, the title in Scripture is “deacon.” There is no “deaconess.” Why have we invented the feminized version of deacon? The only reason it is done is to create a distinction between a man and a woman. This is a change that occurred well after the first century believers. They made no distinction between the sexes. We are in dire need to return to that. Bring the women who are deacons back to the level ground they were at in the first century and call them deacons. Rid deaconess from church vocabulary.

The second issue has to do with ethics, not theology. If the job description does not change, why does the title? If the church holds to a Complementarian theology, changing the title does nothing to free them of the theology. Reality of the situation is they have placed a woman in a leadership role with a downgraded title. What option is there? It is quite simple, hire a man for the position or give the woman the title equal of the man who held the position before her – most likely being Pastor.

For some reason this seems to happen in two particular areas – youth and worship. The hypocrisy of the title shuffle is happening in front of the whole church and it has been so blinded by tradition, no one thinks anything of it. In this age, the church must examine its theology in situations like this. Examine it as a whole body so the decision is made after reviewing all texts. It is an ethical and spiritual issue when we change titles to skirt around a theological position. Again, I am not addressing the Complementarian or Egalitarian theologies in this post. This will come in a future series. This addresses the shell game conducted by churches with the titles of its leaders. This directly affects women leaders, and thereby affects the body in total.

What can be done to remedy this? First, decide if the position is truly a pastoral position. For example, the nursery and children’s ministry most likely do not need a pastor in their sections as much as a teacher or director. But the youth ministry needs a person who is there in a pastoral capacity. The men’s and women’s ministry, in addition to the worship ministry, could go either way. If you decide there is no need for a particular ministry to have a pastor, but need a director the issue is solved.

If it is decided the ministry needs a pastor, the church needs to ask why they changed the title when a woman was hired. If the reason is that a woman cannot be a pastor in that tradition or church, there is a problem. The church saw she was the best candidate and hired her. That leaves two conclusions: either she is filling a job that should really be a director’s position, or she is worthy of being a pastor and the church changed the title for the reason of tradition. The former is acceptable, the latter is not. If the latter is true, it is time for the church to explore, as a group, why they feel a woman cannot be a pastor. Conduct a systematic study of women in ministry and the theology surrounding the topic.

It is time for some difficult theological and ethical conversations in the church. Do not be afraid to address this, as it must be talked about. Changing titles to suit the situation is not ethical or honorable. We explore other difficult theological issues in the church, why not this one?

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