“Does Deborah still exist?” By this question, I’m not referring to the actual Israelite judge and prophetess. Deborah the woman of the Book of Judges is with the Lord now, long deceased. So the woman we know as Deborah is no longer living here, though she lives on in eternity with Christ.
The question at hand, though, concerns women who live today, married women who wonder how they can balance church leadership and submission within marriage. I realize that some who call themselves “egalitarians” see only mutual submission of husband and wife without male leadership in the home. And yet, Peter tells Christian wives to “be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1, NKJV). Scripture tells wives to submit to their husbands. This is not some ancient command that we can just discard. The church must still acknowledge it and obey it. Wives must still submit. It’s just as accurate in the twenty-first century as it was in the first century.
And I realize that there are situations where women cannot submit as they should because their husband is absent from the home. I grew up with an absent father and a mother who had to be mom and dad rolled into one.
But mom’s case is not typical. Divorced homes aren’t typical. And so, the Word of God is still right and true, even if my mother’s case was different. And even in her different circumstance, mom still took care of the home, the children, and didn’t cheat on my father. So wives who find themselves in this situation can still be faithful to God and to their homes without cheating on their husbands. There’s no excuse for openly rebelling against the Word of God.
So wives who find themselves in a situation where they are happily married before God will often grapple with the question: “How do I submit at home and lead in the church?” In other words, “How can I be a Deborah in 2020?” I’m going to answer that question in this post. Those who want to check out more discussion on this can see our Bible study on the subject.
Being Deborah: Is It Possible?
I’ve given some of the answer away in the above prose, but, to answer the question directly, yes, it’s possible to be Deborah. You can be happily married as a wife and still lead as Pastor in a church.
To discover if it’s possible, let’s take a look at Deborah.
Deborah: judge and prophetess
Deborah was a prophetess whom God called to be one of Israel’s judges. Keep in mind that the reign of the judges came after Joshua, Moses’ successor, dies. There was no leader after Joshua’s death. The people returned to their old ways and were placed in slavery as punishment. “Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them,” we read in Judges 2:16. The Lord raised these judges up. He chose specific people He wanted to save His people. Deborah was one of those God handpicked to deliver His people.
That’s right, out of all the men God could’ve chosen in Deborah’s day, He chose a woman — Deborah! Let that sink in for a minute. The Lord chooses whomever He pleases. He doesn’t choose according to gender. He chooses according to His own will. And He wills to use men and women, both/and, not either/or.
Deborah was a judge. According to Scripture, we read that Deborah “would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment” (Judges 4:5). She did the same work that Moses was doing at one time before his father-in-law Jethro told him to appoint judges to do the work while he focused on leading the people (see Exodus 18:13-27). In this regard, then, Deborah was as powerful as Moses in the eyes of the people.
In addition to her duties as judge, Deborah was also prophetess as Moses was a prophet. That is, God gave her words to speak to Israel and she delivered God’s messages to His people. In that regard, she is similar to preachers and pastors today who deliver the Word of the Lord on Sunday mornings. And the fact that she was over the “congregation” of Israel, a word used all throughout the Book of Joshua, for example (Joshua 18:1; 20:6, 9; 22:12, 16-18, 20, 30), only adds to the stature of her leadership. Deborah was the head of the congregation of Israel. That makes her a woman in congregational leadership. She was what I’d call an ancient-day Pastor.
Some have said that Deborah isn’t a pastor as we think of pastors today. Well, in the sense that the pastorate today is an office, no — Deborah didn’t serve in the official office of Pastor as the New Testament describes. And yet, she was the most powerful person in Israel in her day. She was so powerful that she commanded Barak to command the military forces and defeat Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army (Judges 4:6-9). She must have been powerful to command Israel’s military general. Make no mistake: Deborah was no push-over or figurehead.
Deborah was a married woman
Deborah had all this civil and spiritual power, but she was also a married woman. We’re told that Deborah was “the wife of Lapidoth” (Judges 4:4). She was a married woman who was over all Israel in her day.
There are many complementarians who, viewing women “in their place” in the home instead of leading in the church. And yet, God doesn’t care about what complementarians think. His Word says that He chose a married woman (with a husband) and made her the chief leader in Israel, as powerful as Moses. That, in and of itself, testifies to the fact that married women can be in power in church leadership.
Deborah: Complementarianism’s Largest Threat
We’ve seen that Deborah was the head of the congregation of Israel in her day as both a judge and a prophetess, two roles Moses served as the head of the people in his day. No one questioned Moses’ role as the most powerful man in Israel.
Why then, do they question Deborah’s?
Simply put, Deborah is a woman, and a woman’s place in Israel as its head demolishes the complementarian stance that women cannot serve as Pastors over congregations. It simply isn’t true. Most who believe in Deborah as the most powerful person in Israel in her day point to her when making the case that women can preach and teach over men in the church today. And yet, this is the one person those opposed to female leadership try to tear down. They have to tear Deborah down (or at least try, however futile the attempt) if they want to eliminate the idea of women in the very upper echelon of church leadership.
If they don’t try, then Deborah symbolizes everything they don’t want in their churches. She’s a stark reminder that their view (anti-women leadership) is wrong. Complementarians would rather be told anything other than their view is wrong. As traditionalists who argue against women from their traditional church life, they believe that tradition is important. And it is, but tradition doesn’t have the authority that God’s Word does. And when tradition contradicts the Word of God, it’s time to toss tradition and obey God’s Word. They say that God’s Word trumps tradition, but the minute it trumps their view, they’re willing to compromise for the sake of comfort.
And yet, Deborah fits Paul’s own words that, in the Lord, there is “neither male nor female” for we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
How To Be Deborah in 2020
How can you be Deborah in 2020? Well, if you’re a married woman and in church leadership, then you are a Deborah. If you, find yourself in church leadership over men and women and mixed gatherings, then you are a Deborah.
And the best way to be Deborah is to lead in the church with conviction while listening to God. When it comes to home life, wives must submit to their husbands because God’s Word says so. You cannot lead effectively in the church if you aren’t submitting to your husband (and thus, to God) in the home. Female Pastors, you cannot preach to your congregation about submitting to authority if you don’t. You must, to use an old cliche saying, “Practice what you preach.”
But even when you do what is right, even when you submit in the home and your husband submits to your leadership in the church, know that there will be naysayers plotting your downfall. There are some who oppose you as a woman in church leadership solely because you’re a woman. Leave them be. That doesn’t mean that you cannot speak a word for God and show them the error of their ways, but you shouldn’t consume yourself with proving them wrong. Do not worry about trying to change their minds and convince them that you’re where God has you. Leave that to the Lord. Do what God has assigned you to do: pastor your church. In so doing, God will win over the naysayers.
Trust me, He can convince them in ways that we cannot. Even if these naysayers are disrespectful to you and disregard your leadership, God will still win them over through your convictional living. Live right before God, and your living will preach louder than your preaching. As the old adage goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”