Learning from Lydia

I was talking with a female executive the other day who said that she had difficulties because the teaching and culture of the church didn’t seem to address her situation – a woman in a highly responsible position that involved leadership of men. Many of the women her age were focused on child rearing and home duties and did not understand her life or the stresses on her.  Much preaching addresses the relationship of women to their husbands, their role as a mother or their role in the church ministry, but little assists women in significant leadership roles in how to be who they are – women in responsible jobs in charge of large teams of people.

Sometimes as a woman I can feel a bit ripped off by the paucity of depictions of female life in scripture - references to women can seem fleeting and disjointed. However, some writers suggest using Girard’s mimetic theory “to analyse and interweave the historical fragments in order to discern wider systemic patterns at work” which have served to cover and confuse the influence of women at this time (Bellan- Boyer 2003).

One of the difficulties when we read the stories of women in the Bible is the context of the time: in Jewish society, women were considered in many ways as inferior beings, being aligned with slaves and children in terms of some basic ways of contributing, or not, to society. For example, women were not allowed to testify in legal proceedings, nor study the Torah, read aloud in synagogues, or to lead Jewish assemblies. In general in the Late Antiquity, the biological theory promoted the idea of women’s “lacking in vital energies”. Hence we see a climate whereby the achievements of women outside of their normal roles as wives and mothers are viewed as the exception: women generally being considered inferior physically, emotionally, psychologically and intellectually (Gould 1991).  It is exactly this context that makes the “pro women” messages in scripture all the more remarkable.

Lydia seems to be one of those exceptional women: a business woman and prayerful woman. After her conversion, she appears to have influenced her whole household to be baptised, and opened her home, and begged Paul and Silas to use it for their ministry.  Later, in the fourth century, the influence of women on their household is noted by Frend:  “Christian women were an important aspect of the Christianisation of this period when there was a “transfer of allegiance from paganism to Christianity”. In mixed marriages, the final outcome tended to be a Christian pairing, such as the example of the Christian faith of Augustine’s mother overruling his pagan father’s view.

We don’t read about how Lydia conducted herself in business: but we do read that she was influential over those in her household, and that she placed at the disposal of Paul and Silas the resource of her home. Lydia was a woman who worshipped God, who was open to the message of the gospel and sought to spread the gospel message. Surely we can infer that her personal witness as a business woman in her sphere of influence was persuasive? Furthermore, despite her ‘busyness’, she did not forget to nourish her prayer life and was mindful of making opportunities for others to hear the gospel. She used her place in society, her influence, and her material resources, to bring others to Christ.

Women like Lydia are significant in bringing others to Christ through their commitment to the gospel, their witness and their actions – maybe this is what we can learn from Lydia?


Bellan- Boyer, L. Conspicuous In Their Absence: Women in Early Christianity. Cross Currents. Spring 2003. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2096/is_1_53/ai_102979437/?tag=content;col1 Accessed June 2010.

Frend, W.H.C. (1984) The Rise of Christianity. Fortress Press: Philadelphia

Gould, G. (1991). Women in the Writings of the Fathers: Language, Belief and Reality in Women in the Early Church. Eds Sheils, W.J. & Wood, D. Blackwell: USA, 1.

Nicky Lock, BSc(hons) Grad Dip EFT PACFA reg., Senior Counsellor and Clinical Consultant, and a lecturer and author of counselling courses.

Comments (13)

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  • Stephen Davis
    February 27, 12 - 12:20pm
    Regardless of gender, we can, and in fact do, learn from one another. Some of the best pieces of advice I have received in my lifetime came from the fairer sex. I must admit I do not understand this so called concept that women are "inferior" especially in light of the overwhelming evidence from the Bible that we all have gifts and talents regardless of whether we are male or female. As for female bosses, I have had some wonderful female bosses and some downright malevolent ones. Men and women compliment one another in that we are both superior to one another in different areas but that is the way God made us and it is something to be celebrated instead of being campaigned against. As for a woman manager being able to impart the Gospel to her work colleagues regardless of their sex or position, good on her and these are people you would want to see succeed in the workplace.
  • Nicky Lock
    February 27, 12 - 3:02pm
    @ Stephen, yes we certainly do learn from others. I learn from those who are more gifted and talented in a range of areas, that are not necessarily gender specfic. Accepting that there is some difference (and some overlap) in the way men and women lead, I guess my question is about women in leadership in the secular world - what is the model for them from scripture?
  • Stephen Davis
    February 27, 12 - 3:14pm
    Thanks Nicky, I am of the firm belief that a Christian woman in a leadership role in the secular world can be very effective, especially with other women. It's funny you know, you hear the term "model" but I think the core thing to strive for is to simply be influenced by the broad principles that the Bible espouses - justice, mercy, compassion. I think that these principles are interwoven with leadership and this combined with daily prayer and Bible reading can have a very positive effect on a woman's management style.
  • Robert James Elliott
    February 27, 12 - 4:48pm
    Excellent article Nicky. This is an issue that I have also had smart, leading, alpha-type women ask me as well.
  • Nicky Lock
    February 27, 12 - 5:40pm
    @ Stephen - of course I would have to agree. Maybe my confusion (and that of other "alpha" women - tx for the moniker, Robert) is that these are terms closely linked to conversations about the servant leadership of Christ, who after all, was a guy! When I hear sermons on how men are to love their wives, these same qualities are highlighted often with reference to passages such as those that talk of how Christ loves the Church, his bride. Women are implored to behave in some other way towards their husbands. Do we somehow impute that women can closely do the WWJD thing around secular leadership, and model themselves on Christ, as leaders? I think it is the relative absence of female role models in leadership that is so difficult for women.
  • Kara Martin
    February 28, 12 - 8:51am
    Awesome to read this column Nicky. I think our churches fail to deal with issues relating to the world of work generally (how many sermons do you hear on work?); but even more glaring is the lack of attention to women who work. A Christian male leader is often celebrated at least in speaking opportunities at outreach events! Personally, I would like to know of women leaders out there, because they are desperately needed to bring wisdom, balance and intuitive leadership to the boards of Christian organisations. I would like to celebrate your energy, gifts and faith in circumstances where there is so often a lack of recognition, encouragement or teaching.
  • Karin Nicole Sowada
    February 28, 12 - 11:14am
    Nicky - thanks for this great post. This is a very awkward area for many church leaders, given the Bible's teaching on male headship in church and marriage. I once had a Sydney rector tell me that he did not believe that women should be in any form of management over men in the secular workplace. I don't know how widespread that view is, but it doesn't surprise me that working women, particularly those in more senior roles, feel left out and unsupported. That said, there is a much broader conversation about living out one's faith and call to the priesthood of all believers in the secular workplace which involves both men and women, as Kara had rightly pointed out.
  • Stephen Davis
    February 28, 12 - 12:23pm
    Thanks Nicky, in reply to your question "Do we somehow impute that women can closely do the WWJD thing around secular leadership, and model themselves on Christ, as leaders?", I am of the firm conviction that YES they can, why not? While I agree that the relative absence of female role models in leadership might have an effect, I am still convinced that each one of us are individuals and it is this unique quality, coupled with a sound understanding and love for the Gospel, which will bring about role models for people to emulate. One of the most important traits in being a leader is being able to earn the respect of the people who report to and work with you and the best way to do this is by learning to give them your respect. This is a fundamental Chrstian teaching and as such, has a huge part to play in anyone man or woman becoming both a leader and a role model.
    To Karin, your comment "I once had a Sydney rector tell me that he did not believe that women should be in any form of management over men in the secular workplace." Point blank, that was a pretty idiotic comment for him to make to you Karin, some people in our churches are so far removed from reality that it beggars belief, when you hear a minister saying things like that, it is even worse! There are times when a woman's touch is a non negotiable and invaluable requirement in the workplace, I have seen it myself and simply admired the woman for her input, you don't forget those things.
  • Nicky Lock
    February 28, 12 - 4:39pm
    @ Stephen - tx for the challenge re yes to modelling on Jesus. Maybe another question is, how is female leadership different from male leadership, and if so, how do we perceive or identify that in Jesus' ministry and leadership, given that we are confronted with an earthly masculine person? I have been exposed to the concept of God being gender free (or both genders, as referred to in Genesis with humans being made in the image of God, male and female), but in the earthly personhood of Jesus we have a male - how in our humanity do we get past our preconceptions about the "maleness" of Jesus to see the "femaleness"? Or do we do as John Piper recently talked of at the "Desiring God" conference and simply celebrate the masculine qualities of Christianity?
  • Stephen Davis
    February 28, 12 - 9:17pm
    Thanks Nicky, OK, how is leadership different from male to female? I think any answer to this has to be built upon the fundamental differences between male and female. In my own experience, I have found that the "woman's touch" is a blessing when a sympathetic ear is required, I think women have a deeper empathy when family issues are involved especially if the woman has a family herself. I think women will dig a bit deeper into a work related problem as opposed to men, I know myself that while I am a good listener and problem solver I am only interested in digging as deep as I need to rather than have to and the possible result of this is overlooking something that might be relevant and ultimately important to the problem at hand.I think overall, women will spend more time, they do not seem to see all problems as having time limits attached to them. In relation to the gender issue, I can simply put this to bed by saying this - Jesus gave equal hearing to both sexes in the Gospels, one of the most beautiful examples of his love and empathy for women was the woman about to be stoned for adultery, the love that Jesus displayed in his desire for a relationship with her brings tears to my eyes, the gentleness and compassion is simply overwhelming. Anyone who has trouble seeing the femaleness in Jesus only has to look at that passage as far as I'm concerned. To be continued.........
  • Stephen Davis
    February 28, 12 - 9:32pm
    Continued from above.... With regards to this Piper fellow, if he only talked about the masculine qualities of Christianity, then he has only presented half of the whole picture in my view. Imagine a woman who is on the cusp of deciding whether to become a Christian, going to this event and only being presented with the so called masculine qualities of the faith, this could be enough to convince her that Christianity is not for her and this would be a terrible outcome! I think it can be potentially disasterous in trying to assign gender aspects to Jesus or box Him into some of our concepts. In summing up my position Nicky I say this - 1. We need to see Jesus in his true capacity as the Saviour of ALL people - this includes females! 2. Christians need to see that God uses both sexes to accomplish his purposes, Corrie Ten Boom comes immediately to mind! 3. The Christian qualities of compassion, fairness, leadership and respect, to name a few are just as well dispensed among women so they are in just as much of a position as men to assume a position of leadership in a secular workplace. Of course there will always be the fundamental differences between both sexes but with the right attitude in a working relationship on both sides of the fence, these fundamental differences need not impede a working relationship between a male and a female regardless of their seniority in relation to one another.
  • Nicky Lock
    March 2, 12 - 11:31am
    Tx for your thoughts Stephen which seem to be informed by personal experience as well as some reflections on scripture. I like your observation that women can "dig deeper" when problem solving - this would fit with that concept of the masculine brain seeking solutions and the feminine brain being more focused on the process of reaching the solution. As you say, you have nicely "put some things to bed" - though others might disagree!
  • Stephen Davis
    March 2, 12 - 12:36pm
    Thanks Nicky, I supose that there will always be disagreement on some things, I think that is an integral part of human existence. Yes, a lot of what I have said is based on personal experience but also the principles which the Bible promotes. Looking forward to your next article!