The course of human history reveals that men have consistently underrated what women can do and achieve. When Elizabeth I was crowned Queen of England in 1558, she had already survived numerous political intrigues and revolts. Her reign provided relative stability and peace to England during her 44 years on the throne, and the arts flourished during this time. Yet she had to consistently overcome the low expectations of her womanliness. Her reign raised England's status abroad, especially after the tremendous defeat of the Spanish Armada. Yet Pope Sixtus V said of her: "She is only a woman, only a mistress of half an island, and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by the Empire, by all."
The question through the ages has been: "Can a woman manage?" This distortion of women's capabilities is not found in a biblical perspective. There is no biblical prohibition against women directing the labor of men. As the theologian Wayne Grudem writes, "What we find in the Bible is that God has given commands that establish male leadership in the home and in the church, but that other teachings in his Word give considerable freedom in other areas of life. We should try not to require either more or less than Scripture itself requires."
That said, we are made female in the image of God, and there's something wonderfully distinctive about being a woman. We don't have to mimic masculinity to manage well. In fact, mimicry will typically backfire as it is forced and unnecessary. It also overlooks the wonderful qualities that women possess and diminishes what the Lord has created in us. The warm, gracious, and encouraging confidence of a woman can go a long way to building a good team.
My favorite portrait of feminine management and initiative is found in Abigail's story in the Old Testament. In 1 Samuel 25, we learn that Abigail is married to a wealthy but foolish man named Nabal. The Bible describes him as a very rich man who was shearing his sheep—the equivalent of harvest time. In other words, it was payday. David sends a request to share in the feast day because his men helped Nabal's shepherds guard his extensive flocks in the wilderness. Nabal foolishly dismisses the request and provokes David to a murderous rage.
So one of Nabal's servants rushes to Abigail, an industrious woman who has already overseen the preparations for the feast of "200 loaves of bread, two wineskins full of wine, five sheep that had been slaughtered, nearly a bushel of roasted grain, 100 clusters of raisins, and 200 fig cakes" (verse 18), and he implores her to "consider carefully" what she should do. He is counting on her to forestall impending disaster for the family business. So she loads these provisions on donkeys and sends them ahead to David and his men.
Abigail is described as "intelligent and beautiful" in verse 3, but her husband is described as "harsh and evil in his dealings." As we will see, this account praises Abigail for her wisdom and initiative, but says nothing beyond the fact that she was beautiful. She does not trade on her physical charms, though no doubt they were evident to all, especially to David. When she encounters him, she does not use false feminine flattery or emotional manipulation to sway his purpose. She does not flirt; she does not cry. What she does is confront David to warn him of the consequences of his actions and to urge him to live up to God's standards.
Please forgive your servant's offense, for the Lord is certain to make a lasting dynasty for my lord because he fights the Lord's battles. Throughout your life, may evil not be found in you.
When someone pursues you and attempts to take your life, my lord's life will be tucked safely in the place where the Lord your God protects the living. However, he will fling away your enemies' lives like stones from a sling. When the Lord does for my lord all the good he promised and appoints you ruler over Israel, there will not be remorse or a troubled conscience for my lord because of needless bloodshed or my lord's revenge. And when the Lord does good things for my lord, may you remember me, your servant.
Then David said to Abigail, "Praise to the Lord God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today! Your discernment is blessed and you are blessed. Today you kept me from participating in bloodshed and avenging myself by my own hand." (1 Samuel 25:28–33, HCSB)
This was a woman who used all of her resources, wisdom, initiative, and bold words to call a man to emulate a higher standard—and trusted the Lord for the outcome. Abigail managed this situation shrewdly and did so to protect the lives of her servants, who would have been attacked by David's army. She was bold, effective, and strategic in protecting the assets and employees of her family's business. And thoroughly feminine. We see in the Bible that these qualities are not contradictory.
Carolyn McCulley is the author of The Measure of Success and Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World. She is a frequent conference speaker and the founder/owner of Citygate Films LLC, a documentary film production company based near Washington, D.C.
Nora Shank was born in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where she was raised with more than a big city idea of work. She now works as a personal health consultant and resides in Virginia.
This article was excerpted from The Measure of Success. © 2014 by Carolyn McCulley. Used by permission of B&H Books.