Dressing For Leading Worship: Does Outward Appearance Matter?


Today’s article is a guest submission written by a female reader and should be a great catalyst for discussion. It is a direct response to our tongue-in-cheek “Worship Leader Fashion Statements” article which talks about what a worship leader would “wear” (the article focuses on the HEART of the worship leader).

My husband and I have been searching for a new church home. It’s a daunting task. It seems like looking for a perfect spouse to love and serve all over again! Although I’m being dramatic, there is truth in my words. In a nutshell, my husband and I are seeking a church family to share the most important part of our lives—Jesus Christ. We are seeking people to uphold us to truth but allow us to uphold them to truth as well–truth as outlined in the scriptures. In addition, we desire spiritual food as written in God’s Word, rather than a new and interesting concept or interpretation. In a nutshell, we seek to extend our lives with a spiritual family and mutually share biblical truth.

What I have noticed in this endeavor is that it is commonplace for churches with contemporary worship to allow church leadership, including worship leaders, to dress down in jeans. It’s a “come as you are” mentality, and that includes staff. That’s our culture today.

When going to church last week, I was excited to spend my time, voice, ears, and eyes on my Lord. It seemed God was leading us to our new church home. I must admit I had not yet given of myself to the church family, other than the typical “Good morning” handshake. In turn, what I knew about that church was only what was shared on its Website, by the pre-sermon commercials and announcements, public prayers, and sermons. Most everything seemed Jesus-honoring and on track with scripture.

Last week, when I walked into the beautiful music-filled room, as usual my attention fell to the worship team leading music on stage. They are a young, vibrant, leadership group who seem to enjoy singing and worshiping our Lord. They seem comfortable sharing their beautiful voices for those of us who received other gifts.

This particular week one of the female singers dressed in a pair of capris having about five rips in them (obviously purchased that way) and clean white tennis shoes. Her over shirt, a sweatshirt, was purposefully ripped on the side seam and laid cockeyed on her body. Her undershirt covered her flesh where the sweatshirt couldn’t. She looked as if she was painting that morning, lost track of time, and had to run to lead worship with no time to change. Her style, I would suggest, portrayed a clean hobo.

As I watched this lovely young lady praising God with her hands lifted high and eyes closed, I tried to overlook the visual of her clothing. My mind tried to take control of itself: “It’s not about her and how she dresses, it’s about Jesus and my worship!” I would say other self-encouraging words to get on track: “She is giving her heart to our Lord, whom we are both there to praise. It’s about Him. Don’t judge!” But the following scripture wouldn’t leave my mind–I couldn’t turn it off:

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. 4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. (God’s Word version says “proper clothes.”) Matthew 22:1-12 (NIV)

Then my thoughts changed. Her appearance wasn’t about her, but a reflection of church leadership and how they determine to uphold their church. It’s not about her but the leadership of that particular Christian institution.
As I later pondered the visual, I began to wonder: If Billy Graham visited, would church leadership allow her to dress that way? If President Obama were there to visit, would they allow her to dress that way? If the band were trying to obtain an amazing spot in a Christian concert at a mega-church, would leadership instruct her to dress that way? The most important question: Would leadership allow her to dress that way if Jesus returned, and they were providing music in His honor?

I realize Matthew 22 isn’t necessarily on an external dress code; however, I do believe there is learning to be found; we are worshiping in the presence of our living and holy God and our worship “leaders” must represent a minimum outward standard as set by the church leadership, knowing Jesus is our honored guest. If pastors allow other leadership to “fully be themselves,” and do not set a minimum standard (e.g., dress, actions, verbal [swearing, etc.]), it reflects what is acceptable to God for others to see–not everyone, but for some.

Worse is when females dress in tight clothes, such as leotards with little covering, leaving little to a person’s imagination. The staggering numbers that reflect Christian men hooked on pornography should not be exasperated by female church leaders, especially worship leaders because they oftentimes are viewed as concert participants. The sad part is that these men have nowhere to turn for help because our churches have no sympathy for their sinful behavior. If a pastor were to say, “I have a drinking problem,” the church family would be right there to help the pastor and assist the family. If a pastor were to say, “I’m hooked on porn,” an immediate stigma of the nature of the problem causes the loss of a job and potentially loss of a family. Not comfortable, but a very real issue, and our females don’t necessarily make it easier.

Russ Hutto provided a thoughtful article on how one should internally be when leading worship or in a leadership role at church. I commend him for his thoughtful presentation. Russ suggested an internal standard lay leaders (and staff) should consider, unfortunately, external façades of the internal heart can pass the human eye–but not God’s. Hopefully the minimum standard would discourage some from wanting to participate in such important roles.

I would like to add to Russ’ article (about Worship Leader “Fashion”) that leadership look at minimum standards externally as well. They must consider those who visually see us, knowing many are weaker in their faith or just beginning their faith journey. Our leadership are our examples and oftentimes our mentors. If they wear clothes dishonoring to God, they are forgetting to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and instead silently say, “Love myself then my neighbor.”

It is my belief that the internal is immensely, hugely, and unbelievably important, as Russ said. But the external, such as dressing in a way that is dishonoring to God as our honored guest, is thinking of your neighbor last and only honoring to one’s self. If leadership doesn’t show what to strive for to those weaker or newer to the Christian life–many of those sitting in the pews (or chairs)–then the burden of standards set should be on the shoulders of the church leadership and reflect on them equally as much as the Pharisees of Jesus’ time.

Published with permission. Please feel free to discuss this topic in a kind and grace-seasoned manner!