By Amanda Furbeck
The Bible reveals, in 1 Samuel 16, that while man looks at what is on the outside of a person, God sees what is inside: the heart. In this passage, Samuel passed over those candidates who had the outward, physical appearance of a king to anoint the one that God had chosen, David. David certainly had his ups and downs as a servant of the Lord, made some good and bad choices, committed some pretty awful sins, repented completely, and worshipped the Lord with reckless abandon (much to his wife’s embarrassment!). But when all was said and done, this David, the unexpected choice for a king, was known as a man after God’s own heart. His times of worship were often recorded in Psalms. He worshipped in joy, in thankfulness, in fear, and in desperation. He even worshiped in his underwear! Perhaps this unlikely king was the most famous worship leader of all. Even when he failed, David turned away from his sin to get his heart—his insides—right with God. David’s life is expresses how important it is to follow after God’s heart.
It is critical to have hearts prepared for worship, whether we sing from the pew or the platform, and David is a great example of that. But what do we make of what is on the outside? Is it important to consider how we dress for corporate worship? What do we do with Paul’s assertion to be all things to all people, in order that we might save some? How does that affect our times of corporate worship? How do we dress our outsides for congregational worship gatherings?
Every community and every church has its own culture, so to speak, with its norms, its styles, and unwritten expectations. The leaders both set the norms and reflect the trends of the church, in music, in lifestyle, and in dress. Some are more formal, with full-fledged three piece suits, shiny shoes, beautiful dresses and glorious bonnets. Others are less formal, where blue jeans are the norm, t-shirts are fine, and flip-flops abound. Some churches have written guidelines, others do not. With such a cultural gamut, how do you choose what is the most appropriate?
An easy rule of thumb to follow as a worship leader is to be one “notch” dressier and one “notch” more conservative than the bulk of your congregation. It helps the lead worshipper appear approachable and respectful. Getting too far away stylistically from the congregation can be a barrier to trust, especially if you are new to the church. A pinstripe suit might be just as out of place in a casual church as blue jeans are to a more formal one. Being true to yourself is important, but loving the community you worship with is even more important, and that can carry over into even the clothes that you wear.
How should the worship team dress? Is it legalistic to create rules for those who would be on the platform? Or does it help those involved create an environment that puts love and respect for others above our own needs for self-expression? How do you address these concerns with your team?
Neatness counts, no matter what casualness of clothing is deemed appropriate for your setting. And in most cases, it might be best to refrain from wearing things that draw the eye, such as shirts with writing or pictures on them, sequins that shimmer under the lights, or anything that is very revealing, very tight, or difficult to walk in. Do I want to create controversy, show respect for others by thinking through what I wear, or honor God with the way I clothe myself?
Questions to ask: Will this outfit detract from worship? Am I wearing these clothes to draw attention to myself? Is this appropriate for our church’s culture? If I shouldn’t wear it in church, should I wear it at all? Should everyone on the platform be dressed similarly, or does a wide variety of styles help more people feel comfortable? How do we look at people visiting our church? Do we make an effort to see past their clothing? Do we welcome them openly or judge them prematurely? How do visitors see the worship team?
Certainly there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to church fashion- what is great for some simply does not fit in another church. Every person in the body of Christ – and every church as Christ’s bride, is beautifully unique, different, and special. Each has its own customs, traditions, and unwritten rules. Each has its own way of celebrating people and honoring Christ. With open discussion, and gentle hearts, imagine what the church would look like if we let our outsides – our clothes, our demeanor, and our overall outward appearance – reflect what is on the inside, the depths of our hearts that only God can see.
Amanda Furbeck serves as a worship pianist at Bethany United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania. She is also a free-lance writer, piano teacher, and cosmetologist. Amanda has led worship in a variety of settings, including women’s ministry events and as music pastor in previous churches. She has a heart for helping people connect with God through music and is pursuing a Master of Divinity at Liberty Theological Seminary.