A college student applied for the music position in our church. She was a good musician and had a pleasant personality. One Sunday she dressed very casually. The next week I discussed this with her, explaining that the pastor and congregation thought worship leaders should dress more formally on Sunday. She took this as a personal affront and began to criticize me to others. The deacon chair met with her, basically saying that she must follow the leadership of the pastor. She refused and decided to leave the position.
At another place, a member of the personnel committee mentioned at a meeting that our music minister wore “moccasins” on Sunday, and he was bothered. I think the minister actually had loafers with tassels, but whatever the case, he asked me to encourage him to dress more formally on Sundays.
I remembered these experiences from 30 years ago when I visited a contemporary church in another state last month. The music minister wore a ballcap. One of the praise team members had a beautiful spirit and a beautiful voice, but she wore very short shorts and tennis shoes on the worship platform. The pastor wore a tee-shirt. It occurred to me how much our worship culture has changed.
We baby boomers remember when we were children we “dressed in our Sunday best” as a way to honor God. I had school shoes (tennis shoes) and I had Sunday shoes. The difference was important. And I couldn’t wait to wear a jacket and tie to church like dad did.
In recent years contemporary church leaders influenced us to change our thinking. They reasoned that one excuse many had was that they didn’t have fine clothes to wear to church and, thus, didn’t attend. These leaders then encouraged everyone to “dress down” to eliminate this barrier. So we live in a new era.
Does God care what we wear?
The Apostle James imagined two men in worship, one in costly attire and one in shabby clothes. He chided Christians for judging the poor man. True enough. Furthermore, scripture exhorts Christians—especially women–to dress modestly, not sensuously (1 Timothy 2:9). Christ is our authority, not musicians or movie stars.
Other than upholding these principles, I don’t think many of us wish to be clothing police nowadays.
However, I still have the idea that worship leaders ought to be different.
Will Willimon addressed this in a conference when he asked why a judge wears a robe. The short answer is that judges represent something greater than themselves: the principle of law. Thus they dress to show dignity and professionalism. This spoke to me, though I can’t and won’t be the arbiter for other pulpiteers. -30-
“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church, Alabaster, Alabama. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.