CODES AND KEYS
I’ve been writing this blog for almost 4 years and this is the first time I’ve addressed how we dress on stage. The Bible has things to say about how Christians should present themselves. The Church Culture has things to say about how Christians should present themselves (not necessarily the same as the Bible). Even the Secular Culture has ideas about how Christians dress, or how everyone else should dress too.
So why should I add my thoughts to the mix? That’s actually not my goal. Of course I have opinions on this subject, but my goal isn’t to give you a list of things I think you should do. My goal is to break down some general keys to follow as you try to figure out what’s right in regards to you, your church, your cultural context and your convictions. As always, while our basis for these things must be found in God’s Word, working these things out can feel at times like a moving target so I’m going to try and focus on Dress Keys than Dress Codes.
DRESS FOR THE OCCASION
Generally speaking, it’s ok to wear your favorite jersey to a Super Bowl party at your Uncle Frank’s house. However, it’s probably not the right thing to wear to Uncle Frank’s funeral. But here’s the thing; what if your Uncle Frank was a huge sports fan and requested that everyone wear their favorite sports gear to his funeral? Wouldn’t wearing a black suit be disrespectful to him and those gathered to remember him?
I don’t know how to “dress for the occasion” at your church. I don’t know if you’re church wants the suits or the sports wear, but you do & if you don’t know then you can ask someone who does. The first key for dressing right as a worship leader is to dress for the occasion. If I’m leading worship at a church with a formal style, I will break out my tie, if i’m at a church youth camp, it’s probably shorts and flip flops.
Even at my church, which tends to be “come as you are” in style, there are still special occasions. I will usually wear a nicer outfit or even a suit for special services like Christmas Eve; and I absolutely dress up if I’m playing music at a wedding or a funeral.
Key #1: Part of dressing appropriately is dressing for the occasion.
CODES FOR THE CULTURE
If you are establishing Dress Code guidelines for your worship ministry, be sure to take into account the full culture of your church as well as its cultural direction. Now, Full Culture is exactly what it sounds like. I’ve been around churches where one person wrote the dress code and they had a thing about tattoos, as did a small minority of folks in the church, but the majority of folks in the church could careless and/or were “guilty” of Ink themselves. In this case, asking band members on stage to cover up tattoos didn’t reflect either the full culture of the church. Conversely, I’ve known churches were a well-meaning young worship leader wanted to shake things up while failing to realize that, while wearing a Slayer t-shirt is an ironic joke to him and his friends in the college group, it’s genuinely offensive to a large majority of people in his church family. in both cases the full culture of the church was overlooked in favor of a smaller subset.
However, cultures aren’t static, they move and shift, so the Cultural Direction of the church must be taken into account. Cultural Direction is where God is leading your church. This is why being in sync with your leadership is so important. If your church is shifting from a more “traditional” culture to a more modern one, then your dress code shouldn’t reflect the full culture as much as the cultural direction. But keep in mind that most of the time, we aren’t the ones setting the cultural direction; we might have input but that’s not the same thing. If youre leadership tells you to ditch the t-shirts and wear a collared shirt, then just go with it.
Key #2: Part of dressing appropriately is dressing in line with your church’s culture, both current and future.
CODES FOR THE COUNTER-CULTURE
More and more as the Christian faith runs counter to cultural norms, we will run into issues of how we ought to conduct ourselves. Things that were once unheard of are now the norm. One of the tensions of our faith has always been the question of conducting ourselves relative to the rest of world, and how we dress is part of that tension. The pharisees in the church will want to regulate everything into strict guidelines. This many inches from the knee or the neck… one tattoo is tolerable but a full sleeve is not. Hair needs to be this short for men and this long for women and so on. Whereas the more libertine among us might not care at all what anyone does. Romans 14 refutes both the pharisee and the libertine telling us that somethings are black and white, but there’s also some grey, and one person might have a valid conviction that someone else does not.
The question then becomes, how do we know what’s firm and what’s fluid? Even in my own tribe of churches there is disagreement on this point, how do we come to some consensus? For me, it goes back to keys over codes… here’s some keys for not dressing like the world, while not dressing badly either.
Whatever that means for you and your context, dress well. Take pride in how you look, whether your style would have your grandfather calling you a slob or your style has you dressing like your grandfather, put a little effort into things. This is not an issue that’s confined to one group. I’ve been in a few churches where the younger folks are dressed just find and the older members of the band look like they could care less about how they present themselves. Have a little godly pride in the way you look.
DRESS TO BLEND
This is a huge moving target, so take this one with a large grain of salt, but dress to blend in. As worship leaders, our goal is to draw peoples attention to God. Some people dress in a certain way because they like the style but I’m sure you’ve met people who dress the way they do because they like the attention. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter, they just want someone to notice and to comment. If I’m dressing in a way that needlessly draws attention then maybe I should reconsider.
Now, let me say two things. First, this is a very, very small percentage of people out there and it applies to almost no-one that I’ve ever led worship with. Second, this is an issue that pharisees love to pounce on because you can start to judge someones heart and motives and pharisees love that kind of stuff. As much as we need to watch how we dress, how much more do we need to guard the sheep in our care from the wolves who who devour them? In my experience, it’s better that someone dresses a little too flashy then we allow someone else to judge them for it.
DRESS FOR ALL AGES
Put it another way: keep it G-rated. Things shouldn’t be too tight or too loose, too short or provocative. Just because the pharisees want to turn things into a legalistic bummer doesn’t mean that we should dress the way the world does. Let me break it down for you: whether your a man or a woman, I don’t need to know what you look like naked, and yes, somethings should be left to the imagination.
More than that, we have a platform. In a world that objectifies people, does the church need to add to that? In a time when the bondages of lust and pornography have left people in misery at an epidemic rate, do we need to make it more difficult for them by how we dress and present ourselves?
If I haven’t explained myself clearly here please drop a line in the comments below…
DRESS FOR YOU
This is a broad concept, but I’ll personalize it. For me, I want to be authentic. If I was dressing older to please people, I would be a fraud. I’d be a much more obvious fraud if I was trying to dress younger to please people (younger folks are just better on the whole at detaching phonies). In addition to my age and my personality, is the way God made my body. Something works for one person that would never work for me. Someone would be modest on someone else and immodest if I wore it, and visa versa. I want to dress well but in a way that works for me, not based on what someone else is doing.
Key #3: Part of dressing appropriately is dressing for you but with others in mind.
EASY BURDENS FOR ALL
Finally, remember that Jesus said “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Certainly the Bible has things to say about how we dress (1 Cor 6:19-20, 1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Peter 3:3-4, Proverbs 31:30, Proverbs 11:22, Matthew 5:28, Deuteronomy 22:5, 1 Samuel 16:7, 1 John 2:16 and so on). But we have to work these things out in a way that doesn’t put heavy burdens on others. We need to find a way to present ourselves well without falling under the trap of legalism and false holiness. If we really believe when we sing “there is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain” then we need to see those chains broken without putting new ones on.
Key #4: Part of dressing appropriately is dressing in the full freedom of Christ, without putting burdens on anyone else
Again, if you have any questions or thoughts, please comment below.