What Do We Wear to Worship God?

A leader sent this question to me:

Recently there have been some people offended by some of the appearance of the worship team. We are seeking to glorify God in our response. We do not want to go beyond what the Scripture says. What are some of the standards that you would hold for your worship team?

I’m assuming that “appearance” refers to what someone is wearing. I appreciate this person’s desire to follow God’s Word when it comes to the attire of those who lead congregational worship. Unfortunately, God isn’t as clear as we might want Him to be, which is a good thing. Can you imagine if God told us exactly what a godly person should wear? What do you think He’d say? L.L. Bean? Gap?  Brooks Brothers? Coat and tie for the men and dresses for the ladies? Jeans, t-shirts, and sandals for everyone? Your answer reveals something about how you view God, but not too much about how God views us.

While we may lack specifics, God has certainly given us guidelines both for what we wear on our bodies, and more importantly, what we wear in our hearts as we gather to worship Him.

There are at least two groups of people to address in this situation. First, the members of the team. We seek to make sure that our musicians know their role is to draw attention to the surpassing greatness of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. That means clothing that would draw attention to them is inappropriate. Categories include clothes that are immodest, tight, “loud,” dirty, or sloppy. Of course, those standards are variable in different cultures and to different people, but usually every church has a fairly defined idea as to what qualifies.  Regarding modesty, we want to avoid anything that accentuates or reveals what could be sexually alluring.

At times, we have to follow up with musicians who wear something inappropriate. When we do, we expect them to respond humbly, as their role is to serve the congregation, not prove that they’re “free in Christ.” By the way, our pastors, who stand on the side of the stage as we sing, are dressed in a variety of styles. We purposefully want to communicate that we don’t believe a certain kind of dress equates to godliness. While we appreciate and respect the conviction some have that dressing up is a way of showing honor to God as we meet together, we’re convinced that God places the greater emphasis on the heart attitude behind what we wear, and that the church will always have a wide range of clothing (James 2:1-5).

The second group to address is those who are offended. I’d want to find out why they’ve taken an offense. Are they truly offended, or concerned or grieved? There’s a difference. Offense could imply that the music team member has sinned against them in some way. Unless they know the person involved, they could be judging the team member uncharitably. If there’s a genuine concern for dishonoring the Savior, then I’d thank them for having the courage and taking the time to share their perspective. However, if they simply didn’t like a style of dress, or wanted the musicians to adhere to some specific standard that isn’t in Scripture, I’d try to help them see beyond the clothes to a person’s heart.

None of this is to say that what we wear doesn’t matter. It does. Our clothes communicate volumes about what’s in our heart. The problem is, we don’t always know what that is. So, to sum up:

Make the heart the priority.
Challenge and help those who either abuse their freedom or judge other’s motives.
Encourage everyone to wear clothes modestly, the character of Christ loudly.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Col. 3:12-13).

I’d be interested to hear how others have dealt with this issue in your church.

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24 Responses to What Do We Wear to Worship God?

  1. David Delgado July 29, 2006 at 1:13 PM #

    Great answers. Thank you for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully.

    When we started a contemporary service in our church (6 years ago)there where still ‘unwritten’ guidelines as to what to where and what not to where. It was a pair of dockers and a nice shirt. (for the contemporary service, the traditional service, it must be at least a tie) This was not really coming from the leadership but more from tradition. (It is a 100+ year old Baptist Church)

    Times have really changed. The very worship climate has changed in fact.

    Recently, we have broken what I affectionately called the ‘Jeans barrier’ where it was ok for the worship leader to wear jeans. I do it intentionally now, and there has not been anything said.
    Some people come in jeans, some people come in suits and it all seems to work just fine.

    Bottom line if the leadership is not intentional about this issue, than tradition and unwritten rules can be sending a message we do not want to send.

    God looks at the heart indeed.

    Now…if i can just get away with shorts and sandals…

  2. Doug Healing July 29, 2006 at 3:47 PM #

    When a worship leader or band member wears casual clothes I have observed that they seem to revel in their freedom rather than consider the feeling of those not oriented toward casual clothing. If the heart attitude were attuned to humble service it would seem that those pushing the envelope would moderate their rights.

    I was in a new RC Willey store last evening. All of their sales people wore shirt and ties; some had sport coats on as well. They know their demographics. Their desire to be profitable has led them to look like people who are competent and trustworthy. Do those who attend our services have like cultural values as the RC Willie customer? Do our church members have these expectations for their church leadership?

    The current trend in very casual clothing for worshippers and leaders seems to be prompted by the popular culture, rather than from principles from the Word.

    I think it is time to take our prompts in all areas of life from the Bible. We are to be a distinct people. We need to consider those who are more conservative in their dress. With this orientation we might moderate our rights to wear flip-flops, tee shirts and shorts.

  3. Bob Kauflin July 29, 2006 at 4:34 PM #

    Doug,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Can you always say that wearing casual clothes when leading worship reveals a person’s desire to “revel in their freedom?” I don’t think so. That may be the case, but there could be a number of reasons, including a desire to serve people who are put off by formal attire.

    The example you gave of the RC Willey employees doesn’t take into account that they’re seeking to impact a specific clientele. Again, in our present culture, a certain type of clothing doesn’t always imply competence and trustworthiness. And for some people, casual clothes communicate authenticity, humility, and a desire to serve.

    In seeking to take “our prompts in all areas of life from the Bible,” let’s make sure we don’t go beyond what God has actually said. Our distinctiveness stems first not from the way we dress outwardly, but from hearts clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

  4. aaron July 29, 2006 at 4:50 PM #

    in our church the critique on clothes has only come in regards to the teaching pastor. folks notice everything abouthis clothes and don’t care about what the worship team may wear. the pastor dresses well. their preference is what drives this not the gospel.

  5. Bob Kauflin July 29, 2006 at 4:58 PM #

    A few years ago, my then senior pastor C.J. Mahaney gave a message called “The Soul of Modesty.” Well worth a listen. His wife and daughters also came up with a free outline called a “Modesty Heart Check.” Also a helpful resource. You can pick them up at

    http://www.sovereigngracestore.com

    and doing a search on the word “modesty.”

  6. Pat McGee July 29, 2006 at 9:22 PM #

    I believe that within the cultural context each person should wear his/her best, whatever that may be. I personally nearly always wear a tie to church. I am a professional and have a wardrobe which reflects that. I think it would be disrespectful to God to not wear your best, whatever that might be. I have been in churches where bib overalls were prominent. If that’s the dressiest they have, praise God for them wearing their best.
    What does it say about an individual if he/she dresses better for someone or something other than God?

  7. Rodd Jefferson July 30, 2006 at 1:54 AM #

    I think we also need to consider the cultural context of our churches a little more. Any “one size fits all” attitude is inappropriate. I know of a fellow who led a worship service in the Australian outback. He felt out of place because he was wearing a shirt, and yet in his mind it was one of the most God honoring gatherings he’d ever been to. I’ve also led services on the beach on the NSW South Coast, and had people in their swimming gear attending. So what does the worship leader wear in these circumstances? I appreciate Bob’s principle around not wearing anything that might be a distraction, and I think that’s the best measure. In my experience disagreements with regard to clothing are constructively dealt with simply by talking to either the ‘offender’ or the church, or both. Remember, we come together in the presence of God to worship Him, not critique the color of someone’s shirt! Sometimes looking beyond your distaste of another’s clothing is as much an act of love as it is to love the sinner (and that’s all of us).

  8. Dr. Ransom July 30, 2006 at 9:52 AM #

    Bob,

    While you say you’ve been lax in posting, I’ve been lax in reading — I will try to keep up more with the excellent grounded-in-Scripture mini-essays you write here. It’s beyond encouraging to know that a well-known someone is defending Biblical worship that does not revolve around, and draw attention to, the worshipers themselves, either in thought, appearance or even the words of the songs.

    Your emphasis on modesty, like that of Harris, Mahaney, and all the Sovereign Grace folk — is particularly encouraging. Freedom in Christ is a wonderful thing, but that also means we should be seeking to honor Him in our bodies and what with what we clothe our bodies. I would almost prefer outlandishly casual clothing to “formal wear” so long as the former is actually modest — I’ve seen both extremes at different churches.

    Meanwhile, ’tis odd that although modesty seems a requirement for most Christian artists and most CCM album covers, they often seem to find “loopholes.” If clothing covers all, for example, it will be tight, or, outlandishly trendy. Spiked, dyed hair and ostentatious earrings seem to be the norm for those kinds of artists and album covers as well.

    What might a Christ-follower’s reaction be to those artists who seek to set the standard style for popular worship? And what, if any, loopholes might there be if the artists aren’t singing specifically God-directed hymns or psalms, but rather, mere spiritual songs about God or about Christianity?

  9. Shane July 31, 2006 at 1:26 AM #

    I wore a tie to church once, in the church in which I grew up, and was informed that it was too informal. It was a Looney Toons tie, I know, but it was what I had. At that young age, God helped me understand that many people come to church with their eyes on people, instead of God. If your church has a fashion gestapo, perhaps the time to find a way to lovingly address the issue, either one-on-one or from your ministry venue, has come. As worship leaders, our job is to lead people to be engaged in worshiping Jesus Christ. To me that means as best as possible dealing with all obstacles (to our best ability to do so) that hinder genuine worship.

  10. Bob Kauflin July 31, 2006 at 7:40 AM #

    Dr. Ransom,

    Thanks for stopping by and for your encouraging words. You asked,

    “What might a Christ-follower’s reaction be to those artists who seek to set the standard style for popular worship? And what, if any, loopholes might there be if the artists aren’t singing specifically God-directed hymns or psalms, but rather, mere spiritual songs about God or about Christianity?”

    If I understand your questions, you’re asking how the whole issue of modesty applies to Christians who are involved in public music ministry but not in a congregational worship setting.

    I’d consider the question from two perspectives. If I’m commenting on Christian “worship artists,” I want to be careful not to judge their motives quickly or uncharitably. Certainly standards of modest dress differ. However, as I understand God’s Word, the only “loopholes” for inappropriate clothing might be ignorance or poverty. Poverty’s probably not the issue, but I can understand how someone might be ignorant of their heart or what actually tempts others.

    If I’m a Christian musician of any type, I need to be aware of any ways my clothing might tempt or distract people from my mission, which is to point them to God’s grace in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter whether I’m in a congregation or not (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17). I don’t wear my clothes simply to look good in the eyes of the world, but to honor God. Sometimes those two goals may intersect, but certainly not always. My question shouldn’t be, “How far can I go?” but rather, “How can I be sure that no one stumbles because of my clothing?”

    Does that answer your question?

  11. Ian McConnell July 31, 2006 at 12:48 PM #

    . . .this has been an interesting thread to follow.

    What I really want to comment on is that I can’t wait for next week to be at the conference!!!!!!

    I’m looking forward to meeting you Bob. I will be praying for the filling and the anointing of the Spirit in your life to empower you and others to be a channel of grace to build up and bless the body of Christ for the Glory of God through the gospel!!!

    Grace & Peace

    Ian

  12. Jeremy August 1, 2006 at 6:06 PM #

    Wow, this has been a serious post, Bob!!

    Thanks for taking some time to post on this and to be willing even to post on something that can be so variant in views.

    We’ve been dialogging about this as a worship team. We’ve mostly talked about what ulitimately is going to serve our local church. I’m very grateful to God for our worship team and their desire to prefer others in the midst of this dialog, and this humility I believe has blessed the Lord even more.

    We’ve tried to take into account what our church has been used to. Some of our folks have come from a more traditional church setting, and for some, jeans and sandals is quite possibly distracting. We’ve only changed back from not wearing jeans on Sunday ams because of it is easily looking sloppy on stage and distracting for some folks. We’ve not had complaining as much as humble observations about what people are distracted by or even struggling with (not offended). So, as a team, we have decided not to wear jeans, and at this point in time, sandals are out as well.

    We’re considering sandals again at our next team meeting, but the dialog in and of itself has helped me see where the hearts of our worship team and those who offer suggestions/observations are. Not that we are perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we are trying to faithful to serve…that is our goal, by God’s grace.

    Thanks again for posting!

    See you at the conference next week!

    Jeremy

  13. Matt August 2, 2006 at 9:57 AM #

    Bob:

    The modesty issue is a constant stuggle and it doesn’t look to be going away any time soon. I have had to turn people away from particiapating on stage because of immodesty, even though we have taught on it so many times. Thank you so much for the heart of this matter.

    Looking forward to the Worship Conference…

  14. Tim Bushong February 6, 2008 at 9:59 PM #

    I had a discussion with a guy who wears a clerical collar when he ministers (he actually believes the Bible- when I was a kid a collar meant ‘theological liberal’, but I digress…) and the point that he made was that in our culture a collar signifies his vocation (as a minister of the Gospel), much as a postman or UPS driver’s clothing signifies theirs. I take his position seriously, and although I don’t see a collar in my future, I have begun to wear ‘nicer’ clothes than I used to, including wearing a suitjacket in colder temps. I know there’s no ‘one size fits all’, but the worship service is a special time for God’s people, and not just a casual meeting. So if it’s an important time every week, then I figure I should approach it as such. There are sometimes when wearing a suit can communicate that one is taking this stuff seriously, and without any pretense or ‘putting on airs’.

    My 2c…

  15. Bob Kauflin February 6, 2008 at 10:26 PM #

    Tim,

    There are sometimes when wearing a suit can communicate that one is taking this stuff seriously, and without any pretense or ‘putting on airs’.

    Totally agree. It’s symptomatic of the human heart that we can take pride in dressing down as much as we can dressing up. Our choice of clothing should somehow reflect the awareness that we are with God’s people and want to honor them. For some, that means dressing more casually. For others, it means dressing more carefully. In no case, at least in our culture, should it mean that it doesn’t matter at all.

  16. Tim Bushong February 8, 2008 at 5:53 PM #

    Amen! That reminds me of Francis Scaeffer’s comments regarding the Amish’s ‘non-zipper-wearing’ being a source of pride. Or something like that.

    Your last line is good- we moderns tend to look at anything that smacks of symbolism or is representative and dismiss it out of hand…

    I think the idea of propriety comes in here- while it would probably be appropriate to wear a suitcoat in worship service, a fancy tuxedo would probably be sort of pretentious..

  17. Peggy Farrow April 9, 2008 at 3:03 AM #

    I have found in my 18 years of worship, prayer and discipleship ministry that the more casual the attire of the worship team, the more casual the approach to leading God’s people to His throne.

    While it is true that God looks on the heart, the people we minister to, lead to the Holy of Holies, and witness to look on the outer appearance. If our attire (or lack thereof) is such a distraction that it takes the congregations’ eyes off of Jesus, what is the purpose? We seem to forget that when we serve as a worship team, it is not about us.

    The questions I ask praise and worship teams (including sound techs)about what they wear on the platform or in the sound booth:
    1). Would you wear the same outfit to a corporate executive meeting at your place of employment, a job interview, or if you were meeting someone you were really trying to impress?
    2). What would be a person’s first impression of the “company” you represent as an ambassador of Christ.
    3). Do we project unity, a spirit of excellence and the seriousness of our responsibility as a member of the worship team, or do we look like a bunch of folks who just got together about 20 minutes ago to make a joyful noise?
    4). Why do we seem to care more about our personal appearance for others than for when we are representing God? If you do not care at all about your personal appearance for others, then what sacrifice have you made to lead the corporate body to, and expect an audience with, the King of Kings?

    Most of the “world’s teams” have distinct identifiable colors, school/community and national sports teams, community bowling leagues, social groups like the Red Hat Society, etc.) I do not believe we have to wear “uniforms” where we are all wearing the exact same thing, but I strongly believe we should wear the same color scheme (alternating colors each week) where we look like we belong on the same team.

  18. Gene Batten May 29, 2008 at 11:28 PM #

    Winter:
    Jeans, untucked button down, Wool or leather jacket, got to have the gotee though (just kidding)

    Summer:
    Jeans or Capris, untucked button down or nice Fender t-shirt, ball cap even sometimes (but mostly for night services), don’t forget the rainbow flip-flops

    A mandatory requirement: St. Arbucks beside you on stage.

    God is my best friend, not a job interviewer. Relax guys and worship God and stop looking at the team to worship for you.

  19. Tim Bushong July 19, 2008 at 9:10 AM #

    “Winter:
    Jeans, untucked button down, Wool or leather jacket, got to have the gotee though (just kidding)

    Summer:
    Jeans or Capris, untucked button down or nice Fender t-shirt, ball cap even sometimes (but mostly for night services), don’t forget the rainbow flip-flops

    A mandatory requirement: St. Arbucks beside you on stage.”

    So, I’m guessing that you wear the same attire whether you’re going to a movie, attending a cookout, hanging out at the beach, or involved in the Lord’s Day worship service. Am I correct?

  20. Ryan Rolfe July 29, 2008 at 1:00 PM #

    Tim,

    for the record Business casual is more of a requirement for interviews, not a choice, assuming you want the job. For those who are really involved in today’s younger culture would probably even notice a change in business attire in general, but i digress.
    I think it’s more about the Body your are leading. I am 27 and leading a church plant for college students. If i wear a shirt and Tie I represent the “traditional” church model, with which they find highly judgmental and hyprocritical. Unfortunately these are the stats from the book “UnChristian” “only 3% of those born after 1979 will identify themselves as Christian”, also verified by the hostility I find on the College Campus against “church”. The funny thing is People like the idea of Jesus? To point, if I were leading in a very traditional setting, as much as it would pain me, I would conform my normal dress of t-shirt jeans/shorts as to not be a distraction, and would pray one day if we put as much effort and money into loving and reaching out the lost, poor, widowed and orphans as we do suits, color scheme’s and appearance maybe the culture’s negative view of Christianity would change.
    peace
    Ryan

  21. GUNNY HARTMAN August 24, 2008 at 5:40 PM #

    “At times, we have to follow up with musicians who wear something inappropriate. When we do, we expect them to respond humbly, as their role is to serve the congregation, not prove that they’re ‘free in Christ.’”

    That is perhaps the most insightful thing I’ve read on a blog in a long time … and I’ve read some good stuff.

    Good article. Thanks.

  22. Lance Blazer February 10, 2009 at 11:21 AM #

    Sorry I think the minister/worship leader needs to dress
    in something a little nicer than jeans. Maybe not a suit but a nice pair of slacks and a collared shirt would be good. Being cool to attract young people to the church
    is great bit I think they need a role model to realize that
    wearing jeans and a T-shirt is not the only way to dress.
    This is not just in church, I find young men and women tend to dress like bums, with lot of skin/body parts exposed.

  23. bob March 21, 2011 at 4:34 PM #

    In the NT we are encouraged to be modest, but the context reveals that modesty has to do with actually NOT wearing your best!!

    The problem in the NT church was that the poor were being marginalized by the rich because the rich wore clothes that clearly indicated their socio-economic status. And they were treated better because of that choice.

    At our church we decided not to wear our best because we have some folks who have 2 pair of jeans and that’s all they have. We will never marginalize people by wearing our best.

    That said, however, i agree that anything distracting people from noticing the awesome greatness and character of God is counter-productive to our mandate.

  24. Adrianne August 20, 2013 at 9:28 AM #

    Thank you for your post. I just want to share with everyone to consider the people outside of your four walls. We are to be fishers of men and women…..will they feel comfortable “coming as they are”? I have actually met a few people who told me the reason they are not currently attending church is because they do not have anything to wear. HOW SAD! I met someone who felt pressured to use his entire pay check to buy a suit for church when he could hardly pay his car payment. HOW SAD!

    Maybe we should re-think what we are creating…..a country club that requires suits and ties to be allowed in? Of course, none of us would ever think of telling someone to leave because they don’t have a suit……BUT, I have met people who never came back to church because someone told them what they were wearing wasn’t acceptable…..UGH.

    We are more than clothes….
    Find out your pastors vision, consider the lost coming into your doors every Sunday….and if there aren’t new faces week to week….pray about what could be the problem.

    Modest is the best always. Nice dress attire is good, and doing MY best to be presentable and really that isn’t so much about clothes as it is an outward expression that being in God’s courts/church matters to me (not everyone elses best, but what I can do within my means and what I consider “BEST”….for me, that is NEVER a dress)…..but I think we’ve taken things to an extreme if someone isn’t coming to your church because they don’t own a suit, or a tie, or a dress…..we are missing it if that is the case.

    Hope this helps someone…….

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