This past week, one of my worship team members asked me an interesting question, "does God care about what we wear in worship?" She explained that in the past she had used makeup and clothes to hide who she was out of a feeling of inadequacy but that a few years ago God convicted her about her use of cosmetics so much that she stopped using them for a while. Through that experience, she learned that she was beautiful just the way that God made her and that she didn't need her brushes and bottles to make herself acceptable in his eyes. However, she still struggled with whether or not wearing makeup or fancy clothes while leading worship was somehow necessary, for lack of a better word. After all, we're supposed to bring God our best, right?
The question she is asking effects all of us, not just women. Personal appearance is important. The way we present ourselves - our clothes, speech, and mannerisms - goes a long way in determining how others perceive us. Even so, we know that "man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (1 Sam 16:7). What is the right thing to do?
While it is possible to find people in America today who have made radical simplicity a virtue (the Amish come to mind), the vast majority of us live in a culture that hyper-focuses on appearance. Whether we are looking at the professional world or the influence of the media, there are expectations and pressures to ensure that we look a certain way. On the one hand, physicians are often required to wear a white coat; lawyers must wear suit and tie; and worship leaders aren't recognizable without a deep v-neck t-shirt, skinny jeans, and outrageous facial hair - fortunately that's only for the men. On the other hand, celebrities become icons of body image and fashion and entire industries have arisen to critique the best and worst of the Hollywood elite.
These pressures tend to push people to extremes. For some, the temptation is to hide behind the clothes out of a sense of inferiority. They feel like if they look the part others will accept them - fake it 'til you make it. For others, the draw is to use their wardrobe as a way of gaining attention for themselves. Fear and pride, respectively, drive them to extremes. Neither option is a biblical response to the culture. Both are highly invested in their appearance as an indicator of their personal value.
The value of a human life is not determined or even expressed by the clothes we wear. The life of each individual is precious because everyone has been made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). Man or woman, adult or child, short or tall, fat or skinny, movie star or septic tank cleaner we all bear the image of our Maker. It is as reflections of the glory of God that we find our worth. It is not a value intrinsic to ourselves, determined by our birth or accomplishments. It is the free gift of God and in his sight we are all highly valuable.
There is, of course, a problem. While we do bear the image of God, it is a disfigured likeness. It is twisted and marred by sin but still recognizable. We all know that something is wrong and we try to cover it up with makeup, fancy clothes, or good deeds. Sometimes we simply try to forget and pretend that nothing is wrong. Either way there is nothing we can do to fix the problem. We need more than an image consultant. We need to be re-imaged.
This is where Jesus comes in. In him, all things are made new. This includes us! He redeems the image in which we were created when we place our faith in him. He restores that image back to its original glory as we are progressively made more like him through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. In Christ, God looks at us and says, "it is very good" (Gen 1:31).
At this point, I'm sure some of you are thinking, "yeah, we know all of that. Whats your point?" Simply this: we need to keep our priorities straight. Peter's exhortation to wives (1 Peter 3:3-4) is instructive for both women and men. His point is that we need to take more care of the inward matters of the heart and how God sees us than we do for our outward appearance. Peter isn't saying that we can't dress nicely. Rather, our emphasis needs to be on the things that matter to God. As worship leaders, if we spend more time and effort on how we will look during the worship service than we do preparing to lead our brothers and sisters into the presence of God then we need to do some soul searching.
New Man, New Clothes
As mentioned above, there is a desire in worship that everything be done with excellence and that we bring our best before God. When it comes to physical appearance, we need to avoid the one extreme of hiding behind our raiment and the other of using it to bring attention to ourselves. Beyond this, there remains a wide variety of options ranging from extremely casual to the very formal. What is appropriate will vary from one context to another based on the culture of the church and the individual. We need to take these into consideration because as Christians we represent Christ to the world not simply in what we say and do, but also in how we look.
At the end of the day, however, our outward image is of secondary importance. The real issue is how well we are conforming to the image of him who called us out of darkness. Paul reminds us to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 13:14). While it may not be fashionable in the world's eyes, we know that it brings a smile to the Father's face when we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ - and of all the critics, he is the only one who truly matters.
So, to sum up, there is nothing wrong with dressing nicely and wearing our best to worship - feel free to wear that old tuxedo that's just hanging in the closet - but there is also nothing wrong with wearing more casual clothing. The thing that matters is the heart. We need to ask ourselves, why am I wearing this? Who am I trying to impress? And most importantly, am I more concerned about being Christlike or being cool? Let's make sure we keep our priorities straight. To paraphrase Romans 14:17 - the kingdom of God is not a matter of clothes and makeup and accessories but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.