the shape of leadership

What Not To Wear

Does your worship team need a dress code?

Kristi Northup on May 10, 2024

What Not to Wear was a long-running show on TLC featuring everyday people who were completely clueless about their fashion faux pas.

Hosts helped the aesthetically challenged create wardrobes that were stylish, flattering, and professional, while also taking into account their personalities and preferences.

Dispensing fashion advice is not part of a worship leader’s job description. Yet there are times when the dreaded conversation concerning what not to wear comes up.

Suppose a member of the worship team arrives for services dressed in something distracting or inappropriate. Should you have a conversation about it on the spot, ask someone else to handle the matter, or let it slide and wait for a disgruntled congregant to bring it up?

It’s a question many worship leaders are posing. During the first three months of 2024 alone, several colleagues from other churches reached out to me, asking how I handle these issues.

For several decades, our culture has been shedding buttoned-up attire. Beginning in the 1980s and ’90s, cardigans and khakis replaced suits and skirts as office essentials.

Over time, casual Fridays became the everyday norm. That carried over to church, as parishioners attended services in flip-flops and shorts, while pastors paired jackets with jeans.

During the pandemic, socially distanced school, work, and church eliminated the need for anything beyond pajamas and athletic wear for many people.

Except for the occasional wedding, some young adults have never known anything but casual dress. Many see no distinction between what works for hanging out with friends and what’s appropriate on the platform in front of a congregation.

Older congregants sometimes assume worship team members are deliberately pushing boundaries with their fashion choices. But in most cases, the people they find offensive are completely unaware of expectations.

So, where should we start? Unfortunately, many church people begin with outward appearances. At best, these are lagging indicators of the Holy Spirit’s work in a person’s life.

Consider the story of the paralyzed man whose friends lowered him through the roof to see Jesus. The man’s physical condition was an obvious need, but Jesus went to the heart of the matter, saying, “Your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).

With time and grace, things like attire often have a way of working out. But sometimes gentle guidance is necessary.


What Matters

In 1 Corinthians 11:4–7 and 1 Timothy 2:9–10, Paul addressed some appearance-related cultural issues of his day. The enduring lesson isn’t a matter of hair length, head coverings, or jewelry.

Rather, the basic principle is this: Don’t draw excessive attention to yourself. That is a standard everyone can strive toward: men, women, young and old, new converts and seasoned saints.

Paul encouraged modesty among church members. While modesty includes avoiding impropriety and indecency, it is also a virtue that fosters dignity and self-respect.

There are two aspects of modesty I emphasize within our church context. The first is sexual modesty. While this is obvious to many, we need to talk about it. Men and women alike should avoid dressing in a way that is distracting or suggestive.

Paul’s instructions related to financial modesty, which remains a relevant topic of discussion. A number of years ago, some people questioned whether televangelists should wear pricey designer suits. More recently, the trend of celebrity pastors sporting expensive sneakers became the focus of a popular social media account.

The need for financial modesty should bring conviction across genders, generations, and social classes. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to look nice, the goal of every pastor and worship team member should be directing attention to God instead of ourselves.

There are differences
in what people consider
appropriate, which is
why communication
is key.

Another issue of concern is appropriateness. What’s appropriate is usually a matter of context. Wrinkled T-shirts are fine for gaming at home, but communicating the right message in a church setting requires intentionality. (I’ve had to explain this to more young men than women.)

There are differences in what people consider appropriate, which is why communication is key. As a multigenerational church, we try to have people of different ages on the platform. I don’t expect everyone to have the same style, but I do want to convey a sense of unity.

Among other things, we talk about what colors and patterns are acceptable for the platform. Otherwise, we might have someone wearing an American flag next to another person with a bold giraffe print. Not only is this distracting, but it also looks discordant and sloppy.


Practical Guidelines

If there’s one thing I’d rather avoid, it’s a one-on-one discussion about a team member’s clothing.

I remember feeling mortified as a teenager at church camp when a leader asked me to change because she felt something I was wearing was inappropriate. This is why I go to great lengths to talk about expectations ahead of time.

Each new worship team member participates in an onboarding process, which includes reviewing a job description with leaders. We discuss our worship philosophy, team expectations, schedule, and dress code. This helps get everyone on the same page from the beginning.

Talking about dress standards within the greater context of our ministry vision helps people understand why we have them.

Our written section on dress details specific areas of concern:

Dress appropriately and modestly. We need to look our best! We ask that you look nice; please don’t be sloppy. Ladies, please no cleavage, midriffs, and tight or short clothing. Must use long blouses with leggings. Guys, no graphic tees. No undies visible and no shorts. Jeans are allowed, but no rips please! Shoes are required. Please be gender appropriate. Bold colors and prints should be worn under a jacket or sweater. Black, white, denim and neutrals are always great! We will occasionally coordinate for holidays and special events.

Every phrase is there for a reason, and we continue to modify the statement as needed. About once a year, I review the dress code during a regular rehearsal with the entire team, discussing any changes or developments.

Depending on your context, your dress code might look different. The important thing is determining and communicating any expectations before team members show up for weekend services.

On the rare occasion when someone wears something unacceptable, an individual conversation may be in order. Even if it’s an issue your dress code doesn’t cover, you may need to talk with him or her on the spot.

Keep the discussion short, specific, and kind. Don’t assume ill intent or launch into a long lecture about appropriateness.

Avoid embarrassing or singling out an individual in front of others. Just take the person quietly to one side and address the specific issue as graciously as possible.

Two years ago, a girl who was a recent convert attended camp with our youth group. I was grateful that while our district has conservative standards of dress, leaders understood that this student didn’t have the type of clothing expected at camp.

At the end of the week, within a meaningful conversation about a broad range of topics, our district youth director simply said, “Next year, no midriffs.”

The girl took it to heart, and we have seen a gradual but sincere change in her demeanor and self-worth. What could have been handled harshly was managed with grace and dignity, and this has been a vehicle for growth in her life.

As a pastor and worship leader, I want to help the members of my team grow in every area of life and ministry. What they wear on the platform certainly isn’t the most important thing, but that doesn’t mean it has no importance.


This article appears in the Spring 2024 issue of Influence magazine.

Don't miss an issue, subscribe today!

Trending Articles

Advertise   Privacy Policy   Terms   About Us   Submission Guidelines  

Influence Magazine & The Healthy Church Network
© 2024 Assemblies of God