Yesterday in a post written to worship leaders, I said...
Your appearance matters. The appearance of the other singers and band members matters.Sometimes I’m distracted by tight clothes, nipples or excessive weight. Clothes that would be 100% appropriate to wear if you were in the audience–can become a distraction on stage because of spotlights, the height of the platform, or close-ups with HD cameras.
There was a lot of conversation on this topic in the comments. It obviously hit a nerve, as I was called elitist, self-absorbed, self-serving, slanderous, entitled and immature. I was told "you dealt a low-blow," "you can do better," "your post was not above reproach," and "you should be re-considered as a leader." Several felt I was provoking on purpose, but I honestly had no idea this topic would generate such energy.
Several people (the ones who weren't calling me names) asked if I would write another post to expand my thoughts on this topic. Let me start with a verse...
People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (I Samuel 16:7, NIV)
I hear a lot of preachers talk about the last part of that verse: "...but the Lord looks at the heart." And those are great messages. They remind us He doesn't judge us for what we look like, or what color our skin is, or whether we have a great voice or big ears or a crooked smile (like mine). He just accepts us. I love that about our God!
But I can't recall hearing a message about the first part of the verse: "People look at the outward appearance." We may not like it. We may wish it were not so. We may say it is because people are superficial. But we can't get around it. People look at your body, face, fashion, jewelry, curves, rolls, height, weight, color--the whole package--because that is all they can see. It takes time and proximity to see someone's heart. Initially, all we have is what we see.
There is a view that says "worship is between you and God." I agree and disagree. Yes, when we are talking about a life of worship--and your private worship time. But when it comes to corporate worship--it isn't just between you and God. What you do matters. And you must be conscious of whether you are distracting others from their ability to worship. If your worship is causing others the inability to worship, that isn't their problem. It is up to you to change what you are doing. I find this from I Corinthians 14:23-26...
If you come together as a congregation and some unbelieving outsiders walk in on you as you're all praying in tongues, unintelligible to each other and to them, won't they assume you've taken leave of your senses and get out of there as fast as they can? But if some unbelieving outsiders walk in on a service where people are speaking out God's truth, the plain words will bring them up against the truth and probe their hearts. Before you know it, they're going to be on their faces before God, recognizing that God is among you. So here's what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight.
This illustration from Paul is obviously specific to tongues. But I believe it illustrates that we have to be aware of what can be distracting in a corporate worship environment. Paul is clear--worship is for the benefit of everyone gathered.
In the same way, I believe appearance matters also. And, I believe everyone reading my words (even those of you who were upset at my suggestion that excessive weight should be a concern) agrees that the appearance of the worship leader matters. For example, would you let someone at your church lead worship in a swimsuit? Probably not. And it's likely not because you think swimsuits are evil. Or that you think there isn't a place where a swimsuit can be worn. You just believe that a worship leader in a swimsuit would distract people (even mature followers of Jesus) from their worship experience. I could say all day, "Those people shouldn't be so superficial" or "Worship isn't about the leader, it's between you and God" or "Worship is private, it has nothing to do with the people around them" -- but you would still tell me that the worship leader needs to put on more than just her bikini or his speedo.
So we all have a line that we draw based on appearance of those who lead us into worship. Some churches ban people with body art, others say "no jeans allowed" while still others are concerned with low neck-lines or skirt length. Those lines are drawn, not because those things are wrong, but because they can be a distraction to the worship experience.
In the same way, I believe excessive weight can be distracting. I'm not talking about an overweight person who looks like half your crowd (i.e. average American). I'm talking about excessive obesity--the person that in our consumer-oriented, superficial culture would cause people, in any setting, to turn their head and whisper to others. Yes, it's wrong that people respond that way, but it is the world we live in. There is nothing wrong with excessively overweight people...they matter to God...they are precious and should be welcomed in the church. We just shouldn't put them on the stage, in the spotlight, leading worship, and expect that there aren't a number of people who might have a difficult time focusing on God.