How Do You Address Modesty?

imagesOne of the topics in the church that leaders rarely address is modesty. It’s awkward. You can be accused of legalism. People can be offended. It can seem politically incorrect.

But that doesn’t mean it should never be addressed, nor that there’s not a gracious way to do it. Ideally, those who participate in a public platform on Sundays should be aware that people learn not only from what they say but what they wear. (I did another post on what we wear when we worship here.)

Certain things are clear. We aren’t to treat people differently based on what people wear (James 2:1-5). That means we don’t look down self-righteously at those who dress differently than we do. Both men and women are to dress modestly, preferring others over themselves (Phil. 2:3-4). We aren’t to do anything that would make someone else stumble (Rom. 15:1-2). Specifically, women should wear “respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control” (1 Tim. 2:9).

A wise leader spells out expectations up front, before someone ever joins a music team. But over time, we can drift. Little by little people start to wear things that raise questions or distract others.

Not too long ago, a leader sent me an email he had sent to his team about this issue. I thought it was a great example of clear, gracious, and biblical leadership. Here’s what he said (slightly edited). Feel free to use it to start conversations on your own team.

In the last year, we’ve had a few questions from members of the church about what some of the worship team wears on Sundays. This email is to bring you into the conversation, and also to ask for your help.

Let me start by first making sure that you know how grateful I am for the ways that you serve. You sing wonderfully, and more importantly, you serve humbly and joyfully with an eye toward magnifying Jesus. It is a pleasure to do it with you!

It seems that what’s in the stores and in the media has become more and more form-fitting over the last few years. I don’t track these things carefully, but it seems like stuff is a little tighter on the body than it used to be. Although one wonders how that trend can infinitely continue!

A few church members shared some concerns with me very humbly and graciously. One parent said he is training his girls how to think biblically about clothing (specifically about how tight their pants are), but felt like sometimes pants of vocalists were tighter than he’d encourage his daughters to wear. Another couple said that the tightness of clothing was sometimes tempting for the husband during corporate worship.

I don’t believe that any of you are intentionally trying to cause temptation or distraction. And I don’t think that these comments represent everyone. But they’re a healthy reminder that we need to be aware and alert about making our clothing choices wisely.

My wife mentioned to me that it seemed like women in general are often conscious of how much skin is showing (neck lines, skirt length, etc.) but may not always be as conscious that things being really tight-fitting can be just as much a temptation for guys as actual skin showing. I thought was a helpful distinction, and as a guy, would agree.

As a whole church, we don’t enforce a dress code or talk about specifics often, because we want to direct ladies primarily toward the heart issues rather than a specific application. As a worship team, though, we do need to get more specific, because what we do is seen by the entire church and serves as a model, whether we intend it to or not.

Our goal in clothing is pretty simple: don’t tempt others, but instead do what is beautiful, simple, and will help us point others toward the beauty and greatness of God. Peter speaks to wives in this way: “Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:3-4). He’s not saying we shouldn’t look nice. If we look bad, that’s not helpful, either! Instead, we want to dress in a way that communicates that it’s not all about how we look, that we care about what helps or hurts others, and that lets people join us wholeheartedly when we sing to them about following Jesus.

So this email is just to stir you up again by way of reminder, to be vigilant and alert about what you choose to wear on Sundays. Sometimes what’s in style is tempting for others, and as trends change from year to year, we just want to continue to be thinking critically about what might not serve others. It’s not an easy job!

I don’t want anyone to feel condemned. I’m not assuming anyone has had wrong motives. But if you’re experiencing any Spirit-induced conviction, confess your wrong, bring it to the cross, and remind yourself of our perfect Savior who was sacrificed for your sin! As we think about the topic of modesty, we want the effect to be repentance (if needed) but then primarily a joy and faith to do what will serve others and help build the church.

If you have any thoughts or response, please feel free to contact my wife or speak to another woman you respect on the team. Let’s seek to ask questions humbly of others that are close to us (either a spouse, or another female friend who is honest and wise about these things).

I’m grateful to God for you all. May he continue to confirm, strengthen, and establish you as you continue to grow into all that the gospel of Jesus means for us!

39 Responses to How Do You Address Modesty?

  1. Nic February 15, 2011 at 12:14 PM #

    Answer? Burlap. Lots and lots of burlap.
    Seriously though this post was a refreshing example of how to address things humbly and honestly. Having grown up in a legalistic setting, I remember sermons on “the 4 L’s of modesty” (loose, lots, long, lady-like). Shudder

  2. Susan Perdue February 15, 2011 at 12:47 PM #

    THANK YOU, Bob! And, “thank you” to your friend for the graciously worded reminder. This type of reminder is something we do need to hear often. The pull of the world really does affect us more than I think we often realize.

    Gratefully,

    Susan

  3. Macira February 15, 2011 at 1:07 PM #

    Although your article deals with the effect of dress on the opposite sex, your article also raises the issue of smartness in dress when we arrive for public worship. I have always been an advocate of the “Sunday suit” as such dress further underlines the importance of the day. Christians should be as smart and as clean as possible when at public worship, and thereore I have discouraged the wearing of “jeans” at the worship of the Lord. What we wear should reflect that we are in the presence of the King of Kings.

  4. Joey February 15, 2011 at 1:44 PM #

    Bob, one thing that really helped me on how to approach this subject, was what you wrote in your book “Worship Matters” about supporting your pastor and submitting to his authority over the church.

    Because of that approach, when I had to lay out the dress code for our music ministry, I was able to get direct guidance and wisdom from my pastor on what standard he was looking for from our ministry.

    As you expressed in the book, the pastor is the shepherd over the church, so getting his input and direction is key, and extremely helpful when making these decisions.

    Thanks for sharing this email. It’s always awesome to see the practical nuts and bolts of others actually taking these steps towards honoring God.

    Joey

  5. Ben Karner February 15, 2011 at 1:49 PM #

    Just make everyone wear choir robes and then you don’t have to worry about it.

  6. Joshua Spacht February 15, 2011 at 9:56 PM #

    Thanks for the reminder and helpful email included in your post. It’s a difficult but necessary subject to address from time to time and again, you’ve shown us the proper, “non self-righteous” way to do it. May we all strive for holiness of heart and its practical implications on our lives (and dress).

  7. Nick February 15, 2011 at 11:00 PM #

    While I won’t say that I wish our church had this problem, it did bring to mind that the number of females on the stage is typically pretty low at CLC. I know we have talent in both sexes, but it seems like the majority of women are confined to roles as vocalists. I’m grateful for the modesty of the women who serve on our team, but at the same time I’m wondering if anyone is thinking about how to encourage more young girls to play drums, guitar, bass, etc.?

  8. Kebs February 15, 2011 at 11:06 PM #

    @Ben Kamer
    lol. :)

  9. Jean February 16, 2011 at 10:28 AM #

    I read this because someone linked it on Facebook. I can’t get it out of my mind…I am so disturbed by some of the comments. It seems there are people who equate “modest” with suit and tie, or “dress and pearls”. To say that the wearing of jeans reflects a lack of reverence before God is appalling. What of the position of one’s heart? What of a heart and attitude that are so full of pride, so judgmental, that it has no room left for worship?

    I suspect muchnof this debate is a thinly disguised variation of the “worship style” debate, but that’s for another day.

    What of the choices there are in stores today for my daughters. I will happily tell you why my daughters wear jeans to church most Sundays…because I can’t buy dresses for them that I would allow them out of the dressing room in!

    Modest does not mean “dressed up”, and I assure you, God is not honored by haughtiness dressed up in a suit.

  10. Jean February 16, 2011 at 1:49 PM #

    Let me add that I agree completely with what the actual blog post says, and I think the letter that is quoted handles the topic well. As worship leaders, the goal should always be to point people to the One we worship, not to oneself.

  11. John Balog February 16, 2011 at 5:35 PM #

    I agree that women should dress modestly. But there is an equal burden on men to deal with their own lust issues. I’ve seen the end result of the “If I lust after a woman it’s her fault” line of logic, and I have no interest in requiring burkhas (or the ankle length, neck high dresses of some “Christian” congregations). We’re all accountable to God, not just for what we wear but for how and where and how long we look. If you can’t control your lust with a girl on stage singing about God whose pants are a bit tight, how in the world will you remain pure with your co-workers with exposed cleavage and above the knee skirts? Logs and motes and all that…

    • Bob Kauflin February 17, 2011 at 8:22 AM #

      John, while I agree that men are accountable to God for their thoughts and hearts, it seems to me that the meeting of God’s people should be a place where the women are seeking to please God with what they wear. Yes, saying that something tempts me doesn’t mean that I have to follow through with that temptation. But it also doesn’t mean that it’s okay for the body of Christ to forego attempts to encourage godly and appropriate dress.

    • Jean February 16, 2016 at 6:02 PM #

      i want to encourage my husband to stop bringing materials into our house and in his mind of provocatively dressed women in tight clothes, low necklines and short skirts. i was drawing with black marker over the images and he got mad at me. i told him before we were married that modesty is a very huge part of my life. i don’t know what to say to change his mind. while we were still courting i told him to leave me if modesty wasn’t important to him, so i feel betrayed. please pray about this situation. im thankful more churches are discussing this topic its important.

  12. Anonymous February 16, 2011 at 8:09 PM #

    Wait a second, modesty is not just an issue for women and their clothing choices. I found this post disappointing because it implies that this is only a woman’s issue. It’s not! Tight clothing on men can be just as tempting for women. Why aren’t we also including clothing guidance for men?

    I also agree with John that modesty is a shared responsibility — the “wearer” needs to exercise good judgment in what they wear AND the “viewer” needs to take responsibility for their eyes and thoughts.

    • Bob Kauflin February 17, 2011 at 8:19 AM #

      Anonymous, while I agree that modesty can be an issue for both men and women, I’m not aware of any commands regarding clothing that God has given men in Scripture when it comes to modesty. Men are generally more visually affected than women, hence the numerous admonitions in the Bible for women to dress in a way that doesn’t tempt men to lust. That being said, men are still responsible for how they guard their hearts and their eyes.

  13. Joey February 16, 2011 at 9:29 PM #

    After reading this post, and some of the comments, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a buddy of mine about what worship leaders wear. I posted it on my blog for any that might be interested in reading it:

    http://www.aworshipleadersblog.com/what-we-wear-on-sunday-mornings-does-is-matter

    I hope it helps and encourages!

  14. Jessica Letchford February 17, 2011 at 6:30 AM #

    Thankyou – this is a refreshing reminder to be careful about what I wear on a Sunday when I’m ‘up front’ – what I wear on the outside and the inside.

    God bless!
    Jessica

  15. David Holt February 17, 2011 at 8:06 AM #

    This is very helpful and needed. I also believe pastors should address from the pulpit the need for everyone in the church to dress in a modest manner.

  16. Patrick Bean February 18, 2011 at 6:18 PM #

    Let’s read 2 Samuel 6. In this passage, King David worships the Lord wearing an ephod. The ephod is a trendy looking Jewish garment. However, you will notice in the passage that not everyone was a fan of the ephod. (Enter: Michal, daughter of Saul) I think this chapter would be a great chapter to study on the topic of modesty in the modern day church. It points out that while the Lord is honored and glorified in how we dress and present ourselves to Him in our worship, He also appears more concerned about our hearts than about our dress.

    I agree that when it comes to modest dress, it is a good and godly consideration that exhibits the compassion of Christ toward our spiritual family to dress in such a way that encourages others to worship God and not his creation. But let’s not hold back from worshiping the Lord lavishly like the woman at Jesus’ feet with the expensive ointment! (Matthew 26) When we dress to worship the Lord, we should be free to dress up to glorify our Lord! What are your thoughts on dressing to worship the Lord? Is it all about modesty? Or should we encourage dressing to glorify God? (And further more: what would that mean? I realize I might be stumping myself :)

  17. Bill February 19, 2011 at 10:36 PM #

    Thank you Bob for your blog entry. I am a member of a church under Sovereign Grace Ministries. We are blessed by your ministry.

    This may be a little radical but is it conceivable for the worship band to be positioned in the back of the church rather than up on a stage? That way when worshippers are looking at the words on the overhead they are not “distracted” by looking at anyone person on the worship team.

    I know from a practical standpoint this is probably not possible. But I’ve been considering this very issue recently thinking will we have a worship team standing between us and God’s throne when we are in heaven? Not trying to being facetious here.

    Growing up in the Catholic church, the choir, pianist, etc. was always located in the choir loft in the back of the church building.

  18. Dimitry February 20, 2011 at 8:12 PM #

    Great topic that many new churches seem to close their eyes to. Although modesty is an important fact in a christian’s life for man or women equally we must not forget the deeper issue that often comes before Christians start dressing not appropriately. for christians and that is the spiritual degradation. I have seen people that by their clothes you might say that they are a holy person but in life they are lying and not living by the word of God. People who have a healthy conscience will dress modestly.

  19. Leslie February 23, 2011 at 12:41 PM #

    When I was on a worship team for a large church in Texas, our “dress code” was stated clearly upfront. Skirts for women must be mid-calf or longer (when you’re up on a stage it can be a problem even with knee-length skirts), jean weren’t prohibited, but discouraged. I never felt like this was legalistic, and I understood the reasoning behind it. Now, this was 4 years ago, and “skinny” jeans are way more in style now than then, so there could be more of a problem with the tightness of clothing.
    I haven’t come across many dress pants that are tight, and maybe part of the dress code could be if you wear skinny jeans to wear a long tunic (longer shirt) as well, as to cover parts.

    I do think male worship leaders need to be careful as well. I recently watched a video interview with a prominent male worship leader who had a V-neck shirt on, exposing skin. That was just as inappropriate as a low neck shirt on a female.

    The Rebelution did a modesty survey in 2007 (again, 4 years ago). It may be beneficial for your team (or you) to look through it. I felt like some of the comments and results were a little overboard, but there is still some helpful information there.
    http://www.therebelution.com/modestysurvey/

    hope this helps!

  20. David Santistevan February 24, 2011 at 3:49 PM #

    Great post. I think it really does help to address the modesty up front and then confront someone on the spot if they don’t comply. It’s always awkward to do so, but if you’ve communicated it in advance, it’s less awkward. We try and remind our teams each weekend to think through what they’re wearing.

  21. Paul Wilkinson February 25, 2011 at 2:36 PM #

    Returning to the choir robe comment, maybe someone needs to reinvent the choir robe for the 21st century.

  22. David Edmisten March 29, 2011 at 3:55 PM #

    A great topic that needs addressing. I think that the leadership team of the church needs to set the standard for both worship team and congregation, in both speaking and living the standard. I’ve been to a few churches that seemed so concerned with attracting the lost that there was no visible distinction that members were any more God-fearing than anyone else.

    Many sermons will preach on how we ought to honor the Lord with our finances, our attitudes and our time… our dress should be no different. And everyone on stage, of both sexes, has to realize that purely by their position they are already drawing attention – so it should always be God pleasing attention.

  23. yankeegospelgirl April 14, 2011 at 3:42 PM #

    I like this. There’s another aspect which is the bizarre new trends for tight guys’ clothing as well. More and more I see these guys walking around in really tight pants, and I think, “Man, what’s up with that??” I really don’t like this new trend at all, and I really don’t like what clothes manufacturers are subtly trying to do with it, something that people seem to be innocently unaware of. I’ve seen wonderful Christian guys dressing like this without, it seems, really giving it much thought. There’s one singer who’s a huge favorite of mine, incredibly sweet guy with a heart of gold…but wears those tight pants. I just wish a fellow male would take guys like him aside and help them understand better.

  24. Daniel April 14, 2011 at 4:30 PM #

    This discussion frustrates me, especially the many comments that “men should guard their hearts, they are responsible for their lust issues.” Yes, we men are responsible for the “second look” and what we do with out thoughts, at the same time women ARE responsible for dressing modestly. Right or wrong, men are tempted, and the more revealing the stronger the temptation. Do you think David would have been tempted by Bathsheba if she were fully dressed hanging clothes on the roof (instead of naked and bathing)?
    This whole discussion confirms my personal belief (that has been growing lately) that a worship team (musicians and singers) should NOT be on stage (or on the big video screen). The purpose of the worship team is to lead people in worshiping Jesus. In what way does seeing them up there help that? It is obvious from this discussion, that in a lot of cases the worship team (and their dress) hinders people in their worship of Jesus.
    In addition to the modesty in dress issue, I have been to churches where some members of the worship team are more in love with their voice or their music talent and seek to bring attention to themselves rather than Jesus.

    • Jean February 16, 2016 at 7:06 PM #

      If anyone knows of a church that embraces modesty as a whole in the Ramsey, MN area let me know.

  25. Adam Scott August 14, 2013 at 8:16 PM #

    I agree with a choir robe dress code..

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