Occasionally, while grading papers or doing some menial office task, I will play live worship music via YouTube. I rarely watch the videos, but when I do I am sometimes struck by a strange observation.
In a few of these famous churches, there seems to be an unwritten rule that unless you have a prior career as a model, you won’t be getting anywhere near the microphone. Virtually every person on the platform is — to quote an old movie — “really, really, really, ridiculously good-looking.”
To be clear, I have nothing against attractive people. But the fact that it seems to be a requirement does raise some questions. Do they have hiring conversations that go something like this: “Yes, she’s a fantastic singer, servant, writer, Christian… but she’s just not ‘Giselle-enough.’”
“NOT TRENDY ENOUGH”
Recently, a female friend of mine applied for a position at a very large (and famous) church where she has served faithfully for years as a volunteer. The young lady practically oozes Jesus. She is bright, works hard and has theological training and a servant’s heart.
When she did not get the position, she asked the interviewers for advice on how she could improve and grow for the future. Their response was, “You don’t dress trendy enough.”
Please note: The disqualification was not that she was sloppy or unprofessional, but that she didn’t fit their unwritten dress code of “hipster cool.”
Apparently, this too is a requirement in certain churches.
ANOTHER FORM OF LEGALISM
What struck me about both of these uber-trendy congregations (on YouTube and closer to home) was that they would be the first to denounce “legalism” as a danger in old-fashioned churches. Yet they seem somewhat blind (or apathetic) to the extent to which they are propounding something similar to the old, unbiblical requirements regarding no wedding rings, long dresses, no makeup and a commitment to never cut your hair.
“Cool” can be a form of legalism too.
What’s more, the “beauty requirement” (at the YouTube church at least) seems especially unfair to women.
Given the standards of “hipster chic,” male leaders may even be rewarded for looking like a disheveled “extra” from the set of Peaky Blinders (since shampoo strips the “anointing”).
But no such luxury is afforded female leaders. It’s as if the appearance-based standards for certain famous worship teams bear a striking resemblance to the type-cast priorities of Roger Ailes when selecting female Fox News anchors.
“My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
MY FORMER LIFE IN SKINNY JEANS
Two points in full disclosure:
- No church that I have ever served or spoken at has ever had anything approaching this set of requirements.
- I used to be a contemporary worship leader, and I even owned some “skinny jeans” before shifting toward my current mix of sport coats and male-pattern baldness.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being trendy or attractive.
But the breathless chase for “relevance” and “excellence” can sometimes lead us to places we ought not go. For one, it is hard to imagine the apostle Paul (much less James!) laying down such rigid standards of beauty and trendiness.
As a careful reading of the Corinthian correspondence reveals, it was Paul’s opponents, the “Super-Apostles,” who did something like that.
In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul writes the following (according to my Message-like translation):
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were [supermodels, influencers, geniuses, star athletes, owners of “Air Yeezy 2s,” or air-brushed icons of Instagram envy].
27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
If we are to boast in the Lord — rather than our beauty, trendiness or brilliance — that will mean elevating the kind of people Jesus elevated: not just supermodels and trend-setters.
In short, it will mean rejecting “hipster legalism” along with the old variety that focused on a lack of wedding rings and makeup.