But the Lord said to Samuel, "Don't judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." — 1 Samuel 16:7
I say this by way of observation and not a judgment call, because I'm not sure I know. God knows, but when it comes to the optics of the church, does God care? Let me lay it out for you.
The mega-church pastor where we visited one Sunday came out on the stage to give his sermon at the first of three services. Saturday night's service was already "in the can," as Rush Limbaugh would say. He was in his early sixties and was wearing his customary jeans and tennis shoes and his "Untuckit" shirt. What was left of his aging hair was boosted up in the air by hair gel. Although his attempt to look like he was still in his early thirties fell short, his boisterous congregation appeared to adore his efforts and he preached a great sermon, and many came forward at the altar call to give their hearts to Jesus.
At another mega-church venue, two associate pastors came out pre-sermon to make announcements and give a pitch for giving, et al. At first glance, they reminded me of the old cartoon characters called "Mutt and Jeff." One was 6'4" and the other was 5'9." The shorter of the two was wearing a goofy hat, a la Charlie Chaplin, and the taller one had on otherwise nice jeans, but they were ripped out at the knees, on both legs!
OK, enough already of those scenarios. Now let me give you the optics of another church venue which takes place every week about 7,620 miles away from the above illustrations. I believe it's worth reviewing, perhaps even making a comparison.
Soro drew the curtains against the sun in preparation for the evening gathering. The believers arrived a few at a time, knocking quietly on the door before entering the room and slipping off their shoes. Some of the women removed their head scarves before taking a seat on the intricately patterned blue rug, and at the appointed hour Soro locked the door and placed rolled-up towels at the threshold to block sound. The door would remain locked for the next hour and a half, no matter who knocked.
At the click of the dead bolt, those with Bibles brought them out in the open. The group prayed, read Scripture, listened to Ali's teaching, celebrated Communion and sang worship songs with muted voices. All the while, other group members stood watch near the windows.
As the meeting concluded, the group members left as they came, staggering their departures to avoid drawing attention. After their last guest left, Soro locked the door and she and her husband, Ali, exhaled with relief. Another successful gathering with no police raid.*
All three churches are growing and new believers are being baptized on a monthly basis. Obviously the optics are different. Does God care? Or does He just look at the results? What do you think, O saint? I'm not sure I know.
*"Listening to the Holy Spirit," Voice of the Martyrs, October 2018