Dressing Up For Church–Traditional or Missional?

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A few months ago, I typed a lengthy blog post called Dressing Up for Church: Which Way Should One Go?  In it, I echoed what Joe McKeever said: a leader needs to dress one step ahead of the average dress level in the congregation in order to garner respect from those following him.

That was a few months ago. Has anything changed?

Yes.

Somewhat.

The debate centers around two poles.

The first is the notion of “wearing your Sunday best” and a sense of honoring the position of pastor and a sense of giving honor to God through our dress.  This is the tradition in which I grew up. I remember distinctly how cool it was to be old enough to wear a suit and tie to church. I felt grown up, a part of things.

But then I remember that the church in which I grew up was located in a retirement community of Beverly Hills, Florida, filled with 12,000 retirees strong.  No, not everyone wore suit and tie all the time, but the majority did and thus groomed the culture.

The second notion is that of connecting with the community you’re trying to reach. This deals with the missional aspects of the church. This culture in churches and among leaders seeks to meet people where they are in every aspect of their countenance.

The interesting angle to this notion is the floating scale of what ‘dress’ is.  Flannel and jeans?  Dress shirt and khakis? Print shirt, shorts, and flip-flops?  The easy answer to this is, what is the average dress of those in your community you’re trying to reach?  Then go with that!

Honestly, these questions and notions all come down to this: what is the expectation and nature of a pastor? Pastors run by different, often unwritten rules. Youth pastors, children’s pastors, and most other leaders are, well, leaders, to be sure.  But in some circles, the pastor is, well, the lead pastor.  And the expectations are different.  Higher. More stringent.  He is a reflection of the whole church!

And, this, ladies and gentlemen, is where the rub comes in. Pastors are the tone-setters of the church (or at least they should be). And this is what I have to sort through in dealing with Christ’s command to love our neighbors.  Is the tone I set by my clothing putting off a vibe that, in order to come to my church, they have to have a certain quality of clothes to be part?

Hoo-boy.  So here’s the money question:

If by living in Denver my suit and tie would be a turnoff to a neighbor coming into our church by the tone I am setting, would I be willing to set that aside?

I’d have to say, “Yes.”  Why?

  1. The culture we live in no longer has that underlying expectation of church on Sunday. Many of you reading this lived in an area where someone was looked down upon for skipping church, and thus a societal peer pressure existed.  But now, the societal peer pressure is to avoid church. And with that the understanding of having ‘church clothes.’
  2. Some still have that understanding of ‘church clothes.’  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard of people inviting others to church, only to have them say, “I don’t have any church clothes.” My heart just broke. In pieces. Tiny ones. To me, the requirement should be, “Wear clothes!”
  3. “What about honoring the Lord and the calling?” My response is simple: the qualifications outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 mention much about character. We honor the Lord with our character and with our calling to “preach the Word, in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). Why didn’t Paul (by the Spirit) mention clothing in the qualifications?  I believe that the Spirit gives pastors liberty in executing their high-character calling in a way that’s most missional for those around them.

You see, it’s not the clothes on the preacher that gives the ultimate sense of honor, but fidelity to the Word and the character He exhibits both inside and outside the pulpit. Could a context call for a certain style? Absolutely.  But here’s another kicker: The style of the dress at church should not be miles away from average dress in the community one is trying to reach. 

For us at ARBC, we aim to help all of Denver and the nations believe Jesus is enough. Is our church a place to hide from the city in order to create our culture, or is our church a hub to the city in order to connection with the culture?  

What thinkest thou?

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