I never expected to write an article on this topic, and I’m still not certain I should. But I’ve received sufficient questions from readers of the blog and listeners of the podcast to indicate I should tackle the issue.
Allow me three caveats before I go further. First, this post is about high-level issues of attire, not the specifics of fashion and dress. I am not qualified to write about the latter. I once tried to subscribe to GQ and was rejected as unqualified. Second, though I am writing about pastors, much of the content could be applied to other church staff. Third, I am only writing to males. I am not about to delve into issues about female attire.
With those caveats, I must disclose a clear bias of mine. I do not like neckties. They are too similar to a hanging noose for my comfort. With those issues cleared, let’s look at six thoughts about pastoral attire.
- Understand the demographic context. Most churches in South Florida and Southern California have different expectations about dress than some churches in Mississippi and Alabama. Find out how other pastors dress in the community. Find out how the men in your own congregation dress for worship services.
- Understand the church’s expectations. The expectations of churches in the same community typically vary. Because I speak all over the nation, my assistant always asks my host about the expectations of my attire. I would never want the way I dress to be a distraction or stumbling block.
- Understand changes in fashion. I have been fascinated to observe the changes toward a more informal dress in many churches. When I became a member of my church ten years ago, about 90 percent of the men attending wore ties. Now I suspect the number is below 10 percent. Such changes may be a signal to you as a pastor that you can dress a bit more informally.
- Lead change gradually. The pastor’s attire in a worship service can be a sacred cow for some church members. Don’t let the way you dress become a major divisive issue. For example, if you notice a more informal trend for dress in your church, you may want to move from wearing a tie all the time to leaving the tie off in the summer months. Gradual change can be better tolerated than radical and sudden change.
- Don’t put your preferences ahead of your love for others. The biblical principle of the stumbling block (See 1 Corinthians 8) means that we put our own rights on the backburner for consideration of others. It is not a sin to dress without a tie and coat, but it can be a problem for others. The matter becomes sin when our own preferences become our idol.
- Understand your members’ emotional attachment to certain forms of attire. I knew a pastor who was called to serve an established church in the South. Previous pastors had all worn suits and ties in the worship services. On his first Sunday, he wore jeans, an untucked shirt, and sandals. He had the shortest tenure of any pastor in the history of the church.
I welcome your input on this issue. Ladies, feel free to share about female attire for church staff as well. You are far more qualified than I to broach that topic.