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Does It Matter How the Preacher Dresses?

As it often does, this comes down to the preacher.

Many preachers tend to be followers, not leaders. They make decisions out of fear and not faith. Once they learn someone is criticizing them for preaching on tithing, that’s the last they’ll mention that subject for a year. Hearing that someone is unhappy over his haircut or facial hair, the typical preacher will let it grow out or shave it off.

No one likes criticism, granted. No pastor enjoys hearing that he was the subject of discussion around a family’s dinner table.

No pastor who makes decisions from fear of criticism has a right to stand in God’s pulpit on Sunday.

“Be strong and of good courage.”

If clothes do not matter, why such a violent reaction to someone suggesting the preacher and worship leaders ought to dress up and not down?

A few years ago, one of the start-up cut-rate airlines had their cabin crew dressed in short pants and polo shirts. They made a lot of jokes and played games with the passengers. They thought people wanted that. They were wrong. What passengers in those death-defying pressurized aluminum tubes rocketing through the stratosphere want from the crew is competency and professionalism.

We do not want airline pilots wearing jeans and pullovers and sneakers. We like seeing them in their uniforms. It inspires confidence.

Inspiring confidence.

That’s what it’s all about. It’s why television networks require their male anchors to wear suits, white shirts and ties. Even sportscasters wear suits and ties. Mike Carico and John Gruden do their Monday night games dressed better than 90 percent of the preachers in the land, all with a goal of inspiring confidence.

It’s why the presidential candidates are wearing suits and white shirts and ties. (Sure, they will occasionally don khakis and polos for a quick bite at a Laconia, New Hampshire, café. But before the day is out, they’re back in the uniform for a rally somewhere. Inspiring confidence.)

At the New Orleans airport, I picked up a denominational leader who was to address our annual gathering that night. It was a hot day and yet he was decked out in a suit and tie. I said, “Dr. Gary Frost, why are you wearing a suit? That has to be hot!” He laughed and said, “When the crew is looking for someone to upgrade to first class, they pick me.” It happens quite a bit, he said.

Inspiring confidence.

Argue with it all you want. The truth is what it is.

POSTSCRIPT…

I thought readers might be interested in a few comments from the Facebook discussion.

From Michael: “Here is my follow up thought for this. Why is a t-shirt and jeans good enough for Sunday morning preaching but not for preaching a funeral? If the deceased was OK with your attire on Sundays, certainly they would not mind that same attire as you preach their funeral. But I’ve never attended a funeral where the hip young pastor wasn’t wearing a suit.”

From Todd: I have noticed that if I lead a meeting in a suit and I lead a meeting in khakis and a button up dress shirt, there is a qualitative difference between the two meetings. Whether it is psychological or whether it’s fair is irrelevant. It’s real, and sometimes guiding a church requires one to do things in a certain way regardless if it is the manner at which I would choose to do it. Just as I didn’t choose to be “called by God,” I don’t always get to choose how I follow Him!”

From Jeremy: I pastor a very contemporary church, and started dressing up more about six or seven weeks ago. I looked at myself on camera and felt I looked sloppy. Interestingly, two doctors have joined in the last few weeks. I don’t know if there is a correlation, but anecdotally, I think wealthier people are more comfortable with a more sharply dressed pastor. I don’t wear a tie, but wear slacks and a nice sweater or crisp shirt.

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Joe McKeever has been a preacher for nearly 60 years, a pastor for 42 years, and a cartoonist/writer for Christian publications all his adult life. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.