4 Reasons Why What You Wear when You Preach Does Matter

I may be wrong, but I suspect that some of my readers won’t like today’s post. It’s about pulpit attire—a topic that many of us have had to face as churches try to reach younger generations. Here are some of my thoughts on why clothing matters when we’re preaching.

  1. It’s an issue of contextualization. What works in one church may not work in another. The first church I pastored would not have minded if I wore pants and a Polo shirt. My second church, though, expected their pastor to wear a suit and tie. I’ve been in overseas setting where a pastor not wearing a long sleeve white shirt and tie would not have been heard. Loving people well means being willing to contextualize my attire so others might hear the Word.
  2. Clothing does send signals. Sometimes it says, “I’m still living in the 70s” or “I’m messy.” In other cases, it says, “I like to rebel against tradition” or “I’m too lazy to iron my shirt.” In a more positive bent, it sometimes says, “I want to become all things to all men” so some might be saved. These perceptions may be just that—only perceptions—but we still need to recognize them when we preach.
  3. Clothing can be part of an intentional outreach strategy.Perhaps the best illustration is the pastor who wears a coat and tie in a traditional service, but who then wears jeans with an untucked shirt for the contemporary service. He’s doing that intentionally because of the church’s desire to reach multiple generations through different services.
  4. Clothing can distract from the message.When your clothing looks strange (or even just decidedly different), it’s not always easy to hear your message because of the visual distraction. I suppose we can blame that issue on the hearers, but it’s our responsibility as the communicator to figure out how to communicate most effectively. That responsibility includes not allowing our clothing choices to hinder someone’s hearing the message.

Tell us your thoughts about what preachers ought to wear as they preach.

22 Comments

  • carel Joubert says:

    I Agree 100% with you. Afterall we are representing the Kingdom of God.

  • Pete Pharis says:

    I dress in a coat and tie Sunday mornings. I feel it shows a respect for the congregation, subject, and message. I’ve spent hours in preparation and do not want to take anything away from speaking it with the honor it deserves.

    Newscasters, many athletes in interviews, politicians, and the late-night comedians who make jokes at their expense all wear dressier clothing than those around them.

    They do not attempt to dress in a manner reflecting their audience’s tastes. Instead, they successfully are the most over-dressed person in the room because they project professionalism, authority, and look comfortably dignified.

    You expect excellent quality in the worship service sound and lighting. It takes good equipment and artistic handling. It is most effective when it is hardly noticed. We hardly notice the weatherman’s suit unless he wears that weird tie. Instead, we listen intently to his good news/bad news message that usually looks into the future no more than a few days.

    The message we preach has eternal consequences. A preacher is a professional and should approach the sermon professionally and with uncommon dignity.

    I’ve heard many complaints that a buttoned up collar, a tight tie, tucked in shirt, belt, and restricting coat are all uncomfortable. In many cases, it is because they don’t fit well. Even my small town full of dairy farmers and rodeo riders has at least two ladies who do alterations professionally. Clothes of good quality and fit produces a change in my deportment that nothing else can achieve. I am a messenger of the King and it is my privilege to serve.

    • Joshua says:

      Pete, that’s the best answer I’ve heard on this subject.

    • AB Vines says:

      Pastor Pete, AMEN! You are so right with your comments. It’s a shame that 90% of TV host dress better than today’s Gospel preacher. Furthermore,don’t give me its the culture, Dr. Robert Schuller preach in a grey robe on top of a drive- in movie theatre in California for years and reach thousands. Joel Osten does it every Sunday and last I check he is still the largest church in America. It’s a sad thing when ever other professional fields ,like doctors,lawyers , TV host, ESPN sports hosts and judges have not change their dress and they still are relevant why do we feel so passionate as preacher that we need to come down to the culture. I am not telling my members how to dress they dress from three piece suits to blue jeans. Nevertheless, I wear a preaching robe every week and I am doing fine when it come to reaaching lost people. It’s seem the more we tried to blended in the worst our churches got its amazing how our numbers are going the wrong direction and we are so bent on changing our appearance for the culture. It’s not the culture it’s your passion if you go after it with passion you can reach people with out wearing Chucks and a t-shirt. You are right Dr, lawless it’s all out being contextual but I wonder why our overseas churches are growing faster than we are and you said in your article if you did not wear a long sleeve shirt and a tie you would not be heard. Maybe just maybe are the kids teaching the parents. Just my opinion.

    • Virgil says:

      Pete, well, well said sir. Great context communicated effectively!

  • Josh Droke says:

    I think clothing should, in some way, match and demonstrate the personality of the speaker. Rick Warren wears a Hawaiian shirt. I don’t believe his church is big because he dresses casually. His speaking is more able to connect personally because he comfortable being himself. For Pete (above) to wear a suit and tie is perfect because it matches how he is bringing himself to the message – with dignity, professionalism, and authority. That’s so good! If I wore a suit and tie, I would feel like I was “faking it” before I ever even got up there, and my sermon would lose personality and authenticity because it started with a lack of genuineness. So I wear a button down shirt and jeans (maybe I’ll wear slacks on Easter if I feel like it that morning). I want to bring my most honest self to the table every week, and how I dress helps establish that mindset for me.

    On a related note, I heard Craig Groeschel on a leadership podcast recently, talking about how even the color of what we wear can influence how our message comes across. When he wants to sound authoritative, he’ll wear gray. If the message is “we’re all in this together” he’ll wear a softer color like blue. Something to keep in mind… without, hopefully, overthinking it.

  • John Carlton says:

    In my first church as an associate pastor I was told to ALWAYS wear a coat and tie in EVERY service. Things were not as strict in other churches. (Of course you’ll have to realize that the first church I served was in 1971, before many of you were born.) When I entered the pastoral ministry I was told to loosen up. “You don’t have to wear a coat and tie when you are in the pulpit.” On the Wednesday night service I wore casual clothes, but since I was coming from work, that only meant that I took off my tie. (2004-2011.) Sunday mornings I kept the traditional coat and tie. Sometimes on Sunday evening I went in for the more casual look. The reason I wore a coat and tie on Sunday AM was because I felt more comfortable wearing that attire. (Yes, I’m old school.)

  • Bill Pitcher says:

    I am very flexible. For during the week events, it’s pretty casual–genreally jeans and a sport shirt. Sunday mornings I reflect the norms of the congregation. It may have me in a shirt and sweater…maybe with a tie, maybe not. It may find me in a jacket, or a tie, or both. However, on the mornings we serve the Lord’s Supper I’m in a jacket and tie. That’s my one hold-out.

  • No scripture to quote on this topic. Just the image of John the Baptist.

  • JD Long says:

    I wear a dress shirt, pants, and a jacket. I do not wear a tie because I personally have difficulty finding shirts that button around my neck (I’m a short, stocky guy so I have to buy shirts that are way too big in the torso and sleeves for the neck to button). Sunday nights, I lose the jacket. Wednesday nights I dress casual. I believe that two entities in America that have lost respect, impact, and favor are churches and public schools. Perhaps the dressing down of the professionals at both of these places has had some impact. Perhaps not, but it is a real possibility.

  • I grew up in the coat and tie generation. Things have relaxed a lot especially here in Florida. We went business casual several years ago. Still have some who feel comfortable in a coat and tie on Sunday morning. Although it was interesting when two of them came Wednesday evening in jeans and a sports shirt. Had one of our men in shorts and sandals (my kind of guy). Always say that if we were near the beach I would be in shorts, a tee shirt and flip flops.

    There are so many things that affect the whole attire subject and one size does not fit all (pun intended). It is very interesting to me that the uniform was for many years a coat and tie. I went to denominational meetings in that attire and would have never thought of not being appropriately dressed. Today I go to the same meeting and from the top to the bottom it is untucked shirts, jeans, and maybe a coat. My how things change and as we all like to say “the method may change but the message is always about Jesus”.

    Just a thought.

  • Robert says:

    Nobody sees what I wear because I have an Alb and Stole over my black pants and black clerical tab shiry

  • Jeff says:

    One of the top three most useless debates in the church. People are going to hell and we are worried about what the preacher is wearing? Some of my most effective preaching is done in stained clothes working side by side with individuals on a construction site, under the hood of a car, or sitting on a rocky beach in Haiti in a pair of cargo pants and a T-shirt talking to fisherman as they mend their nets and untangle their trout lines. Let’s remember what preaching is all about.

  • J Vander Haeghen says:

    Would you address the pulpit attire for women pastors please.

  • Dennis says:

    “Your Best for the Lord”. But as stated several times above, the pastor (leader) should reflect in his attire that which is comfortable for listeners to hear with no compromise to the Gospel.

  • Ben says:

    Love your stuff Chuck – I always get them from Thom Rainer.

    I clicked on the link expecting to see something in here about high fashion pastors… I have been sitting with a ton of very young millennials recently and they at Best are treating this as a laughable joke. At worst they are treating it as reasons for leaving the church.

    You may have heard of the Instagram account preachers sneakers… I highly recommend looking it up – ostensibly this is a joke as I said but there are deeper implications here. Our apologetic is “well they got it for free”, I don’t think this suffices for this next generation coming up. As much as they are a contradiction spending all their money on avocado toast, I think we do have to have a better answer for representing the highest fashion in the whole world while people starve… I believe the kingdom that Jesus speaks of would absolutely track every dollar…

  • KIMBERLY PALMER says:

    This is an important issue. One thing we need to remember as leaders, is that we will be held accountable for the message that we preach. God will deal severely with his leaders. The world may view it as nonsense but details matter to God. When you read about the details given to Noah in building the Arc of safety, or the temple that was built in the O.T. Or any instructions of length, including the instructions for the Israelite’s were given just before The Passover, you will see that God is a God of details and every detail means something-It does matter what we wear in the pulpit, and we would do well not to adopt the popular thinking of the world concerning any of it. Sometimes the individual in the church that does not mind someone with a cavalier attitude about the Pastor’s attire is not where they need to be spiritually, but oh when their spiritual eyes open up and they have a real encounter with God, they will begin to see things differently. I have been on both sides of the coin here. I remember watching a Pastor on television some years ago, and I really could not get passed what he was wearing. It was an absolutely gorgeous suit. But it was so pretty It was an honest distraction. The shirt had embroidered flowers, the coat was very long, I believe and the collar was big and voluptuous. It looked more like it should have been in a high fashion magazine. It distracted from his message. Maybe for a wedding but not… In deed it did say a lot about his personality… and I am not trying to be facetious here but some years later this same Pastor was caught up in an adulterous scandal, sadly. But I remember that anytime I saw him. He wore very flashy attire. The only thing that I am trying to say is that clothing tells a lot about what is in us, and how much we value The word of God, the things of God, or our own way. The main thing I do not want to leave out here is, well is not a thing but the person of the Holy-Spirit. If you allow him to truly possess you as God intends he will lead you in what is appropriate, and you will not over-ride his nudging. The other aspect of that situation is when I am, preparing to deliver a sermon, I cannot just snatch anything out of the closet, the spirit of God will not allow me to. I am sensitive to him in that regard. My skirt cannot be too short, too tight, in the pulpit I need sleeves, I am covered up, no cleavage. I wear stockings, not that I dress with tight clothing or anything of that sort, because I am representing Christ. My nail polish cannot be too bright. I remember once my bright nail polish made me uncomfortable in the pulpit, I became acutely aware of it once I stood in that sacred space, and it was just an uncomfortable feeling. Not to mention, I was a little annoyed anyway that the nail tech had coaxed me into a color I normally do not get. BUT, we need to understand that it is important what wear when we minister to God’s people. These are people that God loves! That Jesus died for, and we are to be the example. Let us also read, in the scriptures abut other instances about what clothing and attire means, like the individual invited to the wedding feast without proper attire. And how when they went before kings in the O.T. how they changed their clothes and took a bath etc. Perhaps outside at a beach setting certain clothing may be fitting, I cannot speak to that. However, I will add that John the Baptist had a specific purpose, and in context, he was in the wilderness speaking to the hypocrites of that day on a certain occasion. Many of the priest were not there to hear the word he preached.

    ALL I know is that I use to be Lost but Now I am found. I have been chosen, called and anointed by God

    Now if you do not believe in women preachers that is another issue, for another time 🙂

  • Lloyd George says:

    I guess you may call me old fashioned. If you were going to have an audience with the president of the United States or the queen of England; you would not appear before them in jeans with holes in them, tee-shirts, and sneakers, etc. When we come to church on Sunday we are coming before the KIng of Kings and Lord of Lords and wouldn’t we want to dress our best in his presence. I believe what is being worn in churches today on our platforms etc. is a disgrace and an insult to God. What next people will be coming to church in their bathing suits. My God help us.

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