At a pivotal moment in an interview for the preaching ministry at a church, the search team turned to me and said: “I think we would all be interested to know how you would dress, should you become the preacher at _______.” As I looked around the table, it became obvious the group wasn’t of one mind on the subject and had talked about it.
Some people really believe how the preacher dresses is significant. It certainly can be if one is inclined toward pink tutus or capes. But, for most of us, it isn’t going to matter much at all.
Some believe casual dress is the only game in town if you are tying to reach outsiders for Jesus. However, I’m not sure data bears that out. Consider Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes. They dress formally. On the other hand, guys like Jud Wilhite, Mark Driscoll, and Rick Warren (with the infamous Hawaiian shirt) reach people as they preach in casual dress.
There are also a lot of people preaching that aren’t reaching anyone–regardless of attire. When it comes to how the preacher dresses–it really doesn’t matter. Dress up or dress more casually. Focus instead on the message and the mission.
There are a few things about the way you dress that actually do matter some:
- If your clothes don’t fit, or really don’t match–that can be a distraction to those listening.
- If you are thoroughly uncomfortable in them and it impacts your ability to preach.
- If you really are in a culture where dressing either way “up” or way “down” will impact your message. There aren’t many of these, but they do exist. The point here is–dressing like the people you are reaching without giving them the sense you’re either a slob or heading to a five-course dinner after services.
To some, casual actually looks slobbish and thus feel the preacher lacks credibility. They are just sorry the preacher had to take time away from the skate park to preach. To others, formality creates unnecessary distance and makes them feel underdressed every week.
Over the years, I’ve always actually preferred preaching in a suit, rather than casual dress (though I preacher in fairly casual dress every Sunday now). It was a good reminder to me that what I was doing was important. Of course, I already knew that. But, there are well-documented connections between how one dresses and how they perform their job in the business world. The same likely applies to preaching. In fact, I might argue how you dress is far more likely to make an impact on you than the church.
How we dress isn’t going to help us reach people. How we preach the Gospel and live it out every day alongside our churches makes a far bigger difference. Some will always want the preacher this way or that. Just get dressed in clothes that fit and make sense in your context. Then, preach and lead. We can reach people in a suit or in flip-flops. We’re going to reach fewer if we’re focusing too much on how we dress.
What difference do you think the way the preacher dresses makes? Do you think I’ve underestimated it’s importance?