Things We Think Matter But Really Don’t – How the Preacher Dresses

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?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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4 thoughts on “Things We Think Matter But Really Don’t – How the Preacher Dresses

  1. I think dress matters in this way: You should dress to connect with your intended audience. It’s part of the branding (taking control of how you’re perceived). Many chuches in my tradition are so utilitarian that they never consider these things. The clothing matters in the same way that the building, music, way of preaching matter. It needs to connect. You’ll notice the prosperity folks are always dressed nicely. It part of the message they are communication.

    Jud is speaking to people largely in the artistic and service industry in Vegas. They are jeans folks. A. Stanley and Warren’s basic messages are about the practice application of God’s word in daily life, therefore jeans. You probably know that at some of mega-churches have wearing jeans each Sunday as policy! They are serious about communicating to s certain crowd. I find the whole thing terribly interesting.