Let’s Not Get Petty About How People Are Dressed in Our Worship Services

It has become more customary since the spread of the ‘seeker friendly’ methodology for people to come to church in casual dress and even wear jeans to church services. Some churches put that casual dress is appropriate for their services in their bulletins and websites when they give the times for the services. It’s also become customary for many pastors to preach and minister in casual dress rather than wearing a suit and tie or while wearing jeans as well.

This trend in the church has followed the same kind of trend in the North American business culture as well. It’s more customary now for business suits to be worn by business executives and lawyers rather than lower level managers and non-managerial white collar employees. For instance, when I entered the information technology workforce back in 1993, business suits were required dress for computer programmers and support workers such as network administrators. Now it’s more customary for them to be allowed to wear a business casual type of dress, and some places permit jeans and shorts as well.

It’s not unusual, therefore, when a man wears a business suit or coat and tie in a business casual workplace, that the coworkers may make some remarks about it. Usually these remarks are something like inquiries about whether there’s an interview for another job or something like that. But here’s the rub: these kinds of remarks may come when someone attends a church, perhaps even as a first time visitor, and someone in up front ministry, such as a worship leader or a pastor, may work some kind of remark into the worship service, during a prayer, or announcements, or even simply guiding the direction of the service. Or someone who attends the church may start making inappropriate inquiries about why someone may come to church dressed a little different than someone else.

The truth is that people in North American generally dress the way that is appropriate for where they live and work. Blue collar people may wear clothes from Walmart and be suspicious of people in business professional attire. Suburban professionals may wear khakis and polo shirts, and try to hide their disdain for people who wear flannel shirts and jeans. Personal grooming habits and hair styles may vary. Someone may wear something different for a little while for a good reason – such as a suit for a funeral or a wedding.

So let’s bring this down to the church. Here are some ideas.

Let’s avoid making remarks about how people dress when they come to church, either during the worship service or during the social time before and after services. I would encourage pastors and church elders to take the lead in guiding people away from this when it happens. If, as scripture says, God is more concerned about the heart of a person and his or her eternal destiny than the outward appearance, how someone is dressed at church should be the least of our concerns.

Let’s avoid jumping to conclusions about a person’s spiritual state or personal lifestyle based on how he or she dresses. For instance, when I was a pastor during the 1980s and early 1990s, it was normal for a pastor to wear a suit or coat and tie when in public ministry. It was also quite customary for a person to wear his or her ‘Sunday best’ to worship services for most of the past three centuries in the English speaking world, and casual dress has only recently become more customary. Someone wearing a suit and tie to a worship service may only mean that he grew up in a different generation or a different region of the country, and does not necessarily mean that he is trying to follow some kind of legalistic path of outward formality. Moreover, a man who dresses in what I could call suburban professional casual (khakis or good quality jeans with a polo shirt or sweater) and is well groomed, with a nice haircut, may only be dressing like his peers in his neighborhood or on his job; no snide remarks about his being a ‘metrosexual’ or even being gay should ever be whispered behind his back, and definitely never repeated or dwelt upon. In other words, how someone is dressed should not be a source of ridicule or gossip.

In other words, let’s have wisdom, common sense and charity prevail in these situations. When people around us are lost, without Christ, in this fallen world, when Christ commands us to love each other as he has loved us, and when we are gathered together to worship the one true God and hear from his Word, the least of our concerns should be how someone is dressed. I would venture that a church, or a ministry in a church, or a person in the church, that gets caught up in this has lost focus for what really matters. Let’s not nitpick anyone behind his or her back, or in an indirect manner, or to his or her face about how he or she is dressed and groomed when he or she comes to our worship services. And if this has been going on in any church or ministry, let’s put it to rest forever, and return our focus to who God is, what he has done through Jesus Christ, and the great need to make that known in its power and reality in our lives and to those around us.