Hudson Taylor was a missionary to China in the mid-1800’s. He was considered radical because Taylor chose to dress, wear his hair, and use the mannerisms of the local Chinese culture. To many of the Western missionaries, this strategy was scandalous, and a sign of compromise.
It seems in every century the church has had a difficult time distinguishing between Christ and the ‘cultural clothing’ that we are most comfortable with religiously.
Suits and ties were not even invented until hundreds of years after Jesus walked the earth, but somehow they have been deemed the most appropriate attire for worship. Hudson Taylor’s contemporaries felt that Taylor should wear a tie (western formal clothing) if he wanted to be a good missionary.
And western missionaries have exported this cultural expectation around the world.
What Hudson Taylor did in wearing local cultural attire was really not that radical, it was simply wisdom. Any time we make our religious culture sacred, we actually begin to distract from the core message of Christ. People begin to measure spiritual maturity based on outward conformity to religious-looking standards, rather than alignment with the message and attitudes of Jesus.
So what is appropriate for a pastor to wear when he is ministering? What should a Christian wear to church? What most honors God? What best reaches people? Let me suggest a few guidelines:
1. Modesty – this is a lost value it seems in our culture, but it very important. Modesty implies an awareness of your impact on others. Does it flaunt my wealth? Am I wearing this to draw attention to myself? Is it at all seductive? Will it cause someone else to stumble because it is too revealing or too tight? (See 1 Peter 3:1-2)
2. Sensitivity – there are certain events that call for specific dress. Funerals are not casual occasions. Picnics are not formal. We should be aware of the time and place we are attending.
3. Relate-ability – I am not sure if that is a word, but here is what I mean: We should be aware of the culture we are trying to reach and dress it a way helps us connect with that culture.
4. Personality – It is possible to over-do this a bit. What we wear also needs to fit our personality. Teens don’t expect me to come wearing Van shoes, baggy jeans hanging off my hips, and chains around my neck…that would look like I am trying too hard. It would be a joke. I need to dress my age and within a realm of style that fits my person. But at the same time be aware of my surroundings and what will help make the best connection.
CLC is located in the northeast suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. A few years ago we did a study on the age of our guest to determine our most effective harvest potential. What we discovered is that we were attracting a large number of 40+unders. Young adults and young families are our most likely guest attendee.
This is a wonderful reality, because young adults and young families also happen to the be the generation at greatest risk for being unchurched or de-churched. So we have targeted this demographic as our primary audience as we reach out.
With that discernment came a decision about attire. I chose to stop wearing a suit every week (which gave off the impression of a ‘power-business’ look) and chose to start wearing ‘nice-casual’ clothes instead. As soon as we made the switch, I heard from several different groups.
The more traditional folks felt it was a step backward and less than God-honoring. The younger people started to cheer the change. Then the statement that sealed the deal for me, was made by a young lady who was living in a women’s shelter. When she was a teen, she had attended CLC and felt like she just didn’t fit in (for a number of reasons).
One of her concerns in coming back to CLC (as a young mom now) was that she would not be ‘dressy’ enough to be accepted. When she saw me (the pastor) wearing jeans…she felt instantly at ease. She told me, “I realized that I didn’t have to pretend to be anything to be a part of this church. I couldn’t have afforded to dress up. What you wore told me that it was ok to come just as I was.’
One final thought: I REALLY DON’T CARE WHAT I WEAR. I am more comfortable in jeans than in a tie, yes. But I have chosen to limit my preferences by my purpose. I would wear a Scottish Kilt if it would help me reach people for Jesus. (not that I plan on doing that any time soon…you can relax). But I do think we can even choose our clothing with the goal of winning people to Jesus as our focus