My first papers: Critical Reflections on Practical Theology texts
Bonhoeffer / Emerging Church paper and AETE

How Pastors Should Dress

Listening to NPR today, I learned of the blog "Beauty Tips for Ministers" run by Victoria Weinstein who calls herself "PeaceBang" on the blog.  The Boston Globe also did a story in February about it.

PREACHING FASHION: Minister advises clergy on style
Boston Globe - Feb 18, 2007
See especially the audio slideshow with photos of some do's and don't.
And the interactive graphic "Preaching fashion" where you can put clothes on the clergywoman.

The following series of five posts on "Beauty Tips for Ministers" from August 2006 are particularly interesting because they begin to get at the philosophy/theology/rationale behind "how we dress." 

PeaceBang's philosophy is that "if we do not project an image intentionally, we will project one unconconsciously."  She argues for responsible, well-dressed clergy in order convey respect for other people.  Rev. Bluejeans writes to her arguing that "If I could wave a magic wand, I’d institute mandatory casual dress at every church in the country."  He wears jeans so that he can relate to common people. 

  1. PeaceBang’s Friendly Nemesis (Part I In a Series)
  2. My Response To My Friendly Nemesis (Part II In A Series)
  3. PeaceBang and Rev. Blue Jeans Continue (Part III)
  4. So Then I Said (Part IV In A Series)
  5. And Then He Wrote Back… (Part V Of A Series)

Rev. Bluejeans writes,

The entire thrust of the life and teachings of Jesus is away from religiosity and toward an interior life of faith . . . whatever he wore was low-key enough that fit in just fine with lepers, prostitutes, and a ragtag bunch of fishermen from the Galilee. And then there’s that whole “life is more than food, the body more than clothes…consider the lilies of the field” thing.

PeaceBang's summary comment:

Because to me, dressing all humble when you have the means to afford perfectly swell clothes is an expression of false piety — but my correspondent there is saying that dressing UP is an expression of false piety.

Interestingly, dress was a hot topic of discussion after I wrote "Image Isn’t Everything: the uneasy conscience of a GenX pastor" on Leadership's Out of Ur blog in April 2006.  I argued that emerging church pastors intentionally try to convey an image. 

People were agitated by these lines in my article:

[Emerging church pastors typically] . . . plan and prepare like crazy late into the night with the most talented people they can find (musicians, technical folks, presenters, set designers, chefs).  When it is event time, they put on their jeans (frayed and faded when purchased), mess up their hair, stick on their tight t-shirt, have a coffee in their hand, and saunter into the room as if they didn’t have a care in the world. When people are amazed at the profundity and power of what they experience, the pastor just shrugs and tells them, “I guess it worked. It just happened.”

I wrote this in the comments:

People’s comments have mostly focused on “what pastors wear.” People agree that we should spend more time caring about people than picking out our wardrobe. However, there is a range of responses about how seriously to take image management. On the one side, there are people who think that church leaders should simply “be themselves.” Your green plaid jacket may initially repel people but eventually people will be won over by your sincerity. These people suggest that trying to do “what’s cool” is bound to backfire because cool changes so quickly and people will be turned off by what they perceive to be “fakeness.” Furthermore, promoting a certain image will subtly communicate to people that cool people are more welcome in the community. They contend that Jesus and Paul were truth-conscious not image-conscious.  

On the other side, we have heard from an image consultant and many other pragmatic voices. They have argued that we have no choice but to project an image. We might as well be aware of what we are communicating. They argue that some people are naturals at fitting into their surroundings but most need a spouse (or an image consultant) to help them pick out what to wear. They would probably advocate researching your target group and trying to take small steps towards a more attractive image. They would admit that what is “appropriate” (perhaps a better word than “cool”) changes. And so this target image will probably continue to evolve and so you will probably have to keep changing your image to fit. They would contend that Jesus and Paul were certainly truth-conscious but were also image-conscious in adapting their outreach to their hearers.


Two conclusions:
First, I think most agree that we should at least try to manage our image by trying to keep body odor in check with regular showers and deodorant. Most of us also agree that we should not use thousands of church dollars to hire image consultants to conduct polls about whether people perceive us to be “hard-working” if our sleeves are rolled up. (I heard President Bush’s image consultants told him to do that). It is not wrong to be image-conscious. But the key question is resources. How much time, money and focus are we putting into our image projection? How much is too much?


Second, I think we should think long and hard before picking our “target.” Typically, we pick high school youth, punks in a club, or the golfing business owner. This is where we often make the mistake. We tend to change our image to look younger or cooler or richer. God may actually have intended us to reach someone else who we are now alienating by our new image. We need to ask ourselves, “who has God put in my life to reach? How can I serve them?”

A few interesting posts from PeaceBang's "Beauty Tips for Ministers":

Two other resources:

  • Men's Health: I have occasionly read the magazine Men's Health at the gym and have enjoyed hearing their take on "style."  Here is the link to their style page. 
  • has a similar function to "Beauty Tips for Ministers" in that they try to help churches promote themselves more effectively.  Like PeaceBang, they believe that pastors sticking their heads in the sand about image backfires longterm.  Churches who resist thinking about image still promote themselves but just poorly. Both blogs hope to alleviate that. 

Final editorial comment:

Jesus writes in Matthew 6:25-33 (i.e. So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things . . .)  But Jesus saying we shouldn't worry about these things does not mean that there are not no ethical and theological considerations involved in eating, drinking and "wearing."  There are.  For example, dressing like a prostitute would not be appropriate.  We see in 1 Corinthians 11 women not wearing a headcovering in that culture which was like coming to church topless.  (See 1 Corinthians commentary by Richard Hays.  Gordon Fee agrees).  Or what about 1 Timothy 2:9 "I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes." 

There are better and worse ways to eat and drink and yes get dressed in the morning.  Now, these are not essentials of the faith but they are part of living this human life well.  How do we in our culture dress "with decency and propriety" (1 Tim 2:9)?  It is ok to talk and think about it.