Dress for the Job, Pastors! #0686 by Paul Walters

Pastors need to stop dressing like slobs. I am so tired of going to clergy meetings in the middle of the work day and encountering other clergy dressed like they were interrupted in the middle of some home plumbing repair or gardening adventure and only stopped off at the meeting on their way to the hardware store.

Don’t be a slob.

Pastors complain about the lack of respect they encounter in the world around them, and yet for some reason faded blue jeans and t-shirts are equated with work clothing.

Every day cannot be casual Friday.

Maybe that is stating things too strongly, but when the phrase, โ€œDress for the job you want not the job you have,โ€ is part of our common understanding maybe pastors should sit up and take notice.

I understand there is a wide variety of styles of dress out there. I realize different parts of the country have different dress codes. I realize not every denomination has a tradition of wearing clerical collars.

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Still, there has to be a line in there somewhere. Yes, the culture is tending to dress more casually. Yes, every church now seems to have a logo embroidered on a polo shirt. But should pastors really just look like the came off the sales floor at the local Best Buy or Staples?

Everyone has their own style and their own look. Everyone has their own way of dressing. No, the clothes should not matter one bit. But they do and they always will. People will judge you based on your clothing every single time. You might not like it. You might think they are wrong for doing that. You might even be correct.

But it does not matter at all.

Your clothes matter.

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And when your clothing gets in the way of the gospel, when people’s response to your dress is strongly negative, they are not going to be open to hearing much about Jesus.

Your clothing makes a statement to the world around you.

So what do your clothes say? What do you want your clothes to say?

So what are you going to wear to work tomorrow?

Published by

Paul E. Walters

Paul Walters is the pastor of Lutheran Church of the Master in Troy, Michigan, and Senior Spirituality Writer for Life & Liberty. He and his wife Brandy spend their days trying to keep up with their three sons. When not doing that you might find him with the "Other Woman," his red Cannondale racing bike named Candy.

24 thoughts on “Dress for the Job, Pastors! #0686 by Paul Walters”

  1. For those who think dress doesn’t matter, this post sure has received a great deal of traffic. It seems that dress does matter in some way to many of us. I’m not sure I completely agree with where Paul comes down on this. But I am sure that this post has proven his point…4400 hits and counting. Good work, Paul!

  2. Thank you for this post. I was an elementary school teacher for many years before answering the call to ministry. One of the pieces of advice we were given was yes, to work with elementary school students you needed to dress comfortably but always professionally. To look like you cared about showing up. Therefore we didn’t wear jeans or yoga pants or t-shirts. We were leaders and therefore needed to dress like it. I worked, as I do now, within impoverished communities and was never hindered from doing my work because I dressed in a manner that was neat, put together and I feel, as you do, conveyed an understanding that whether we like it or not we are in leadership and need to show up in more than our weekend vacation wear. In my understanding and training it shows respect for the individuals we serve. I find this conversation also interesting because when I served in Chicago on the south side, the African American clergy in my conference (both male and female) always wore clergy collars every day and dressed very professionally for their position (suits on both men and women never jeans not even on Fridays–only if they were attending a picnic or some other causal gathering). Their congregations were some of the hardest hit financially in the city and yet it was never a question that the pastor dressed in a manner that showed he or she was in leadership–which, it seemed meant dressing “up”. These individuals did and still do amazing work with their communities who love and respect them for who they are. So my question is, for whom is this an issue? Is this a cultural piece or is something else at play?

  3. Paul, have you ever asked yourself about the appropriateness of referring to your bike as the “Other Woman?” I’d wear jeans to worship ANY DAY before I’d joke like that.

    1. Sigh. Ralph, just so you know I train long hours for 100 mile bike rides and occasionally race. It was my wife who first referred to my road bike as the other woman. Personally I am not a fan of the jeans and cleric look. To me it is sort of like a mullet, business in the front and party in the back. It is a confused look to me. But whatever you choose, you send a message to the people you meet. Hope it is the message you want to send.

      1. My main point, Paul, is that such messages aren’t universal. I personally (and my wife agreed) didn’t appreciate the message of “the other woman.” For others, including you and your wife, it’s a message of acceptable humor. Therefore, I conclude it’s subjective. I could write an article about the careful use of fidelity-language or fidelity-humor– some would agree, others would not. I could ask you, as well, if you’re sending a message there, and is it the message you want to send. When I first saw a pastor wear clerical shirt and jeans (some 35+ years ago), I liked the look, and wasn’t at all confused. I suspect that these and other things — humor, dress, language, tattoos, etc. — are a matter of taste and of message sent and interpreted. I don’t think that the intersection of taste and message can be dogmatic or universal. I can imagine a moment when my clothing is message-helpful to one person and a hindrance to another in the same room. I have been in situations where I think humor or clothing (etc.) sends the wrong message. I just don’t think it’s as universal as you made it seem. As always, I could be wrong.

  4. Paul, I’m a priest in the Episcopal Church, and I consider wearing clericals to be my habit. On a more humorous note: I’ve noticed that everyone has to have a uniform of some kind, e.g. baseball players, bike riders, fishermen, etc., and clericals are my uniform, so to speak. Any number of people stop me to talk with me because I’m in clericals, and they recognize that I’m a priest.

    1. I do get called “Father” from time to time when I wear clerics, which is not surprising serving a community with many Roman Catholics. A few weeks ago I made a hospital call in shorts and a t-shirt. It was a Saturday, I was at my kid’s soccer game and I learned a member had a cardiac issue. Rather than spending time going home and changing I left after the game and visited him. I wanted him to know he was more important than clothing that day. But most week days in the office you will find me wearing a black cleric. Plus choosing clothing in the morning is so much easier!

  5. In my first call in northern Minnesota, I wore dress pants and clerics to the office every day. Six months into the call, the parish treasurer (who became a trusted source of perspective and insight) told me that the widely-held perception in the congregation was that I was “putting on airs”. So, I started dressing in a way that Paul Walters would probably describe as ” like a slob on his way back from the hardware store” and what I would describe as “like the people I served with”. I very quickly noticed a thawing of attitudes and a warming of relationships.

    There’s a time and a place for a collar; I routinely weary one on Sundays and when doing nursing home visits, and at other times when it helps to be instantly identifiable. But there are other times in my current context when the collar would be more of an impediment to the ministry of the gospel than an asset. Perhaps the author should consider walking a mile in his colleagues’ clogs (or work boots, or wing-tips) before declaring us “slobs” fir not living up to his arbitrary sartorial standards.

  6. Dress for the job doesn’t really seem like that much to ask. Nowhere in here do it say to wear a 3 piece suit, what it does say is not to be a slob. Really, I don’t see how that’s an issue. I serve in a congregation of professionals who wear suits and professional attire and expect me to do the same, so I do, in my own way. When I served as a chaplain at a youth event, I did it in shorts & t-shirts because it was outside and 100 degrees – but I also knew these teenagers would see me as an example so I thought about my clothes before I put them on. When I served in a farming community, I wore more jeans because that fit the people I was serving. What I hear Paul saying is to take 2 minutes and think about how others might view your appearance, whatever that is, and not to regularly dress like a slob. I seriously don’t see why that’s such an issue, I thought it was common sense.

    1. Being a pastor is not a profession. Spreading the gospel is not about selling ourselves, but loving our neighbor. Love one another for the glory of God, in whatever outfit you might be in at the time. Dress for the glory of God, not to impress man.

      1. I’m sorry, but I disagree! Being a pastor is a profession – a pastor is paid, and therefore s/he is a professional person. Being a Christian isn’t a profession, however. I totally agree with what is being said here…If a preacher turns up for any engagement in carelessly thrown on clothes (that s/he has not considered in any way) then it shows a disregard and a lack of thought for his/her audience – seeing them as not worthy of being considered. It’s not meant to impress them but to show that you regard them as worthy of your consideration. Maybe jeans and a T-shirt is the “right” ensemble for your audience – but at least you have THOUGHT about it. Noone is saying you can’t minister to a hurting person wearing nothing but speedos, if that’s what is being worn at the time of crisis…but that certainly wouldn’t be appropriate in most situations. Look at the furore over President Obama’s linen suit – not thought “appropriate” for the situation. In my opinion, cut offs and flipflops are equally not appropriate in a worship situation (FOR THE PASTOR)

  7. I am not surprised to see strong reactions to my perspective. I do think
    how people dress matters. I do believe it conveys any number of
    messages to the people we encounter. So what message do you want to send
    through your attire? What message are you conveying? Have you asked
    others?

    I walked into a hospital room this afternoon to visit an
    parishioner with memory loss issues. He did not know my name, but he
    knew I was a pastor, the cleric was a dead give away.

    1. dress matters… sure… it matters to you, and it can matter to some. I’ve had more gospel centered ministry opportunity as a pastor SOLEY because I WASN’T dressed how they might expect a ‘pastor’ to dress. If I’d had a cleric I’d have been exactly what they expected and tuned out. Grow up buddy- admit the fact that you’ve simply ignored Romans 14 and are trying to bind everyone with your conscience.. we can agree to disagree… but this is a disputable matter- not something that needs a prescription. You’ve clearly had a biased about the fact that many pastors have become more casual, and now you’ve got a soap box to share about it.

    2. Is it really that important to you that people just ‘look’ at you and think you’re a pastor? I’m sorry my friend, but that is really worldly thinking. They should recognize you by your fruits, not outward appearances. I don’t know you to say whether or not this suits you, but it’s a good reminder, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.”

  8. Paul, I wish I could see your heart on this, and I pray to God, that it is sealed in him. But man, what you’re PRESENTING us with is equally as ridiculous as my highlighter orange golf shorts and grey T-Shirt I wore to church Sunday…

  9. Do you realize that a Pastor’s main job is to evangelize to the lost and hurting? Do you think a single mother who is doing her absolute best to support and raise her children will feel more comfortable talking to someone in a suit and tie or someone with clean well taken care of semi professional clothes? I minister in a mixed income area and I have had more people say they appreciate the fact that they feel they can relate more to me then they can someone who looks like they just walked off a JC Penny add. You are wrong my friend and to put your opinion out there and attack your peers without knowing their motives or success stories is very unethical and unchristian like.

  10. This might be the WORST blog post on Pastor helps I’ve ever read. Paul, you’ve manage to take a personal, worldly opinion on the formality of a person’s attire and made it an issue of character… total garbage my friend. Your attempt to tie dress with gospel effectiveness is laughable – for after all – tell me about how Jesus dressed? I have no issue with your conscience not allowing you to dress casual in the work place- however when you begin to obligate others with your conscience that is legalism, and this exactly the type of issue Paul was addressing in Romans 14. Give you head a shake friend… you may choose for yourself how you present yourself, and I say have at it, but who are you to tell me how to dress in my church, my community, my culture? Shame on you… I’m literally disgusted by this blog.

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