Why Your Preaching Outfit Actually Matters

(Photo by Anna Sullivan on Unsplash)

I may be wrong, but I suspect that some of my readers won't like today's post. It's about pulpit attire—a topic many of us have had to face as churches try to reach younger generations. Here are some of my thoughts on why clothing matters when we're preaching.

  1. It's an issue of contextualization. What works in one church may not work in another. The first church I pastored would not have minded if I wore pants and a polo shirt. My second church, though, expected their pastor to wear a suit and tie. I've been in overseas setting where a pastor not wearing a long-sleeved white shirt and tie would not have been heard. Loving people well means being willing to contextualize my attire so others might hear the Word.
  2. Clothing does send signals. Sometimes it says, "I'm still living in the '70s" or, "I'm messy." In other cases, it says, "I like to rebel against tradition" or "I'm too lazy to iron my shirt." In a more positive bent, it sometimes says, "I want to become all things to all men" so some might be saved. These perceptions may be just that—only perceptions—but we still need to recognize them when we preach.
  3. Clothing can be part of an intentional outreach strategy. Perhaps the best illustration is the pastor who wears a coat and tie in a traditional service but then wears jeans with an untucked shirt for the contemporary service. He's doing that intentionally because of the church's desire to reach multiple generations through different services.
  4. Clothing can distract from the message. When your clothing looks strange (or even just decidedly different), it's not always easy to hear your message because of the visual distraction. I suppose we can blame that issue on the hearers, but it's our responsibility as the communicator to figure out how to communicate most effectively. That responsibility includes not allowing our clothing choices to hinder someone's hearing the message.

Tell us your thoughts about what preachers ought to wear as they preach.

Listen to the podcast below to hear from one pastor whose church discovered the changes it had to make to continue reaching people for Christ.

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Chuck Lawless is dean and vice president of graduate studies and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he also serves as professor of evangelism and missions. In addition, he is global theological education consultant for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

This article originally appeared at chucklawless.com.

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