It’s not even a question of how influential Bryan Chapell’s classic Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon is. I can hardly imagine someone going off to seminary and taking classes on homiletics without having to read it. If you did, stop what you are doing and pick it up. It’s got a lot of great stuff in it. I’d place it next to Haddon W. Robinson (Biblical Preaching) and just under D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Preaching & Preachers).
Chapell has a few interesting things to say about the dress code of preachers. First, he writes,
“We need to be careful that the exercise of our freedom does not indicate disregard for our calling or disrespect for our hearers. No Bible verse indicates what clothing we should wear in every situation, but prudent observation of biblical principles requires us to consider what apparel seems appropriate for particular situations, congregations, and cultures.” (p. 338).
Chapell wants to distinguish between formal and informal preaching situations. Beginning with formal settings, he writes,
“Formal preaching situations normally require you to dress in what your community considers formal attire. Usually this does not mean finery. Preachers’ garb seems fundamentally at odds with the gospel when it draws attention away from the message (Prov. 25:27; Mal. 2:2; Matt. 23:6). Clothing should be so appropriate for a situation that it simply passes notice. This will not occur if we wear silk shirts in a rural church or frayed blue jeans beneath a suit coat. To the objection that these are but cultural preferences that are beneath the concern of serious expositors (who want fully to embrace their Christian liberties), we must reply that even the apostle Paul did not allow his spiritual privileges to impede the gospel (1 Cor. 9:19–25). As long as a community’s standards did not require him to forsake the gospel, he willingly bowed to them to promote it. If we object too strongly to others’ expectations for our dress, we should also question whether we are more concerned for our rights than for the effective transmission of the Word (Rom. 12:10; Phil. 2:4).” (p. 338-39, emphasis mine)
Regarding informal occasions, he goes on to write,
“When informal situations call for informal attire, we will still find it difficult to communicate credibility if our clothes are ill fitted, dirty, rumpled, immodest, out of style, or poorly matched. Poor hygiene and an unkempt appearance can also get in the way of a ready reception of a message (1 Cor. 3:16, 17). Some communities will find certain lengths of hair, facial hair, or some clothing and jewelry styles difficult to accept (cf. 1 Cor. 11:14; 1 Tim. 2:9). Before crying that these standards are unfair and artificial, remember that identification with people is a key aspect of biblical persuasion (1 Cor. 9:22). Those who minister to the poor and the homeless know that dressing in the clothes a thrift shop provides may best communicate their biblical priorities to the community. Pastors called to an urban financial district, however, cannot usually afford to dress so simply and still be heard.” (p. 339, emphasis mine)
“We should not conform to improper cultural standards or reinforce community prejudices, but we gain little for the gospel when we force our own preferences on others. The goal is not to dress for success or to wear camel-hair tunics but to have our clothes and personal appearance be non-issues in our ministries. We have more important matters for people to consider. Congregations will better focus on the more vital issues when we care enough about the people and the gospel to dress so that Christ, not our clothing, preoccupies their thought.” (Ibid., emphasis mine)
I really appreciate how nuanced this whole issue with Chapell is. I think the issue can easily get clouded when you begin to mix “unchurched” people with “churched” people, because the standards of “appropriate” are quite different. But over all, this is excellent advice! And to disagree with Chapell, I’d have to make a pretty good case, right?
What do you think?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
To a certain extent, I agree with this. One should be respectful towards ones listeners, to the point that you don’t offend them with inappropriate or improper clothing. However, I’m not sure that having clothing be a “non-issue” is necessarily the answer. For example, I could see some scriptural support for dressing within one’s Christian freedom, but in a way that “shakes up” the modern religious groups that might be compared to Pharisees. I think it can be healthy to require people to think about one’s clothing, to the point that they question “pet doctrines” they’ve held about what Christians or pastors ought to dress like. In addition, I think dressing in a way that is NOT the norm could actually draw people into the church who have forsaken attending church in general because of its excessive formality or because they feel too much will be expected of them if they try to attend.
What do you mean by “pet doctrines,” Teresa? That’s interesting… do you mean like perceptions of what is “holy” and what isn’t?
Yes. That’s exactly what I meant. I’m sorry I didn’t reply sooner. I never saw your question until now. I know that some churches have subscribed to the idea that the pastor has to wear a suit or a clerical collar, or men have to have short hair and women have to have long hair, etc. I think sometimes those types of restrictions can discourage non-believers from visiting a church, because they don’t feel like they’ll fit in.
It seems to me that his answer is tremendous on paper, and difficult to implement in practice. As you mentioned, the difficulty comes when you begin to mix the churched and the unchurched. Further confusion is added when we consider the dynamic of generational expectations. I’ve seen that one at work fairly recently. Where the older generation may feel that a suit and tie show proper respect for the pulpit, the younger generation may feel that the same exact outfit demonstrates being “out of touch” or worse yet, that it reinforces negative stereotypes about a certain code or standard that’s perceived to be required in order to attend church.
Interesting post, Luke. I remember introducing my non-church going but religious sister to you at a coffee shop. She was absolutely disturbed by your hairstyle, piercings, tattoos, and short pants. These were all things that I hadn’t considered that others might find offensive. The best response I had for her was if her image of a properly dressed pastor was culturally relevant and able to reach the youth/culture of today. Obviously your style has not kept God from using you locally and globally. I am thankful for you just the way you are!
If you are a pastor, you need to know if you will fit in a church culture. I have served in both types of contexts- traditional, and contemporary. I prefer a contemporary culture. I wear jeans- clean and dark…open collar, and a sports jacket (Business casual). If no jacket, I will wear a tie, but not that often. If no tie, I will wear dress pants with an open collar. Suit and tie for weddings and funerals. Know the culture, determine the fit, dress for the occasion and it you preach as a guest preacher, ask the host pastor what he wears, swallow your pride and go with it!