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.