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How a pastor dresses for ministry is something that has certainly changed, and drastically so, in the almost three decades that I have served as a local church pastor. In those early days, I would not have thought of wearing anything other than business attire to the office, and would have always had a suit when I was behind the pulpit. Today’s styles are much more casual throughout the whole of society, but I am a believer that a pastor has a greater outreach and impact if he will dress properly.

Here are some of my thoughts on “do’s and don’ts” for how a preacher dresses.

Dress appropriately for the cultural surroundings

Years ago, there was not a major difference between the way a “country parson” or a “city preacher” would dress for ministry. Today, however, we have more micro-cultures than we used to.

In many areas of the country, blue jeans or even short pants can be worn during the week and the pastor can be perceived as professional.  A good rule of thumb would be for the pastor to ask, “What would a male school teacher be expected to wear at work?” The dress of the school teacher is probably a good gauge of what is expected of professionals in the community for week-day work.

The pulpit, however, should be a “step up” for normal weekday activity. I don’t know of any community where shorts in the local church pulpit would be considered meeting the standard of professional attire. Nor do tattered jeans, faded t-shirts, and flip-flops ever meet the cultural standards for professionalism.

For the pulpit, rather than the school teacher, I would consider the executive, and especially when he may be making a presentation. In many larger cities this expectation is still dress pants, a button-up shirt, and often a sport jacket or even a suit and tie. One should take into account that, even in our casual society, it is very rare to see a news anchor or even a late-night comedian wearing less than suit and tie. Do these professions wear suit and tie because the men in the profession just enjoy that? Not on your life! They wear this attire because they know that this is the standard for professionalism.

This does not mean that every pastor must always wear a suit when preaching. It does mean that every pastor should consider it. Even though I pastor a very small church, I wear a suit or sport jacket and a tie most Sunday mornings. In the summertime I will sometimes preach in slacks and a dress-shirt because we do not have an air-conditioned building and temperatures can get warm on limited occasions. I am certain that nobody in my church would get on to me if I never wore a suit again. But I also know that between online audiences, guests, and overall impression, nothing speaks “prepared and professional” like a suit.

Dress appropriately for the activity

Preaching on Sunday morning is far different than working at the church on Tuesday. People recognize this and have come to expect a much more casual presentation. In small churches, the pastor can look at his schedule and determine his attire for the day. In larger churches, the pastors schedule is going to be much more demanding of professional attire all week long. If the pastor is going to be setting up chairs, or mowing the grass, or fixing the church van (yes, those really are pastoral activities!) then he can dress for those activities. Even then, however, he should know that there is the potential for a drop-in visit or a crisis for which he will want to look professional.

Personally, I keep professional attire at my office. This way, I am able to quickly transition when needed.

Dress appropriately for your age and physical characteristics

There are few things that are more of a turn-off than a 40 year old pastor dressing like he’s in his 20s. For heaven’s sake, dress like a grown up! Furthermore, each of us needs to get a good grasp on what looks good on us and what doesn’t. The skinny pastor should not dress in clothes too large, for he will look unkempt. The large pastor should not dress in clothes too small, for he will look…unsightly. If the pastor has a V shape, he can wear “tailored fit” shirts. If he is more of an “A-frame” then he should be shirts with a “little extra where it is needed.” Wearing clothing that fits will make a man look so much more professional. And when a man looks professional, what he says and does carries more authority.

Avoid distractions of clothing

Here are some clothing-related issues that distract from a pastor’s ministry –

  1. T-shirts that advertise. They are fine for some casual circumstances, but never fine for preaching, teaching, or counseling.
  2. T-shirts and jerseys with your favorite sports team. Wear these to the game or to the fellowship. Forget about it in the pulpit. Really. Forget about it.
  3. Clothing that excessively highlights your bulging biceps. We’re proud of you, we really are. But when you wear excessively tight clothing to show your progress in the gym, our real thought is, “This guy doesn’t have enough to do.”
  4. Worn or out-of-date clothing. Some pastors, it seems, pride themselves on the fact that their clothing came as a hand-me-down from the orphanage that didn’t need that size. The pastor may think that this communicates frugality. What it really communicates is that you do not prioritize professionalism.
  5. Clothing and accessories that reeks of wealth. Except in rare circumstances, the thousand dollar suits, hundred dollar pens, expensive cuff links and a Rolex to retire on speak of an “I’m better than you” spirit rather than the humble spirit of a servant-leader.

May you dress for success as you carry out the greatest task in the world; that of studying and teaching the Word of God in such a way as to effectively share the Gospel and lead believers to growth in the knowledge of God and His Word.

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Randy White is the founder and CEO of Dispensational Publishing House, Inc. He teaches Bible online at www.RandyWhiteMinistries.org and preaches at the Taos (NM) First Baptist Church.