Not an uncommon question, but not really what you want to be the main concern when you invite someone to attend worship services with you either.
I feel now is the time to offer a disclaimer. Normally I shy away from “church controversies”, the disagreements that exist because the church is made up of people and we don’t all group think to come to the same conclusion. I tend to think many of them are silly and (more importantly) I hate when man-made issues detract from the light that the church really is. (If you’re interested in more of my thoughts on that, check here.)
However, this is an issue that doesn’t stem so much from disagreements among Christians as it does disagreements among generations in general. It’s those millennials again, messing up yet another deeply engrained status quo. A recentsurvey showed that 75% of hiring managers felt the biggest job interview mistake of millennials was inappropriate dress. You can find countless articles belaboring the fact that while GQ and Michelle Obama are great looks for GQ and Michelle Obama, they are looks that are quickly dying in the American workplace. A 2014 Forbes article, written from the perspective of an older generation, ultimately begs the question: stand their professionally-pencil skirted ground or wave a flag and embrace their flip-flops?
With that conversation taking place in the business world, it’s no surprise that it’s occurring within the religious world as well. Pearls are clutched, shade is thrown, and everybody thinks their perspective is the correct one.
So who is correct? In a sense, no one. And in another sense, everyone. (If that statement doesn’t cement my millennial status, I’m not sure what will.)
Let me give you two examples of situations I’ve witnessed. On one hand a teenage boy who is struggling with his faith shows up for Wednesday night services in khaki shorts. Two upperclassmen mock his apparel and inform him that he needs step up his dress. On the other hand is a teenage girl who attends an annual weekend retreat for the first time, bringing what she considers to be normal “church clothes” – a dress and pretty shoes. Upon seeing her peers in more casual clothes, she rushes to find something less conspicuous and an older counselor ridicules her perceived pretentiousness.
Who’s the source of the clothing dilemma then? The underdressed boy or the overdressed girl? Or maybe, just maybe, there’s another option. Maybe the problem lies not with the ones doing the dressing, but with the ones who are have a problem seeing past the clothing to the soul within. People can have multiple views on what to wear and still be right.
Some can see what they wear as a sign of respect to God and have an incredibly sincere desire to dress in a way that manifests that respect. I remember reading Scripture in my younger days and believing that if the Jewish priests went through so much effort and cleansing to make sacrifices and appear before the Lord, then I needed to do what I could to be presentable in my worship as well. While those are no longer my exact thoughts, I believe there is some truth to them and there are many who have pretty similar reasoning.
Others can see “fancier” dress as a barrier that separates us from the world. It’s easy to wonder about reaching all members of society if you see a group of people that makes you feel like you need to go on a shopping trip before you can join. Francis Chan, arguably the most popular evangelical minister today, is appealing partially due to the fact that his message of Christ’s love being meant for all is more palatable coming from a guy that seems more at home in a t-shirt and sandals than a suit and tie.
The bottom line here is that what you wear to worship should never be the hill you choose to die on. That being said, there are definitely a few reminders to keep in mind. Here are three, as any good preacher’s wife ought to do.
First, traditional views of modesty should be adhered to. Guys don’t really have to worry about this because polos and collared shirts are pretty standard and there’s really not a lot of inappropriateness there. Females have a lot more to consider. Them’s the breaks kids. We get prettier clothes but with great selection comes great responsibility. The parts of your body that need to be covered, keep them covered. Don’t make parents hope their kids don’t notice and ask for an explanation or make men refuse to serve communion in your vicinity because they can’t keep from seeing your lady business. Both have happened, and wouldn’t it be great if they didn’t again?
Second, when Paul is desiring that women dress modestly, he’s not referring to hemlines so much as an overall desire to be noticed. Do you spend your Sunday mornings making sure people will notice how on-point your outfit is? Cut it out; you’re missing the point. Do you purposefully dress down from everyone else so that you are ready to launch into a soapbox about their lack of real spirituality at a moment’s notice? You’re part of the problem. Churches around the world have different cultures and socioeconomic statuses. Dress with respect for God and for those around you and not in a way that is intended to call attention to yourself at all. That’s kind of the whole meaning of this whole modesty thing: not focusing on yourself.
And finally, quit paying attention to what others are wearing. Don’t assume how sincere another person’s faith is based on an outfit. They might have put a lot of thought into it and just come to a different conclusion than you. Dressing down doesn’t mean they don’t care enough and dressing up doesn’t mean they care more about appearances than God. It just means they might have a different cultural and generational perspective than you do. It might just mean that it’s laundry day and this was the only clean thing they found. Respect it. No matter what, they’re a soul that’s loved by God who is there to worship Him and fellowship with His body and that’s kind of the whole point of our gathering together anyway.
A final disclaimer: all of this is really putting it at the extreme of what people might think. Luckily, I think the vast majority of Christians I know are usually just happy to be able to find a respite of peace, love, and friendship with each other and don’t give this topic quite as much thought on a day-to-day basis. Just remember that, heels or sandals, God loves you and so do I.
But if you’re wearing Crocs we need to talk.