Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Stylin', the Rich, and their Wardrobes

Day 8 of 46 c Lenten Season 2010

You’ve heard the complaints – and maybe made them yourself – about people who get all dressed up for church. Men in tailored suits, and women whose jewelry all but screams royalty. What show-offs these people are. Does their fancy wardrobe make them better Christians? They probably scare visitors away by being so dressed up. What about people who can’t afford similar duds?

It’s become part of our church culture, hasn’t it? We shouldn’t dress up for church anymore because dressing up leads to pride, and can also be offensive to visitors and poor people. Instead, at a lot of churches, people make a concerted effort to embrace the opposite end of the spectrum – a grungy mixture of ratty-looking jeans, poorly-tailored shirts and sweaters, five-o’clock-shadow that’s days old, and even knit hats. Inside. Church.

Casualwear is part of being relevant, right?

Replacing One Snob Standard With Another

On his blog,, Jon Acuff discusses a number of Christian-culture topics in a lighthearted manner that oftentimes masks legitimate critiques. Acuff’s blog entry #269 is entitled “Understanding How Metrosexual Your Worship Leader Is”, and it’s an amazingly accurate “handy guide” for exploring the fashion sub-culture in many “seeker” and contemporary churches.

For example, does your worship leader wear black-rimmed glasses – without a prescription? Does he wear designer jeans onstage, with a tie as a belt? Did he name his kid after a color or number? And does his kid dress cooler than you do?

It’s a hilarious list of characteristics that you can use to score your worship leader. Fortunately, we don’t have a worship leader at my church, and our choir director always wears a simple black robe. Although he does own a silver Volkswagen Passat (one of the criteria).

But do you realize what Acuff is doing? He is describing the new clothing culture at church. It’s not suits, dresses, and jewelry anymore. It’s like my parents thinking that rich people still buy Cadillacs. Cadillacs are for old people these days; rich people are plunking down $100,000 for foreign cars with stick shifts and subwoofers. So when people pull into your church parking lot, Cadillacs mean nothing. Just like suits can mean very little to people concerned about their appearance.

Today, self-centered fashionistas and other clothes-conscious people look for the $100 jeans with the fashionable holes, the graphic t-shirts boasting logos from overpriced designers, the hot greasy-hair look, clunky military shoes, sweatshirts, and stubble that isn't supposed to look like you're lazy. And not just on teenagers – the over-30 crowd wears this stuff, too, trying to make a statement.

And what is the statement? That I’m cool, with it, and relevant. The same statements people used to be trying to make with their suits and jewelry. It’s just that the times have changed, but not the people or the attitudes. We’re still looking for ways to justify our existence through our appearance.

Which is the big, fat fallacy in all of this, isn’t it? It doesn’t really matter that suits make you look important or that grunge jeans make you look hip. It’s what you’re trying to tell other people through what you’re wearing. It’s the image you’re trying to convey – an image that may or may not fit what you’re really like inside. It’s a show. It’s shallow.

It’s Not Appropriate for Church

That’s right. If what you wear to church is supposed to say something about yourself, try the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Nah, on second thought, we need to wear something. And I'm not saying wearing dowdy, frumpy clothing will score you any points with God. Fashion itself isn't the problem here, anyway. It's what we expect fashion to do for us. Nice clothes that fit well and happen to be stylish may make us look good in church, but should that be our aim when we open the closet doors on Sunday mornings?

Think about it: Who is the audience at your church? Hint: it’s not you and everybody else in the pews. The audience is God. He alone is the subject of your worship and the Person to Whom your corporate worship services should be directed.

Now, I know the old cliché about dressing for church as if you were going to meet the Queen of England. And while HRH may be a wonderful woman, she’s judging you based on what she can see, whereas God looks at the heart. He knows what you’ve got in your closet, He knows what you earn and how much money you have to purchase the necessities of life. He knows whether or not you own a suit, whether you need to own a suit, the number of jeans you own, and how much money you threw away – I mean, “spent” – on your favorite designer pair.

Instead of preparing to meet the Queen, perhaps a better rule of thumb would be to dress for church the same way you’d dress going to Grandmother’s house. If you’re going over to help her clean up her yard or just watch TV, you’d wear jeans, right? If you’re going over to celebrate a milestone or share a meal, you’d probably wear something a little more dignified and respectable, because you want to acknowledge the significance represented by the event.

Your grandmother isn’t omniscient, but she has a pretty good idea of the financial resources available to you. She knows your personality and probably a good deal more of your secrets than you realize. She remembers when you were born and she loves you very much. And hopefully, you want to respect your grandmother and the efforts she’s made on your behalf over all these years.

If grunge jeans and greasy hair are the best way to acknowledge the respect and affection you hold for your grandmother, then she probably won’t be offended if you show up to dinner that way. By the same token, however, if you come to dinner wearing a suit, but trying to impress her and maybe wheedle a favor out of her, don’t you think she’ll catch on pretty quick and be suspicious of your dapper clothing?

Search for Significance

Shouldn’t you dress according to the purpose and significance of the occasion, not the group that will be there? Depending on the setting, other people around you will have a range of expectations for the style of dress that is considered conventional – that’s part of the way society functions. And, to the degree that society changes and expectations evolve, what people wear to Grandmother’s house, to work, and to church will change. After all, nobody attends church in a top hat and tails anymore. Well, not in Dallas, anyway.

We should come to corporate worship with the primary intention of meeting with God. And believers in different cultures around the globe will dress differently when they gather for corporate worship. Native African tribes probably don’t worship in designer jeans or high heels. Eskimos and Papua New Guineans will dress quite differently based on their geography. But what is the constant wardrobe factor between cultures? If any particular fashion is promoted in conjunction with any attitude that deflects attention away from God, the people involved in perpetuating that attitude contribute to the ineffectiveness of the worship service.

Just as in old traditional churches, where suits and dresses can be used by people to establish a social hierarchy within the congregation, contemporary churches can flaunt our society’s increasingly visual responsiveness by manipulating trends like metrosexuality. Contemporary churches spend a lot of time and energy trying to create a vibe of cool Christianity, creating the same type of social stratification within the congregation. Both are wrong, aren’t they?

Dress to Suit the Occasion

Some people will wear suits and dresses because that’s how they’ve been taught to show respect and decorum, but they shouldn’t “dress up” just to impress other people. Some people will wear jeans because it’s the best they can afford, not because they’re trendy and expensive, or because they haven’t taken their dress pants to the cleaners.

The point is this: whatever you wear to church, don’t wear it because you either think other people expect you to wear it, because you’ll appeal to the popular crowd, or because you’re trying to make some sort of statement.

Don’t be a slave to superficial cultural trends. They’re not all that.

1 comment:

  1. Good post, Tim. Lots to think about here, and I have pondered this topic a lot.

    It all boils down to the heart, doesn't it? Let us each examine our own and in what "fashion" we are presenting it to the Lord in worship--full of ourselves and our own accoutrements or unadorned and humble and ready to receive.

    P.S. By the way, mine says I can still wear my high heels while keeping a proper perspective in worship. Bonus points for my purple ones, too. It's the color of royalty, you know. And I AM a member of a royal priesthood ...


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