What should preachers wear?

What should preachers wear?

What to wear is not the deepest or most pressing question that preachers need to keep in mind as they prepare to open God’s word with his people. The most important issue is being faithful to the Biblical text, followed by usefully applying that text to the specific congregation of people they are preaching to.

That being said, what a preacher wears can be a distraction or send the wrong message to those receiving the preaching.

When I started preaching as a theological student, I was told that I should wear a tie. As a younger man, the thinking was that the tie would give me a greater sense of authority and people would be more willing to listen to what I had to say. In an effort to take advice, I did wear a tie for some years, even though I hated it. I had never had to wear a tie in my workplace and I never wore one any other time of the week. But if it helped anyone to listen more carefully to God’s word, I was willing to do it.

I received lots of comments about the tie. Some people gave my gifts of ties. It was notable. Why? Because no-one in the congregation wore a tie. No-one. Even those who had to wear ties during the week at their workplace didn’t wear a tie to church. Perth is a casual place. You are far more likely to see T-shirts and shorts at church than you are a suit or a tie.

So, with the approval of the elders, I stopped wearing ties. I simply wore neat clothes, trousers and a neat shirt. Nothing outlandish. That’s what I have continued with. It is not unusual in the context of my congregation and most of the time no-one comments about what I wear. Which is exactly the point.

What should preachers wear? Something forgettable. Whatever is neat and fits within the context of the congregation they serve. If you spoke to someone in that congregation afterwards, and they could not describe what the preacher was wearing, that is perfect.

Why does this matter? For two reasons:

  1. Preachers should not wear anything that draws undue attention to themselves or distracts the congregation from what they are saying.

If a preacher wears something that is way more formal or way more casual than the majority of the congregation, that will distract people. It’s like if someone wore a tuxedo to the beach or shorts to a funeral; you can’t help but stare. If someone is distracted by the clothes of the preacher, that will send their mind to think about fashion and what is appropriate. Perhaps they themselves are underdressed, or overdressed? This might be a stumbling block to those who are there.

Of course, different church contexts have different standards of dress. Many churches in the USA will have a significant number of the congregation wearing suits, in which case the preacher wearing a suit is expected and appropriate. But whatever the context, forgettable is best.

2. Preachers should not wear anything that sends the message to the congregation that they are more important than everyone else.

Many people already assume that the preacher must be the most important person in the congregation because their form of service is up the front and very visible. This isn’t right and contradicts what is clearly taught in places like 1 Corinthians 14 and Romans 12. The preacher does use his gifts to build up the church, true, but so do the welcomers, the musicians, the technical people, and the ones helping with the children. Reinforcing the wrong idea by dressing up more than the wider congregation might place the preacher on some pedestal he should not be on.

What preachers wear is, in some senses, completely irrelevant. We must not focus on clothing but on the message of the gospel; preachers should think carefully about how what they wear distracts from the gospel or helps people to listen well.