One Pastor’s Thoughts on Clergy Attire (Don’t Wear Cargo Shorts)

Some years ago (before dressing down was the norm) I spoke at a hip, new church plant. They had a clearly defined church culture (before I knew what church culture was) and were thriving. Upon arrival I was greeted by a person assigned to me for the morning. He was dressed in some Dockers and a golf shirt. I was dressed in a very good suit and despite a long drive, was still feeling quite crisp. I could tell my attendant was stressed about something as he showed me around when he awkwardly blurted, “We dress comfortably for church around here.” Somewhat annoyed I smiled and responded, “I am comfortable.” Still not aware that I was being passive aggressive, he countered, “You can sure take that jacket and tie off if it will make you more comfortable.” “No need,” I replied, “I am completely comfortable.” After torturing him up to the point worship began (I know it was not nice), I took off the jacket and tie seconds before walking in and things went just fine. The reality was that I was comfortable but a guy preaching in a suit in that church culture make them uncomfortable.

Each week on Thursdays I film a message that will be seen at our campuses that weekend. I couldn’t help but notice while reviewing some messages this week that my clothing selection week after week was all over the place. Needing some consistency, I asked myself, “Robe, suit, jeans or in between?”

To get some input I asked church leaders what they wore to church week to week and congregants what they preferred from their leaders in terms of attire. Predictably, the responses of my 3,600 closest friends on Facebook were all over the place.

So here are my thoughts. As my mom used to say, “My two cents.”  Church leaders should dress in a way that does not call attention to the way they are dressed. We should be invisible that Christ may be seen clearly. I still dress up on Sunday mornings but dress down if I am live at a campus and on Sunday evenings.

Here are some things to consider:

1. If you consistently are the best or worst dressed person in church every Sunday morning, you may want to rethink.

2. Nothing is more pathetic than trying to look 30 when you are 50. Cut that crap out and dress your age.

3. If you get a lot of feedback on your attire, it is probably too distracting.

4. Don’t wear things that would be unflattering to anyone of your age, size and body mass. Getting feedback here can be enlightening.

5. Do what Jesus did but don’t wear what Jesus wore.

6. If you are unsure what to wear, err on the side of being a little too dressed up.

7. Remember that how you dress will determine how guests respond to your church. Dress from the front informs people of your culture and values.

8. Keep in mind that it IS church and NOT a Jimmy Buffet concert.

9. If you are a Protestant, don’t dress like the Pope.

10. Don’t wear cargo shorts.  Ever.

This Sunday I am preaching live at early church where I normally dress up and then traveling to our Millstadt Campus where I am normally dressed down on the screen. I find myself in an ecclesiastical conundrum…what in the world am I going to wear?

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Senior Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois

Shane 2015 Formal

Published by Rev. Shane L. Bishop

Senior Pastor of Christ Church, Fairview Heights, IL since 1997. I am an orthodox Christian but I am not in a bad mood about it.

5 thoughts on “One Pastor’s Thoughts on Clergy Attire (Don’t Wear Cargo Shorts)

  1. This is a very insightful post. I think it would be hilarious for you to show up in a robe and sandals ala Jesus. But it probably would be distracting. Just once though?

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I have learned that when I am preaching at a new church I wear business casual (dress pants shirt and blazer) and get there early and do like you did if need be and remove the tie and jacket. Sometime I call the pastor at the church ahead of time and ask what I should wear.

    1. As a lay speaker if I am called to preach at a church I have not been to before; I try to go to their worship service a week or two before. It gives me insight into the congregation and what their clothes culture is.

  3. One summer my wife let me wear polo shirts and khakis. It was real hot and the air conditioning wasn’t working that well. Other than that she won’t let me preach without a suit. By the way, she picks out my shirt, tie, and suit for Sunday morning. “Give ’em Jesus”

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