Why I Preach In Jeans (and you might want to, too)

For a long time the hardest decision I had to make on Sunday morning was choosing what to wear.   In seminary, as a student pastor, my choice of wear was easily solved with an alb.  With my robe on I didn’t have to worry about what was underneath for four years.   I liked that, but as I look back, my decision to wear a clerical robe had everything to do with connecting with people already saved, whether they be parishioners in my church or colleagues in my classroom.   The robe was professional attire which helped to solidify my role as pastor.   Not necessarily a bad thing, but today I have a hard time reconciling the mission Jesus gave us as Christians with the wearing of professional attire.   Lisa proved that.

Lisa (not her real name) is a young woman who got out of jail last week and attended our recovery ministry at our church last night.  She has been through a lot and desires nothing more than to find freedom from the things that have kept her in bondage for too many years.  While talking with Lisa she expressed an interest in attending church but didn’t know where she might be welcome.   A friend piped up and said she thought she should come here, meaning the church I pastor.   Lisa’s first question to me was, “I don’t have anything nice to wear.  These jeans are about the best I got.”   Just then, a member of my church jumped in, “That’s OK, our pastor preaches in jeans.”

The relief on Lisa’s face was obvious.   My resolve to dress so that I can connect with people who need Jesus was strengthened.

Lisa is one of many people who have wandered into our church because they heard the pastor doesn’t dress up.  As much as I don’t want to make clothing a thing it obviously is a thing for many, and I’m happy to meet them where they are.

Paul said that he was willing to become all things to all people in order that he might save some (1 Cor. 9:22).   In light of Paul’s words and Lisa’s relief, I think it’s important to ask ourselves certain questions about our dress code.

1. Who am I trying to reach? This question changed everything for me.   Jesus tells me that I am to go into the world and make disciples, teaching them to obey him.  Jesus sought out the least of these around him, connecting with those who were left out of religious circles. He didn’t invest much time with those who dressed to the nines and liked everyone to know their professional status.   It’s hard for me to imagine Jesus in an academic gown, plush with religious regalia.   If I’m going to be like Jesus, I need to reach the people Jesus tried to reach, which may require I dress differently in order to connect with the Lisa’s out there.

2. Who am I trying to please? The unsaved in our communities care nothing about our professional clothing.   But the saved seem to.   The folks already in our pews like to have a pastor who looks respectable, or at least many of them do.   For a long time I thought my job was to please them.  Freedom for me came when I realized it was my job to please God.   I think I please God more when I dress in order to connect with the lost whom Jesus is trying to connect with rather than dress to please the people already connected.  Some of our people will have a difficult time getting used to not seeing their pastor in a suit and tie or in a robe, but the more stories you can tell like Lisa’s the more they will come along.   And if they don’t, that’s OK.   One Lisa is worth 99 who are already saved.

3.  What does the harvest around me wear? If I live on Wall Street I might not wear jeans because the majority of the harvest around me is in suits.  But if I live in Dayton, TN, where the majority of people are working class, jeans work.  Ask yourself whether or not the people who most need to hear the gospel in your community are going to connect to your message or be intimidated or confused by your wardrobe.

If you are a layperson reading this, you can be a great help by telling your pastor you don’t care what he or she wears so long as it’s clothes and so long as the gospel is being proclaimed.   You could release your pastor from much anxiety about what to wear by telling him or her that you care more about seeing the lost saved than seeing your pastor dressed “properly.”   And besides, shouldn’t that be our primary concern anyway?


10 thoughts on “Why I Preach In Jeans (and you might want to, too)

  1. In my previous church I had a guy (early 30’s) who works as a contractor share in a new members class how he appreciated that the pastor wore jeans- and it gave him permission to come in jeans when he came to worship. So I continue to wear jeans most weeks. Of course my 3 year old daughter asking why I wear a dress when I robe didn’t help either!

  2. Robed until I retired, and transitioned to suit and tie in the next 6 part time appointments until I got to where I am now. The town is small (650 pop.) and the largest business is cattle raising and selling. I reluctantly shed the suit and tie and started wearing jeans and sneakers. A couple visited and apologized for not having “church clothes.” He looked at my jeans and all the others there were jean attired. He said, “Oh good, this is my kind of church.” Good article I should have read before I retired.

  3. Interesting article! The sad thing is that you are correct in many of your assumptions. I am also in Tennessee and I pastor a somewhat small two church circuit. Actually, I think I am one of the first Elders to actually preach at these churches. The other day, my District Superintendent informed me that someone from the larger church had called him about the way I dress on Sunday mornings. This was surprising to me because, while I don’t wear suits and ties on Sunday, I do wear khakis or dress slacks and a button down shirt with sometimes a tie and/or a sweater vest. Apparently though, because I am one of the first Elders they have had here, whoever called the DS wants to see me on Sunday morning in my robe and stole – regardless of the fact that several people have told me that they don’t care what I wear. In 20 years of ministry, this is the first time I had ever had someone complain (especially to the DS) about what I wear on Sunday morning. What is ironic is that the Sunday the DS recently visited was a communion Sunday and I always try to remember to wear my robe for communion Sundays. He made the comment to me that he was glad I had worn my robe (even though he had not yet told me about the complaint) and that I shouldn’t worry too much about it because he noticed that he was the only person in the pews wearing a suit and tie. Go figure……

  4. I really appreciate this discussion. Knowing your context, as stated, is most important. The one thing I would tease out is the responsibility for hospitality. Our “uniform” is one of the ways we can demonstrate our personality. While that can change from place to place, the people of the church should be the main value of hospitality, not how the minister is dressed. How can worshippers be welcoming to guests regardless of their attire? I think you have to be who you are and be comfortable in your own skin, jeans to stole. But the entire church needs to be welcoming and hospital to ease the minds of guests.

  5. I was appointed to a church where the previous, well-beloved pastor always wore jeans to preach. On my first Sunday, as was my custom, I wore my white robe. It was a formal service where I was formally welcomed as pastor of the church. Following that first service, the lay leader of the congregation came up to me, put his arm around my shoulder and whispered, “We have to get you out of that robe.”

    I don’t look good in jeans, and I didn’t own any. So, the next Sunday I decided to wear my best dress. From then on I wore dresses. Unfortunately I made the mistake of wearing my best dress 3 Sunday’s in a row. I really didn’t notice it. (My mother certainly taught me to wear different outfits on consecutive DAYS, but she never thought to tell me I shouldn’t wear the same dress on consecutive Sundays.) It was devastating for me to learn that a group of young adults (including the layleader) was tallying the number of times I wore that dress. They were looking for nit-picky things like that to mock and discredit me. This was partly a gender issue. If a man had chosen to wear the same suit and tie (or the same pair of jeans) on consecutive Sunday’s no one would have noticed at all.

    The story does NOT have a happy ending. I asked to move (to the relief of some in the congregation and to the embarrassment of others) at the end of my first year.

  6. I’m glad that the author recognized that his attire needs to be changed for the community he is in, and that if he was on Wall Street he would probably where a suit and tie because that’s what most others are wearing. I agree with him that his primary goal is to make the unchurched or unsaved feel comfortable coming to his place of worship. I’ve attended a suburban church where the Pastor and a large portion of the congregation whore jeans or casual clothes, I’m now attending a more traditional church downtown where the Pastor’s dress more conservatively and robe for worship. Both are appropriate for their respective services.

  7. I feel that this is really a different issue for women. Guys wearing jeans conveys something different from women “dressing down.” I always wear pants, because ministry is in reality quite physical – I may have to climb ladders or climb under something on a Sunday morning! – but I always wear a jacket with lapels. It’s hard enough for some people to recognize me as “the pastor”; without any sort of subconscious sign that I “work” there, I suspect it would be even harder.

  8. I so appreciated the insight you have for those you are trying to reach with God’s message of unconditional love. I have worked with those living in transition for over thirty years, and have pastored for eight (yes, a newbie as “Pastor” of a church, but not with those most in need of a message of hope). We have a very diverse congregation, many who have few choices in wardrobe, and are relieved to have pastor who doesn’t dress formally when transporting those without transportation or greeting our folks prior to service. I dress in an alb during the formal worship, but am out of “costume” during our breakfast fellowship prior to service, and immediately afterward. I introduce myself as “Pastor, and sometime taxi or bus driver” to those who are visiting for the first time. In another life I taught elementary school and was also a professional puppeteer, and the best guidance I ever received was that flexibility is a virtue. Blessings for your work!

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