Church clothes anxiety

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“I’m sorry but you have to be wearing a tie.”

I’ve heard this at a couple of churches when I’ve arrived to preach. Luckily it was an anticipated statement and I’d packed my secret weapon—my skinny black. It goes with almost any shirt and is just what I need in an emergency—a lot more stylish than those ‘70s ties in the elders’ room.

A bigger issue for me are the stories I’ve heard about visitors being reprimanded for their attire—from gently and “subtly” to aggressively.

Church clothes anxiety is real. And I want to go to church. What about someone who is fearful of attending or at least isn’t sure about it? How do they feel deciding what to wear and whether they’ll fit in?

Church shouldn’t be like this. We should remove all barriers to someone attending.
I’ve heard the argument that you should bring God your best when you attend church. Therefore, you should wear your nicest clothes. This is an artefact from a time when people only had two sets of clothes. To come before God clean and presentable was a special thrill, a memory event for children, a designated point of difference between the normal week and the Sabbath (and often the only bath of the week).

I’ve searched the New Testament for clothing mentions. They generally revolve around these four functions: symbolic/white garments (made acceptable by Christ); bad people (or people thought of as bad) are described as wearing them (Herod); worldly reward from worldly people (Christ’s purple robe); and finally, an admonition to clothe the naked (needy).

Paul talks about modesty and vanity, but these days, when you wear a three-piece suit, silk tie, cuff links (you name the fashion accessory), you set a culture, and it is not one of modesty. Even with no earrings or makeup. Some churches I’ve been to resemble a fashion show.

You may respond that it is appropriate to go into certain events dressed in a certain way. Like you’d dress up to meet the Queen or for a job interview.

Fair point. But let’s look at why we dress up in those circumstances. Usually to impress someone or to look good in photos that will be kept forever (think weddings).

Morally there is usually nothing inherently wrong or right about one form of clothing or another. But think of a visitor’s experience and not causing our brothers/sisters to stumble—through envy or shame or being turned off completely because they don’t feel like they fit in.

Would you swap clothes with a derelict person who rocked up to the Sabbath service to make them feel more comfortable? Would you be willing to give them your best clothes for good? I know I would struggle to give away certain wardrobe items for a whole host of good reasons. Maybe I need to read the rich young ruler’s story again.

My dad would wear a suit and tie every day for work. When Sabbath came he desired rest. So his church attire was more like neat casual. But if he was up the front, he had to get dressed up (like for work).

This brings another common compromise. “Well the minister/up front people should uphold the standard but congregants can wear what they like.” This reinforces the distance between “normal people” and “special” ones. Paul says we are all one in Christ Jesus. [pullquote]

Peter reminds us about the only thing that is important to wear to church: humility. “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).

Have we devolved so far that an itinerant homeless person from a rough neighbourhood wouldn’t be accepted or would be given major side-eye in our churches, because we are all dressed far above his level? This points to a larger issue—changing church culture. We must be intentional about the atmosphere we create in our churches. We need to get back to what church is really about because the traditions we surround it with are not always biblical. They can turn us and others away from the truth and essence of who we are called to be.

Disagree? Feel free to. This is not a salvation issue. However, remember that everything we do or say impacts on someone else, including what we wear.

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