What does modest dress look like....for a pastor?
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” - John the Baptist in John 3:30
While it isn’t something we talk about very often, from time to time it’s important for we as pastors to consider what modesty looks like when it comes to how we dress. Modesty? For a pastor? Yep, modesty. What exactly is modesty? It can be defined this way:
Modesty: the quality or state of being unassuming or moderate in dress, speech, or conduct.
What I am specifically thinking about in this post is modesty as it relates to the clothes we wear as pastors. Even more specifically, what we wear when we publically preach and lead on Sunday mornings. Perhaps modesty of dress isn’t a huge problem for you personally, but I know it is for some. In fact, increasingly, I find myself talking with pastors, young and old, about this very topic. I mean there is an instagram account called “preachers n sneakers” that has 270 thousand followers! Think about that...270 thousand people want to see what kind of unique, trendy sneakers pastors are wearing these days...you can’t make this stuff up! I highly doubt the Apostle Paul could have ever imagined a day where some pastors would be more known for what they wear on their feet than what they preach, but here we are.
Needless to say, my kids have made it clear that my sneakers will never be cool enough to get me on “preachers n sneakers“ and I’m ok with that. But all of this talk of shoes and clothing and public image ought to cause us as pastors to ask some serious questions of ourselves and our dress. For example:
How can we dress in a way that doesn’t bring “unneeded“ attention to ourselves?
How can we not be a distraction to God’s people?
How can we get ourselves out of the way?
What does it look like to dress “plainly” as a pastor...in a way that doesn’t “unnecessarily” steal anyone’s focus away from God and His Word?
These are questions I think we as pastors would be wise to wrestle with before the Lord. Of course, this is one of the reasons Protestant preachers throughout history, from Calvin to Lloyd-Jones (pictured) to Boice, among others, preached in robes...they feared being a distraction from the Word being faithfully preached and heard. So, they sought to “hide themselves” behind the robe. That they might not be noticed. Christ was to be made much of in their preaching, not themselves. They took it seriously. I think we should too. And it should be our joy to do so!
Now, I’m not proposing that we preachers need to all go back to wearing robes every Sunday (though perhaps that could be a great way to go for some, depending on your tradition and convictions), but I would urge ALL of us to be thoughtful about our clothing and to put to death any sinful desire we have to look “cool” or “relevant,” (whatever that might mean in your context) if that is a temptation for us. Our call as pastors is NOT to be cool in any way. Our call is to die of self that we might lay our lives down for the flock, pointing them to Jesus in all that we do. The spotlight is His. How dare we try to steal it for ourselves in any way. Father, forgive us.
Now, I fully realize this entire issue of modesty is ultimately a matter of the heart, and I’m not in any place to judge anyone’s heart or motives when it comes to dress....only my own. At the same time, might I humbly suggest that a wise, loving, and God-honoring thing to do is err on the side of prayerful sensitivity to those we serve in all of this. The last thing we want to do is cause others to stumble in some way because of our dress....and that stumbling can come in a number of ways. Something to pray about.
Whatever it looks like for you, may we each do ALL we can to become less that He might become more in all areas of our lives, including what we wear and don’t wear. While you and I can’t control what others do, and we aren’t responsible for all that goes on in their hearts, as far as it depends on us, let us seek to avoid stealing any kind of attention from the one who alone deserves it, our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.