I’m not talking about coats and ties necessarily, just some reasonable standards. A preacher doesn’t need a coat and tie, or a robe, to preach. But neither does he need to look like a 10th grader.
But dress doesn’t matter, you say. Then why do defense attorneys put a coat and tie on alleged murderers before leading them into court? Why do television news anchors and reporters look so nice? Why does the president of the United States dress up, not down, for almost every occasion? Why do policemen look so sharp? Good grief. We know the answer to these questions, even though it may be hard to express.
Yes, standards of all stripes — not just in dress — may be more symbolic than real and they may contain a large measure of subjectivity, but we must have them, else we languish in mediocrity and fall short of excellence.
A few questions: Is there really any such thing as beauty, form or class? Is there any such thing as ugly, unsightly or grating? Has there ever been a time when you believed or “felt” that something was out of place?
OK, I’m struggling to present this argument, but I’m not alone in struggling with the issue. We struggle because we hear that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, meaning it’s totally personal and subjective, yet we know that deep within us lies a distinct aesthetic sense that guides us and lets us know when something “just ain’t fitt-in’” as Margaret Mitchell’s lovable Mammy put it. That sense is not cultural, but congenital. It is not socially constructed, but God-given.
But why do I single out preachers? Because just as in all things we must have standards, so in all things must we have standard-bearers. Literally, a standard is a pole with a flag on it. Not everybody carries the standard, only the standard-bearer. When the standard-bearer throws the standard down, he or she is actually saying to the troops marching under it, “Forget the cause, go home, do what you want to do.” And of course the cause is lost. It’s every man for himself.
Most mega-church preachers nowadays are dressing like teenagers. Preachers, like teachers, parents, police, coaches, elected officials, managers, CEOs etc., are standard-bearers. Their chief argument for dressing down is that they must do so to “reach” or “identify with” youth. I’ve mixed closely with teenagers and young adults for the last four decades. I’ve loved, watched and studied them. Believe me, they roll their eyes when a preacher or any other adult leader tries to be like them.
Their eye-rolling ought to remind us that to reach a poor drunk in the ditch, you’ve got to get in the ditch. But you don’t lie there in the ditch with him. You pull him out. Countless adults think they must lie in the ditch of youthful tastes and preferences.
Lest some modern Christians think that dealing with the preacher’s dress is majoring on minors, I would point out that in Scripture, appearance is explicitly addressed. In the Old Testament, Aaron and his priestly line were told in specific detail how to dress to prepare for worship, indicating that mindset and environment for worship do matter. While the New Testament is silent on dress for Church Age ministers, it does enjoin believers to adorn themselves modestly.
The whole business is indicative of the triumph of youth culture and influence, but the issue is by no means new. Catering to youthful tastes, instead of helping form them, was a temptation long ago. During the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales chided his famous Monk by writing, “He let go of the things of yesterday/And took the modern world’s more spacious way.” Chaucer contrasts the Monk to the words of the good Parson who held high the standard for church leaders: “If gold will rust, then what will iron do?”
Does it take dressing down for teachers or preachers to win the hearts and the imagination of youth? If so, then we have somehow lost our power, our spirit and our very mission.
We have thrown down the standard.
Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher.