Reflection #8 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number eight in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #8:  The pastor’s dress code (or lack thereof) seems to matter a lot less than it once did.

Anyone expecting scintillating insights on this topic can stop reading now.  Yes, I know bloggers are supposed to take a stand, proffer an opinion, and avoid on-the-one-hand-this-on-the-other-hand-that rhetoric, but I’m as ambivalent on this issue as anyone could be.  These reflections don’t always make their way to assertions.

When I was younger, most evangelical pastors dressed like CEO’s (represented here bytony-evans the sartorially splendid Dr. Tony Evans, Dallas’ Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship).  Pure and simple, this was the expectation, and it crossed all denominational lines.

headerImage-stanleyLetterAny pastor who dressed as casually as most evangelical pastors do today (represented here by Andy Stanley, suburban Atlanta’s North Point Community Church) would have faced scrutiny from an elder board, a worship committee, or a pastor-parish council.

Any pastor who dressed as casually as the most laid-back evangelicals pastor do today brian_tome(represented here by Brian Tome, Cincinnati’s Crossroads Church) would have faced discipline from an elder board, a worship committee, and a pastor-parish council.

And yet. . . .

When Tony Evans graced the stage at Judson University when I was directing the chapel ministry, he delivered one of the most memorable sermons on the will of God I have CWPA Demoss Stacked FC Logo PRINTever heard.  I once calculated the number of chapel services I attended in my 22 years as the driving staff force behind Judson’s chapels: just shy of 2,000.  I can’t recall details of most of them, but I remember Evans’ words 20 years and 1,000 chapels later.  (The gist of his message on the will of God focused on the intersection of God’s gifts and our passions.)

I’ve never heard Andy Stanley live, but the sermon series he did a few years ago on Romans, Free (including this particular sermon: Andy Stanley on freedom from sin), made a profound impact on my understanding of Romans 7, and I immediately adapted some key concepts from his message in the work I do with the Judson University Choir (Judson University Choir sings “Greater Still”).

I’ve heard Brian Tome in person many times.  When my father retired from 40+ years of weekend music ministry at five different Cincinnati-area churches, he and my mother began attending Tome’s Crossroads Church.  It was the last place I anticipated my former conservatory-professor father, with his Ph.D. in music, and my mother, who sang opera in college, desiring to attend, but Tome’s passionate and relevant-to-the-age preaching spoke to my dad in ways that most other pastors hadn’t.  I am profoundly grateful for the ministry of Crossroads Church.

I confess I’m a little old-school on this issue; I still prefer listening to pastors who don’t look like they stopped by the church on their way to the afternoon’s WWE matinee.  So I’m glad there are still pastors who don’t feel if they wear a tie or clerical collar and something other than designer jeans it will negatively impact their ministry.  But I use the examples above to testify that God has moved in my life through the preaching of pastors decked out in reverend rig across the “Dress for Success” spectrum.

So what are the guidelines?  Basic propriety and common sense should play important roles, of course, but, after that, let me suggest what to do by illustrating what not to do.  If we subscribe to Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 10:13, paraphrased here, that while all things are permissible not all are helpful, one thing we can do for sure is not allow societal expectations and misguided desires to be relevant at all costs to dominate our decisions.  (You have probably seen this, but, even if so, it’s still worth a second look: “Contemporvent” Worship.)  Your church’s cultural context (history, denominational ties, location, and a host of other factors) should be taken into consideration, as well, but this will be different for every church, making one-size-fits-all dictums problematic.

The Lord be with you, especially all you pastors–as you strive to dress for pulpit ministry in ways that will not get in the way of the gospel . . . even as we acknowledge the dynamics on this issue seem less important than they once were, a good thing, generally speaking.

Coming next week, Lord willing: The ubiquity (and near exclusivity) of the Four Chords of Contemporary Worship.

About Warren Anderson

Emmaus Road Worshipers is written by Dr. Warren Anderson, Director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University (Elgin, Ill.), where he also directs the Judson University Choir. A Judson alumnus, he has served his alma mater in a number of capacities over the past 30+ years, especially the chapel ministry, which he led for 22 years. From 1982-2016, Dr. Anderson served six different churches--American Baptist (X2), Converge, Evangelical Free Church of America, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist--as a "weekend warrior" worship musician/pastor. He is a former member of the editorial board of Worship Leader magazine. The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of Judson University.
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