Reflection #11 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 11 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 #11: I often find myself conflicted about what many of us wear to church on Sunday mornings.

As I have mentioned previously, for most of my adult life–31 out of 34 years (taking a few years off to get married and adjust to that new reality)–I got paid to go to church.  To be accurate, I got paid to lead worship (in different capacities) at six different churches in Cincinnati, Ohio, and various parts of Chicagoland.  But on those mornings when the alarm rang far too early for comfort, I confess I found comfort in the paycheck waiting for me in the church office.

Once I stepped away from church-sponsored worship leading, one of the biggest and most surprising changes in the way I approached Sunday mornings was how quickly I embraced the contemporary American church’s current ethos re: what constitutes appropriate attire for worship.  (More so than in most of these blog posts, the following does not apply across the board.  In the typical African-American church, for instance, most congregants still adhere to the concept of wearing “Sunday best” attire.)

Dad CHPEarly in my ministry, I was hardly ever without a coat and tie (and sometimes a full suit) on Sunday morning.  (I came to this habit partly because of the example of my father, Dr. Simon Anderson, the college professor, who was so committed to solidifying the ridiculous jump in socio-economic status his hard work and education had afforded his family that he was always dressed to the nines–to the extent that the man once wore a three-piece suit and fedora to the Van Halen concert to which he took his Music Appreciation class.)  As soon as I no longer found myself on the platform at church, however, my sartorial fastidiousness evaporated pretty quickly.

But, I confess, I don’t always feel comfortable in the comfort of my casual dress, and I wonder if, perhaps, there are deeper issues at stake for believers, if collectively we should think a bit more about what our typical church-going attire communicates–to others and to God.  Since I don’t have this all figured out and am still wrestling with the implications of what I’m suggesting here, I close these reflections with five questions to ponder.

  1. How would the Didache (Wikipedia on the Didache) read had its authors been primarily fashion commentators as opposed to liturgical and ecclesial historians?  In other words, what would have been considered normative and appropriate attire for “parishioners” in the first century?
  2. Regarding the layout and adornment of our worship spaces, Aaron Niequist, in hisuntitled wonderful primer on practice-based worship The Eternal Current, writes, “Physical space is not neutral.  The room itself preaches.”  Can a similar statement–“What we wear to church is not neutral; our attire itself preaches”–be made?
  3. How does the internal dialogue “What should I wear to church this morning?” relate, if at all, to spiritual maturity and/or respect for the Almighty God?
  4. When Samuel anointed the new king of Israel, all of Jesse’s more-qualified-for-the-job sons were bypassed, initially stupefying Samuel, in favor of David, the runt of litter.  God said, “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7, NLT).  What are the applications, if any, of this verse for the discussion of what we wear to church?
  5. In 2 Sam. 24, now-King David, in order to atone for the sin of taking a hubris-inspired census of his kingdom, builds an altar to the Lord at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.  When Araunah offers to provide the supplies for the sacrifice, David rejects the offer, saying, “No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.”  Looking at this Scripture metaphorically, and extending this account beyond sophisticated exegesis, can we, nevertheless, appropriate the gist of David’s sentiment for the purposes of evaluating our church-going wardrobe?

As I say, I’m conflicted on this issue.  When you figure it out, please let me know.  The Lord be with you!

Coming next week (Lord willing): Praise band drummers.



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.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Reflection #11 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

  1. I’m my father’s daughter. Church attire = skirt or dress. (unless it’s an evening service and then you may find me in nice slacks.) To me, dressing up is a sign of respect ~ to God, to the church, and to the seriousness of the act of worship. Thanks for generating conversation on this interesting topic and for a lovely reminder of my daddy. I miss him so.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s