What to Wear to Church?


Recently, I was asked to be the guest speaker at a larger, more contemporary church. Out of respect for each other, the pastor of that church and I jokingly discussed what I should wear. You see, he never wears a suit, while I almost always do. His congregation has become more “contemporary,” while my congregation remains more “traditional.” So, to make me comfortable, the pastor told me whatever I wanted to wear was fine. Therefore, I will compromise – I will probably wear a sport coat, khakis, and flip flops…not really.

The way I dress to go to church may not be the way you dress. My style may not suit your tastes, nor yours mine. But the fact of the matter is that unless you’re totally too liberal, or don’t go at all, you wear some kind of clothing to church, correct? Well, have you ever wondered if what you wear to church is appropriate?

Below are some of my thoughts on the subject.

It’s Not About You

If you are planning to attend a worship service where God is supposed to be the center of attention, don’t dress like a clown! Don’t dress like you are going to an L.A. premier of Lady Gaga’s new movie, It’s All About Me.

Some cultures believe people should come to church in clothing that could damage someone’s retina. Gettin’ “fancied up” is what’s expected. But it’s this type of clothing, in most cases, that draws attention to the congregant, not Christ. My advice is to stay away from neon suits and flashing bow ties. Church clothing should be a covering, not a calling card.

Show Some Respect

Some people think it is totally appropriate to wear enough jewelry and feathers to keep pawn shops in business and all geese naked. Others think it is completely acceptable to look like a drunk that slept in an alley all night (no offense to the drunk). Neither shows a sense of respect. The first steals God’s glory, while the second implies God’s house is no different than anywhere else.

Here’s a couple suggestions. Try going to a White House dinner looking like a hobo or a hippie from the 60’s. Receive an invitation to tea from Queen Elizabeth and show up looking like you just got out of bed and never took a shower. Unless you’re a bonafide rock star, security personnel may escort you to a private room to “get acquainted.” So then, if dignitaries of earthly kingdoms demand respect, why shouldn’t we offer it to our Heavenly King? Is God not greater than Obama? (clear throat)

Beware of Legalistic Standards

However, whatever you wear, don’t be too quick to judge another’s spiritual condition by what they wear. Only God knows the heart.

Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. – Rom 14:4 KJV

Sadly, I have been around many believers who consider one style of clothing a sign of spiritual maturity, while another style a sign of spiritual waywardness.  And you know what’s funny? It doesn’t matter which side of the spiritual tracks, there’s always somebody looking at another thinking, “They’re not right with God.”

Legalism cuts both ways, dear friend. For example, I have been to churches that ridiculed any woman who wears pants, or a man who never tucks in his shirt. On the other hand, I have been in congregations that blatantly condemned all dress and tie-wearers as right-wing, self-righteous, fundamentalist, nut jobs. In both cases someone judged another’s spirituality based on outward appearances, alone. In both cases one group’s set of standards were being used as a guide to what is spiritual behavior, and what is not. That’s LEGALISM!

Believe it or not, the most modern, non-denominational, praise-and-worship-style congregation can be just as legalistic as the narrow-minded traditionalist. I may not prefer to preach in blue jeans on Sunday morning, but I’m not going to condemn someone who does. Likewise, when I don’t wear a suit and tie on Sunday night, I am not going to condemn someone who dresses like he’s going to a funeral.

Context, Context, Context

Ultimately, how you dress should be determined by the context of your community. Small, rural congregations might not feel comfortable dressing for church in the same way a metropolitan First Baptist may. Similarly, churches in depressed economies may adopt different dress codes than upwardly mobile societies. The key is to be respectful, honorable, and considerate of the holy moment at hand. Whatever fits that bill is good enough.

Just keep this principle in mind:  Grace accepts, Maturity develops, and Love constrains.

Don’t make appearances the only thing about which you’re concerned. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is far too important a message to be drowned in petty arguments about whether it is appropriate to dress up for church, or go dress-casual. Many people in the world have to worship Christ underground – literally. Dress codes are the least of their worries. Additionally, the drug addict who needs hope and help may not have any clothes left that he hasn’t already sold to get high. The single mother of five that walks into your church may have barely enough energy to survive, much less do her hair.

Do all things to the glory of the Lord, but keep things in perspective, OK?

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism [or be legalistic]. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? – Jam 2:1-5 NIV


Filed under baptist, Christian Living, Christian Maturity, Christian Unity, Culture Wars, Do not judge, Independent Baptist, legalism, Southern Baptist

13 responses to “What to Wear to Church?

  1. This has to be one of my favorite post this year so far. When I was at first calvary I wore a mix of both but as time went by I wore suits less and less. Mostly because of my growing waste line. I think you hit the nail on the head.

  2. Thanks, my fine, non-suited friend.
    Sadly, I can understand that waist line part, too.

  3. lilywhiteamongthorns

    I think you got it. Its not all about us. Its not about me. Its about God and His glory. Perhaps another question to ask of ourselves is “Will this glorify God?” if we are so worried about our appearances.

    • “Will this glorify God?” Yes, that is a great question to ask, whatever the situation. Just think how many selfish, prideful, hurtful, vain things could be avoided if we asked that question first.

  4. Pingback: This Is Sunday: Sunday Can Be Spiritual & Comedic | Sandia Tea Party

  5. Absolutely spot on! One Sunday last year when our youth pastor preached wearing denim jeans with his shirt untucked there were two smartly dressed ladies in front of me who were visiting our church. When I spoke to them at the end of the service the first thing they said was; “what a joy and a blessing to hear a young man preaching the word of God.” They didn’t notice his attire. They were just thrilled to hear a young man preach.

  6. Pingback: This Is Sunday: Sunday Can Be Spiritual & Comedic | Sandia Tea Party

  7. Our pastor always said that it is God’s House and to wear your best. Everybody’s best is different. One lady it could be a nice dress, another her best may have be a nice pair of jeans…what I am getting at is the agreement to the hobo comment. The important thing is as already mentioned – “Does it glorify God?” And we should ask this solely of OURSELVES not others. If someone is dressed inappropriate, that is between them and God. (With the exception of girls dressing like harlots. That can promote men to sin….)

    Anywhoo, I always love reading your posts!

  8. Meredith Ziegenmier

    Ladies, if you can afford it and have even a small amount of love in your heart for brothers in Christ, please cover your chest and cleavage.

  9. I quit church 10 years ago because my wardrobe deteriorated during a time of extreme financial loss. For eight months I lived in my cargo van, showering at a 24 hour gym and continuing my business out of mini-storage. Obviously I was just getting by on the $100 a week I took out of the business and everyday was a struggle. I literally sold everything not required for the business (except one handgun for protection) and worked non-stop. Once my last suit completely wore out I sold my ties on ebay and bought one pair of very nice dress slacks and a new pair dress shoes. I had two dress shirts that I only wore to church (tried to wear them twice before drycleaning to save money) and wore work jeans & company tee shirts the rest of the time.That was a very dark time in my life and I should have stayed in church. I would NOT recommend anyone taking a 10 year sabbatical from church, but I have to tell you it was very freeing. I got very sick of people at church looking down at me (as in looking you up and down and making it obvious that they disapprove of your church clothes) and the even more obnoxious questions why I don’t wear a suit to church. Eventually it dawns on you that these people couldn’t care less about you, they are all about appearances and everyone being on board with their program. Once you figure that out, attending becomes rather revolting.

    In the last year I have started back attending a church I had never attended before. Although it is more subtle, the focus on how people are dressed is still a major thing in this Baptist church. Now I can pretty much afford anything I want (within reason) and still don’t even own a suit. I remember what it was like to be the only guy in church not wearing one. Now I watch and make sure I introduce myself to the casually dressed visitors. In any church I attend there will always be at least one guy not wearing ” the sunday best uniform”. I have seen and FELT the effects of that whole mentality and it is a stumbling block.

    • People can be cruel and judgmental, for sure. Of course it’s also true that when we are in those dark places of life we sometimes become overly sensitive to the shortcomings of others. That’s why we should always keep in mind it’s Jesus we worship, not His followers.

      I’m sorry you had to go through those tough times, sorta. I’m sure it was painful, but you are much stronger for it. The fact that you left the comment that you did is a testimony to character which many, many don’t have. You never gave up, you kept working, and you kept the faith. That makes you a hero in more ways than one.

      God has brought you to a point where you can minister to those whom others cannot. You keep wearing those casual clothes! You keep reaching out your hand to those who look “less than.” Just remember that there ARE those like me, however, who may still wear a suit on Sunday morning, but would never think less of those who don’t…except on certain occasions when the one not wearing the suit was just being a snot ;-)

      Thanks for the heartfelt comment.

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