A Question of Dignity

Much is said about how people should dress, like “dressing down” and dressing for success.” But how should a minister, a pastor, a “reverend” dress? For that matter, how should a pastor behave in public? How should his position affect his demeanor? Ever thought about that?

It’s a question regarding the appropriate level of dignity exhibited by those in ministry.


Some of you may disagree with me on this, but I do believe that there is something to be said about the differences between pastors and the congregation. If you are Catholic or main-line Protestant this is probably a non-issue, but it is an issue in other circles, specifically in evangelical churches.

Many of us are well aware that Scripture teaches that there is no essential difference between one believer and another: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Furthermore, many of us treasure the biblical doctrine of the “priesthood of the believer” that confirms all Christians have equal access to God, not needing the intercession or mediation of an earthly priest (Ephesians 2:18, 3:12; Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:19; and 1 Peter 2:5). Some folk, especially many of my Baptist brethren, even refrain from using terms such as “clergy” and “laity” because, in essence, we are all the same.

anthony politicalHowever, if we are all the same, if there is no difference at all, no difference in expectation or qualification, why then do we have such passages as 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9? Why would Paul have instructed Timothy and Titus to ordain godly men to the work of “bishop” in the first place if there were no need for men of distinction?

The truth is that there is a biblical mandate of conduct for the role and specific offices of pastor, bishop, elder, teacher, and deacon. Those persons should be known as set apart, qualified, mature, devoted, and serious about the work (Titus 2:7).

I Struggle

I will admit, I struggle with this issue from time to time. You may not think it’s a big deal, but I think it is. The thing I don’t want is to be legalistic, prideful, arrogant, or aloof and never fun, accessible, down-to-earth, and humble.

But where does one draw the line? At what point can one say, “That [activity] is not appropriate for a person in that position” without coming across as elitist?

vbs ice cream headLet’s face it, when it’s time for a fall festival or children’s activity, every one wants a pastor who is not afraid or too proud to look like a fool for the sake of a smile. It was Jesus who had little children running up to him, sitting on his knee, and enjoying being in his presence. The pastor who never laughs, never takes a shaving cream-pie in the face, or dresses up like a farmer for Vacation Bible School will never win the heart of a child.

On the other hand, the one dying in a hospital (or on the side of the road) wants more than a clown or a hip public speaker to kneel by his side or take her hand.

I struggle with where to draw the line, where being like everybody else must give way to the demeanor of one elected to lead. Sure, context is always going to make a difference, but is there no place for  gravitas in the modern church?

I’d love to read what you think! Where is the line between dignity and doofus? Or is there one?



Filed under Christian Maturity, clothing, General Observations, legalism, ministry

5 responses to “A Question of Dignity

  1. I heard a excellent message on this subject on Bott radio yesterday (Focal Point with Pastor Mike Fabarez Conscience and the Holy Spirit.) He basically said if there is any doubt in your mind that the conduct is right then we should refrain from it. And of course even our own minds hold no trump card over the word of God. I understand your dilemma here i really do. I think we are in a crisis situation and that demands a different set of rules in my humble opinion. I believe legalism has done a lot of harm. At the same time I grow weary of those who cry legalism when one tries to point out the standard as outlined in the Bible. Like tattoos, I believe Christians should refrain from such things as an example to the world. Christians will tell me look at min its nice what’s wrong with it? For one I see no need to try and improve on the body God gave us but even more importantly; when the lost get there many tattoos they come with unwanted guest. To many today want to read the Bible to see what they can get away with opposed to reading the Bible to see what they can give up for the cause of Christ.

  2. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” James 3:1

  3. Hebrews 3:1 says teachers “will incur a stricter judgment” (NASB). There are also the verses you mentioned, Anthony, in which Paul says that Church leaders are always held to a higher standard. But what does that higher standard mean: what form does it take?

    Paul gave some examples: good judgment, sound reason/wisdom (in both the human and spiritual sense), not a drinker of much wine, Godly in both heart and external fruit, etc. But I believe we can extend that list even further when it comes to a well-rounded effectiveness.

    My personal motto is “Take every serious, even laughter.” In other words, “Know the significance of what you do when and before you do it”. Make life meaningful for both yourself and those around you.

    It is important to laugh your head off; laughter is healing and it binds us to our fellow man. It is equally important to get down to business, as we accomplish nothing worthwhile when life is always a joke. Wearing jeans at the pulpit is good when appropriate. But just as you would not wear them to a “suit and tie” job interview, it might be inappropriate for your particular congregation, or maybe just not well-suited for a particular type of meeting. It is also important to assume authority and subsequently command others when appropriate, but being authoritative always hinders the spirit, God’s and ours. It is important to cry; crying releases hurts and even positive emotions that otherwise build up, causing severe mental and physical sickness. Sometimes, though, it is important to choke back the tears because someone truly needs us to be their rock in a most difficult time.

    My point is this: all good things are always good, but sometimes they are not appropriate for a given situation. But still, how do we determine when something good is either appropriate or not?

    I would answer that question in two parts: (1) God designed your personality as unique to you, and through that lens of inborn traits, talents and skills, you will always initiate and/or respond to any given situation – but only wisdom (spiritual and human), humility, self-introspection, love (in the active and receptive sense) and respect for God, your fellow man, and yourself, allows you to use your personality in the most appropriate, effective ways. (2) Jesus is God but he was also human just like you, meaning he too has a unique personality. So, “What would Jesus do in this situation if he had your personality?” That is the question I have never heard from the pulpit, but if we honestly tried to answer it, I believe there would be a whole lot less legalism and a lot more true soul searching in our churches today.

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