Focus on the Fancy-Free Vol. 1 — What to Wear to Church

May 1, 2007, 12:59 pm; posted by
Filed under Articles, Job  | 41 Comments

Q.   What should a young bachelor wear to church?

Focus on the Fancy-FreeA.   When I wore a younger man’s Chuck Taylor All-Stars, my mother always dressed me for church. Clip-on ties, penny loafers and “stick-um” (hair gel) were the ingredients in my preparation for Sunday worship. My father was the pastor of our church in Washington D.C., and as a good preacher’s son, it was impossible for me to wear my usual Ocean Pacific in the pews.

But now I’m 27, and while my mom wishes she could still dress me, I’m an adult and she can’t. I’ve morphed into what our society might call “offbeat” — I wear a lot of denim, often hold my long hair in place with a bandanna, and sport shirts with paint and other stains whose origin I have long since forgotten. I don’t roll into church looking homeless, but I certainly don’t look ready for court.

Basically on Sunday, I look like I do the other six days of the week. I know this offends some people, and the instinct in such situations is to remedy that offense as quickly as possible by taking the time to noose up a tie and tuck in a clean white shirt. But I love these people I offend, so I won’t gratify their sinful nature. That’s right. I’m calling all of you smirkers and sighers out.

It doesn’t matter a mite what I wear to church; deal.

Pressure to dress up for church is one of those elements of Christianity that has taken on Scriptural authority while actually running contrary to the Word; it’s more about humanity than Godliness. Peter wrote, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4)

Immodesty is not just reserved for outfits that expose or enhance; I think carefully coiffed hair in concert with dry-cleaned dresses and suits trots the border with sinful ambition. The generic defense is that it shows respect to God, which offends my intelligence because you want to show man you have respect for God. That’s vanity.

“So, Job, you would dress up for a wedding but not for worship in the house of God?”

Eight days a week. Dressing up for those instances is part of a societal expectation, exactly the thing I don’t want in my worship. I want to be comfortable, modest and undistracted. If you’re concerned by what you’re wearing and/or distracted by what others are wearing, then — I’ll say it — your heart is not in the right place. I own ties, clean shirts and slacks (thanks Mom!) but in a society that expects this from me in social gatherings, it should be in church that I feel the least pressure to please men with color coordination and smart, flattering lines.

And, well . . . I rebuke thee.

These questions and answers are from the book Complete Young Adult Home Reference Guide and Recipe Compendium, published by Bweinh! Job Tate is founder and chairman of the board of Focus on the Fancy-Free, a nonprofit organization devoted to the encouragement and preservation of the unmarried twentysomething. His weekly radio program was heard on 1 radio station in the U.S. and Canada.


41 Comments to “Focus on the Fancy-Free Vol. 1 — What to Wear to Church”

  1. heidianne on May 1st, 2007 1:06 pm

    preach it.

  2. Marcus on May 1st, 2007 1:58 pm

    I agree… I wear what I’m comfortable in and what comprises 90% of my closet. Since I have to be “business casual” most of the work week, I find (by mere process of habituation) slacks, sweaters, and collar shirts more comfy than some might. So long as you are not immodestly dressed (or dressed in a way that would disrespect the house of God… like a bathrobe and slippers or something), I say wear what you want.

  3. Steve on May 1st, 2007 2:09 pm

    I didn’t feel comfortable disagreeing till a few people had agreed, but now it’s time!

    “The generic defense is that it shows respect to God, which offends my intelligence because you want to show man you have respect for God. That’s vanity.”

    No, it’s not, not necessarily. God knows our hearts and is fully aware of our level of respect for Him, regardless of outward accoutrements. Making the choice, if you could do otherwise, to come to church in an old hat, tank top, and ripped jeans, sends the message to others that you don’t consider weekly worship to be worthy of any preparation time beyond rolling out of bed. And there is very real value in the message our behavior sends to others.

  4. Job Tate on May 1st, 2007 2:28 pm

    …but that’s my point exactly. Is there ever a time or a place when we’re not messaging and just worshipping?

    My point is that if people are offended by it, the problem doesn’t sit with me but with them.
    It’s God’s time…people need to chill and not make it about them.

  5. Dsweetgoober on May 1st, 2007 6:03 pm

    I have to admit I lean toward Job’s position pretty heavily. I have seen people come and appear to use their poor choice of clothing as a statement of disrespect, and that is wrong, but I have never been able to see what dressing up has to do with worshipping Jesus. Why is church about other peoples expectations of my clothing? I don’t think the early Christians donned their best robes to frolic in the sewers under Rome.

  6. Rose on May 1st, 2007 7:32 pm

    I absolutely agree that worship is meant to be about you and G-d. But I fear that if you stand so strong on your right to wear sweat pants to church, then you may make some weaker Christians stumble. Now Uncle Piggy and Job from everything I know, you’re both strong Christians and you have every right to be comfortable in church services, but as strong Christians you also have a duty to put those weaker Christians above you.
    “1 Corinthians 8:9
    But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.”
    In a perfect world, everyone would be so enamored with our Father that they would not notice what other people are wearing, but we all know that is not how it works. So Job, the problem doesn’t ‘sit with you,’ but you had a chance to avoid the problem all together, wouldn’t you want to take it?

  7. Job on May 1st, 2007 8:21 pm

    I would agree with you, Rose, if it weren’t such a stupid thing to gripe about and take so seriously. Giving in to their desires on something so inane would be the true act of letting them stumble.

  8. dsweetgoober on May 1st, 2007 9:40 pm

    A very good point Rose. But, did you have to call me Uncle Piggy in front of the boys?

  9. Brian on May 1st, 2007 10:02 pm

    I agree with Rose. I think that what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 8 is that even though it may seem small to you, if something is causing those with weak a conscience to stumble, then it is better not to do it. Is it up to us to judge how serious something is to someone else? If people know that something they are doing is causing someone to sin and they think it is up to that person to change, they are ignoring Paul’s message.

    1 Corinthians 8:4-13 “So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

    “But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

    “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”

    You could say “but since clothes do not bring us near to God, we are no worse if we do dress up and no better if we don’t”. Paul concludes that if what he does causes his brother to fall into sin, he will not do it anymore.

  10. Steve on May 1st, 2007 10:50 pm

    And so it must be a balance, for we can’t allow the weakest and whiniest to meld us into their image simply to avoid discomfort any more than we can rub our liberty in their faces with a pair of cut-off shorts.

  11. Karen on May 1st, 2007 10:53 pm

    I do think that people should dress up for church and look like they are ready to meet with God, it just seems respectful. I don’t necessarily believe in wearing your “Sunday best”. As for showing yourself at church the same as you would the other six days…I think you should look like God is taking care of you the other six days as well.

  12. misserose on May 1st, 2007 11:13 pm

    Everyone is responsible for their own actions and their own motives, and there is only One who can judge justly at this point. All the discussion has shown that people are obviously not of one mind. But God has a thought about it, and it’s our goal to discover His thought, yes?

    I heard someone tell a story regarding this topic before… it was in the days of the hippies and the Jesus movement. There were many new people coming into a certain church, and those that had “always attended” were growing offended by the newcomers, with their long hair and their hippie clothes and such. Finally, after much complaining from the congregation, the preacher explained to the newcomers the situation. He told them that God accepts everyone as they are, from all walks of life, and that He doesn’t judge us by the way we look, but by the intentions of our hearts. He asked them if they would consider their dress, honestly pray about it and seek God to see if they should make changes or not. Well, the next week, the newcomers came in. A few of them were dressed as they always had dressed, with their long hair and jeans and such, but a couple had gotten haircuts and dressed up a bit. The preacher met with them and asked them what had happened when they prayed. One man who had his hair cut told the Pastor that when he prayed about it, he realized that the reason he had gone “totally hippie” was actually an act of rebellion against his parents and their traditional ways. Another who had done the same said that he had dressed that way to feel self-sufficient and to get reactions from people. Then there was one man that hadn’t changed his apparel or cut his hair, and he said that when he prayed, he felt like God said, “I like the way you dress. It expresses a different facet of my creativity,” and felt completely at peace about his expression.

    To me it’s not like there is this standard that God has as far as how we dress. When I think about my own decisions of how I dress, I try to base it on what I think God wants to see that day. Sometimes I feel like I should go all out and dress to prepare the way for the Great King that He is. Sometimes I dress frilly, to showcase the creativity and femininity that He placed in me. Sometimes I dress funky because God can be quirky and funky and fun, and I know it!

    If your motive for dressing down is to make a statement, or your motive for dressing up is to make a statement, then your motive is focussed on the wrong thing, no matter what. We go to church to meet with God. It’s only when that becomes our true focus that the body lines up with the head and functions properly anyways.

    And that’s my 2 cents!

  13. Rose on May 1st, 2007 11:14 pm

    [Hah, sorry Uncle “Dave.” See now that just sounds wrong. :-D]

    I absolutely agree with Stephen. It really does have to be a balance lest those baby Christians never mature.

  14. Chloe on May 1st, 2007 11:56 pm

    Wow, what a response. My turn!

    The origins of dressing up for church, straight from the mouth of Lauren Winner (an Orthodox Jew turned Christian).

    You’re going to synagogue (church) to meet the Creator (and Messiah). Yes, you’re keeping Him in your thoughts every day with every action you take (the Jewish laws assure that you’ll not forget about God), but synagogue is God’s house. If you went to meet Queen Elizabeth or President Bush, I hope you’d dress up. If you’re going to God’s house, then, you’d better do the same.

  15. Mike J on May 2nd, 2007 7:32 am

    Anyone who loves and quotes Lauren Winner is cool by me.

  16. Marcus on May 2nd, 2007 7:46 am

    Something to bear in mind is the cultural import of wardrobe.

    Obviously not every culture believes in a suit-in-tie expression of respectful dress. I think that the same people rolling their eyes at the denim would likely also roll their eyes at the foreign equivalent of a suit and tie–be it a robe or a tunic or whatever.

    A lot of these posts seem to focus on the vertical–our relationship to God–but I am interested in the horizontal. Is it always/only a BAD thing that society expects a degree of conformity? Is the expectation of similar dress just an “idol-meat,” stubbling-sibling thing? I do not know.

    We have to admit, though, that social cohesion (in any group, not just in the religious) carries with it a degree of homogonization. It’s necessary for a fulfilling sense of identity within that group. Perhaps one reason these wardrobe conflicts occur is because “one of these things is not like the other?” It’s not an issue of respect so much as it is an act of wardrobe rebellion against the group expectations for dress?

    It’s tough to balance the natural need for cohesion/group-identity with our pluralistic desire for individualized expression.

    Maybe the old Christians weren’t wearing their Sunday best down in those Roman sewers… but they arguably had many more points of social cohesion than the average Christian today. Without that overt persecution, we have time to focus on the (less important/unimportant) elements of group dynamics… and maybe that is why we obsess about these cultural traditions?

    I guess what I am getting at is that that there seems to be more than just “bad” theology going on in the mind of the person who looks down on someone’s Sunday Sweats… there is also that ingrained drive for conformity within a “primary identity” group.

    I don’t know the way out of this (or if we should even seek to change it–commonality and ritual serving as very strong identity markers), but in the meantime I am not frowned on for my business-casual garb and so I can sit pretty and let you all sweat it out (j/k).

  17. Chloe on May 2nd, 2007 9:11 am

    Mike – did you know I spent two days with her when she was here at Houghton? That woman is amazing. Favorite writer ever, hands down.

  18. Karen on May 2nd, 2007 9:22 am

    I really like that quote Chloe. That’s sort of what I was trying to say.

  19. Mom on May 2nd, 2007 9:38 am

    Wow! When I first saw the title of this piece I was thinking it would have made a good Clash of the Titans. Who knows – it still might.

    Anyhoo – I had so much to say but much was covered so I’ll just share what wasn’t. First of all, no one cited a scriptural basis for cleaning one’s self up before presentation to God. I’ll choose one from the OT in Exodus, with assembly instructions to the Israelites from Moses. I believe he specifically mentioned cleansing and clothes washing…leading countless Mothers to insist upon the same. The NT quote Job uses from Paul about excessive adoration an opposite extreme (To quote Captain Hook…”bad form Peter…bad form.”). And that quote doesn’t excuse our basic hygiene and good manners (which includes not being a stumbling block).

    The only only point I had were two quotes from long time Pastor friends: Our head Pastor when we first started: “Always come to church dressed like you may have to lead the meeting. Because you might.” And one from Sister Cheryl: “Make sure you wear something that will let you bend all the way down to (help minister to someone on)the floor.”

  20. Michael Jordan on May 2nd, 2007 10:23 am

    Chloe–I wanted to make it up to Houghton for Lauren’s time there but was just too busy. A lot of my academic work parallels hers and I love her writing too.

  21. dsweetgoober on May 2nd, 2007 10:35 am

    James 2:2-4 (NCV) “Suppose someone comes into your church meeting wearing very nice clothes and a gold ring. At the same time a poor man comes in wearing old dirty clothes. You show special attention to the one wearing nice clothes. You say ‘Please sit here in this good seat’. But you say to the poor man, ‘Stand over there’ or “Sit on the floor by my feet!’. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? You are making some people more important than others . With evil thoughts you are deciding that one person is better…”

    I have had several unchurched people tell me that they left a church because they felt looked down on for their lack of expensive clothing. I have never heard anyone tell me they left because they were offended at someone NOT dressing up. Just a thought.

  22. Job on May 2nd, 2007 12:11 pm

    The church I currently worship in was erected at a time when men didn’t wear ties; and I’m sure that when those dear saints dressed up for church it wasn’t even as deliberate as the wardrobe department on Little on the Prairie would have you believe. Fashion is so relative and so is good taste. Why our Faith here in America decided to make worship somehow more exclusive boggles my mind. Is the idea of “come as you are” lost on us? You may not like to think so, but building a culture of appearance that demands sunday morning find us looking like the studio audience for America’s Funniest Home Videos, primped and permed – camera ready…does distance us from the harvest. We’re crazy to even imply such a thing.

    In the same way that commercials have become as big a part of the Super Bowl as football, commercial materialism has found its way into our sunday as well.

    While this Lauren lass might be all you seem to think she is, someone needs to send her the memo that we aren’t going to Synagogue and the House of God is an antique notion. The Church is not a structure but an organism…the body. We don’t need buildings, we don’t need the “sabbath”, we don’t need, we don’t need….we don’t need to be in our vain finest. Come to God in your finest? When God came to us He didn’t desire that, and in fact he scorned it, seeking out, rather, the poor, destitute and ill.
    Our, um, calling? Heritage?

    And I’ll tell you this last thing:
    This sunday we will have brothers and sisters in Christ who will be meeting in SECRET clothed in the finest shadows intolerance can buy.
    I’m not going to get hung up for a second on what America thinks looks and smells good. Worship is not a time to dwell on Earthly things.

    You speak of dressing up like it’s a sacrifice of sorts. Sly idolatry? What is it?

    What does it matter?

  23. Steve on May 2nd, 2007 12:32 pm

    The House of God is an antique notion? Come again?

    This debate is so incredibly peculiar to me, because I can’t think of an issue more suited for individual soul-searching and determination than this one. It will never ever ever EVER be a Clash because I don’t want to read two annoyingly dogmatic assertions that boil down to nothing more than simple personal preference unless diet soda is involved.

    You’re called to present your body as a living sacrifice to God. Do it. You’re called to avoid making your brother stumble. Do it. You’re called to avoid judging others based on their appearance. Do it.

    Don’t talk your way around it, do it.

    Only please let us stop the self-righteous moralizing that points at the faults of others as focus on the earthly, while we take a smug pleasure in “calling out smirkers and sighers.”

    “If your motive for dressing down is to make a statement, or your motive for dressing up is to make a statement, then your motive is focused on the wrong thing, no matter what. We go to church to meet with God.”

  24. Job Tate on May 2nd, 2007 12:37 pm

    If I didn’t think the point was a valuable one to make I wouldn’t make it, Steve.

    If you think materialism seeping into worship is okay, then good luck with all that. But just because you take a middle road doesn’t give you the rhetorical leverage to dismiss me as “smug”.

    It’s a valuable point.

  25. misserose on May 2nd, 2007 4:20 pm

    the story of Vashti keeps popping in my head… how the king wanted her to come so that he could parade her around in front of the court and she refused. (She didn’t and in walked Esther) If you have the means of dressing up (if you are arrayed in fine garments), then refusing to show that ability or blessing in your life might be just as vain as the opposite. if God has blessed you with nice things, it’s not an act of materialism to showcase that. But again– if your heart is directed towards the Lord. But I do believe that prosperity does not equal vanity or materialism. Another 2 cents. Now that makes 4 cents I’ve invested in this discussion.

  26. Dsweetgoober on May 2nd, 2007 4:37 pm

    My only point in all this is that the section in James above speaks directly to the issue involved (people showing up for church dressed well or poorly) and seems to be a good place to examine the ‘weaker brother doctrine”. I firmly believ in this doctrine as Paul invested 3 chapters toward it in 1 Corinthians. I just think we have it backwards. Who is the weaker brother? The rich well dressed man? The leader of te church? It would seem more logical that the danger would be that the poor man would be driven off from the church because of the actions of the other two, not vice versa.

    The one salient point I see is that I do beleive that we have developed a church culture that uses worldly standards of appearance and I think it does keep the poor from feeling comfortable in our midst.

  27. Steve on May 2nd, 2007 5:00 pm

    One thing that fascinates me about these discussions is how different alliances form on different issues, often among people who disagreed on the last question. I love that!

  28. Dsweetgoober on May 2nd, 2007 6:06 pm

    Me too.

  29. Job on May 2nd, 2007 6:08 pm

    Vashti is a good call, Missy but i think the story of Esther’s King is less worthy a point than the story of the Emperor…

    and his new clothes.

  30. Karen on May 2nd, 2007 8:22 pm

    and his new groove

  31. Djere on May 2nd, 2007 9:22 pm

    Emperor Stella?

    Speaking as someone who makes a living rocking the flops (flip-flops) and shorts to church just about every sunday of the year, I emphatically side with Job.

    When Paul talked about food sacrificed to idols, it was serious business. These people literally lived in bondage to these non-gods for *years* and shortly after tasting freedom in Christ, they see older brothers and sisters engaging in the exact same behaviors in which they had once been trapped.

    This was not a pouty little mealy mouthed “I don’t like it when you do that boo hoo hoo.” This was, “why is this brother in Christ eating meat that the temple prostitutes of Artemis just ‘sanctified’? What kind of double life is he leading?”

    There’s a difference between actual honest-to-God ‘sin’ and a personal preference.

    If you don’t like that I wore flip-flops and ski goggles to church, suck it up and deal. Seriously. How about you spend your personally selfish whining time and interceed for the lost instead. We both (and the lost) will be much better off for it.

    Far too many people hide their own insecurities behind the “weaker brother” straw man argument. There’s a difference between calling out sin and belly-aching.

  32. Karen on May 2nd, 2007 9:56 pm

    Djere, I don’t like those ski goggles no matter where you wear them.

  33. Rose on May 2nd, 2007 10:01 pm

    Jeremiah, I love all the grace that just spews from your comment. It’s so refreshing.

    Also, how does one make a living “rocking the flops?” Who pays you to wear those?

  34. Djere on May 2nd, 2007 10:10 pm


    Grace exists to cover sin, not sniffles.

    Horticulturally Yours,


  35. Josh Tate on May 3rd, 2007 12:51 pm

    I agree with Job. The church, with all of its unbiblical trappings and ceremony, (however well intentioned)is due for a revolution.

    It is just this very sort of thing- the dress code, the Colorado Springs parlance, the labeling, the ceremony of Sunday morning etc…- that is intimidating to unbelievers, and what’s more it’s unnecessary. Does dressing well translate to our neighbors as respect for God or something else? Does God receive it as such? God resists the proud, and is displeased with those who seek the approval of men.

    Now, I dress reasonably well when I go to church, and I agree with some of what has been said with regards to looking out for the weaker brother and such, but something is profoundly wrong with the church today, and this small issue touches upon broader themes that I believe God is addressing in forums such as these. The church is due for a reformation-type revolution… a reformation of form.

    Last point… Paul warns in multiple places against disputes over issues such as these, as it is divisive and displeasing to God. It would appear reading back over the above comments that for this is dangerously close to becoming such an issue, and whom I agree with in substance I cannot always agree with in spirit. I’m not saying that honest debate is wrong among Christians or even passionate debate… just check your heart before God.

  36. Steve on May 3rd, 2007 1:14 pm

    I remember man by the name of ol’ Josh Tate… Funny fella, told some good stories, helped us set this whole place up. But he done disappeared off the face of the earth, rode off into the sunset, abandoned us for the big-time. Off Californee way.

    Your words sure are nice, mister, but I sho can’t believe you’re that same Josh Tate. Man like Josh Tate ain’t got time for us poor souls.

  37. Marcus on May 3rd, 2007 2:31 pm

    Even if the church needs a(nother) reformation, can we really hope to ever escape the social tendency toward conformity and custom?

    In my mind we can bar the rituals (the formalized social practices) but some custom will always crop up (out of habitual acts of socialization among believers). It sounds good to wash away the perversions (a la Zwingli’s white-washed church)… but I suspect we will forever be locked in a cycle of creating habits/customs and then destroying them.

    Maybe this is just a necessary cleansing within the community of believers… or maybe there is a way to use the social propensity to form customs that BENEFIT the church. Obviously the Catholic argument would be that our rituals do just that… but I am trying to think like a Protestant, here.

    What do you guys think? Can the church ever “settle into” a state of beneficial customs or does the radical nature of the gospel demand keeping a constant eye on our customs so that we can purge them when they threaten the message?

  38. Josh Tate on May 3rd, 2007 2:42 pm

    Oh Steve! You hurt my heart sometimes.

  39. Steve on May 3rd, 2007 2:48 pm

    “[C]an we really hope to ever escape the social tendency toward conformity and custom?”

    No. I don’t think we can. I don’t know that I’m as convinced as some others here that our customs really threaten the message as it is delivered in our culture (exporting it elsewhere is another matter), but I don’t for a second believe that we can totally overcome human nature in matters of sinfulness, let alone value-neutral cultural issues and customs. That’s part of what my post today was about. Megachurches could have been included just as easily as large Facebook groups. So I would say that IF the customs do threaten the message (and I’d like proof, by the way), that’s when the reformation begins.

    Tate, you know I love you! We just miss you around here! You can post anytime…

  40. Best of Bweinh! -- Focus on the Fancy-Free : Bweinh! on July 24th, 2007 10:03 am

    […] Originally published on May 1, 2007. […]

  41. Focus on the Fancy-Free Vol. 2 -- Dating or Courtship : Bweinh! on November 5th, 2007 11:24 am

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