Pastor Fashion (Updated)

My experience at the C3 Conference has exposed me to a lot of the big name pastors in the United States. Among some of these pastors, there seems to a trend towards “high fashion.” What?

Now, don’t get me wrong…these are men that are doing some very positive things, and I am not trying to impugn the entirety of their character. Just poking them a little, with full awareness of the hipster glasses I’m wearing at the top of this page.

Judah Smith-beloved Seattle area minister and excellent preacher-is a part of this crew.


Steven Furtick of Elevation Church also “represents.”*


Good looking guys. But in them are we reaching the final stage in the youth-groupification of churches? Are we creating a new standard of dress that in its rejection of “the plain” might become just as oppressive as the rigid suit-and-tie regime of decades past?

Then there is Ed Young, Jr., pastor of Fellowship (mega) Church. He seems to delight in the fun of it all. While he appears to do this rather tongue-in-cheek, I can’t help but wonder if “swagger” is what he is really all about. Take a look at Pastor Fashion, a website seemingly made just for the conference. While admittedly farcical, why would anyone waste time on such a silly idea in the first place? At best it is a distraction and at worst runs the risk of highlighting that not-so-nascent sin of American materialism.


Now, I don’t want to be the arbiter of what a person wears…but seriously. Pastors, can we agree to dress a little more normally? Can we agree to stop risking the medium becoming the message? Can we [gasp] dress a little more professionally or plainly? I am not calling for a straight-laced suit and tie here, but whatever would be considered normal and non-distracting for your audience. This will of course vary from culture to culture, but there is no need to be a fashion plate** in service of the gospel.

This is where I sometimes like my more Reformed and liturgical brothers and sisters, who long ago decided a robe that covers all was the best way to go.

*UPDATE: So…I was too harsh on Furtick. Carl Lentz was the greater in this area at C3.

**UPDATE: At some level, you had to be here to fully understand my grumpiness. As I said, I am not trying to force everyone into one mold. But are we trying to be pastors or trying to be cool? I’m not sure that’s a dumb dichotomy…


17 comments on “Pastor Fashion (Updated)

  1. Viletta says:

    Dr. Ziefle, you might want to brace yourself for T.D. Jakes and his congregation. =)

  2. Jace says:

    Didn’t the original idea of dressing in a suit and tie at church stem from the concept of wearing your best in God’s house out of respect? How can it be considered acceptable in that time period, but when the same concept is contextualized for today as being fashion forward it’s seen as an unnecessary attachment?

    I can’t help but feel that the argument is being formed over an aging status quo versus a modern one. Regardless of what side of the fence you land on, I don’t have anything to lose in the discussion. I’d much rather see a guy in blue jeans and a tshirt as long as he’s preaching the gospel if for no other reason than the possibility that it won’t make an outsider feel awkward for not dressing up enough when they come to church, preventing them from feeling welcomed.

    All that being said, there are cultural areas in America where it is expected for everyone in the area to dress up how you are defining as “high fashion,” and if that is their ministry context and people are encountering God, coming to Christ, and getting saved then I guess I don’t have a lot to complain about.

    • Viletta says:

      Jace, I grew up in a Black church in the South, and yes, dressing up was to show respect for God’s house. I’m a generation older than the current one but even still in most of the Black community, dressing up is a sign of respect.

      While I don’t watch T.D. Jakes on a regular basis, when I do tune in, his messages are always encouraging and Bible-based. That being said, I don’t think I would be comfortable attending his church wearing anything in my current wardrobe. =)

    • Gotcha. But there is a big difference between jeans and a t-shirt (ala Driscoll) and “fashion forward.”. Perhaps the pictures I chose here aren’t the best. And Carl Lentz is probably a better example than Steven Furtick. Judah and Ed Young, each in their own ways, can seem a little beyond the pale, fashion wise.

  3. Lindsay Woods Wong says:

    I started wearing a robe when I realized that the ladies in the fellowship hall had a weekly discussion about what I was wearing to the pulpit… not the message.

  4. Viletta says:

    Yes, it definitely is a cultural thing in the Black church, but I get Jace’s point. (Oh and no offense taken.)

    When I was a child, there WERE days when my mom did not go to church because she didn’t have anything she considered ‘acceptable’ to wear.

    That was sad then, and if it happens today, that’s sad too.

    Last Sunday we had 3 young men attend our (very small) church who are currently staying at the local rescue mission. As I always do, I went to welcome them and reached out my hand to give them a handshake. One of them said, “Oh, my hand is all dirty and sweaty.” I said, “Oh that’s okay.” and shook his hand before he could change his mind. =)

    He had on what looked like his work clothes but before he left church, he went up to the altar and rededicated his life to Jesus!!

    The passage in James comes to mind when I think of this incident. As Christians we should never let our ‘dress code’ hinder people coming to hear about Christ.

  5. Sarah says:

    Love this. I remember that in high school and college, there would be certain pastors I would see in their decked-out ensembles….and I would feel so very uncool (and who wants to feel uncool next to a pastor? Isn’t that sort of the opposite of the desired effect?). It was like, “What? God wants me to be a faithful disciple? I’m sorry, I’m too self-conscious right now to listen to you. Wait till I can get a vintage tee and some new overpriced salon hair product….then I won’t feel like a loser and we can talk.”

  6. Anna says:

    We risk the medium becoming the message? I think the medium always has a message. The question the preacher must ask is does the medium convey the gospel message in a way appropriate to the context? In my context, someone wearing the shiny blue jacket ( a la one of the pictures in the post ) would likely not have a lot of credibility, while the suit and tie, even while being of dapper color and pattern would warm the hearts of the older Noteegians I work with.

  7. Will says:

    I think the main thing is that what is considered dressed up, formal, high fashion, and what is your “best”, differs greatly on the time period, denomination, and area of the country. Also each church has it’s own culture. I completely agree with your main idea that if a pastor is dressing so that their wardrobe makes a statement and possibly distracting from the message, then there is a problem. For some reason though the first thing i thought of was how the silicon valley tech bubble changed what was considered business attire for the foreseeable future, and the next thing I thought of was the generational question of whether women should or could wear hats during worship. Each generation, culture, etcetera decides for itself what is formal, what is their “best”, what shows reverence to God.

    Those are just kind of random thoughts, but i guess my thinking is that it probably was jarring seeing all those different ways of dress back to back, but for myself I’d reserve final judgement until I saw their congregations. If their dress was the median for their context and not the outlier, then i’d probably be okay with it. If however, the pastor looked like a trendsetter among a more average;y dressed flock, then maybe it would seem weird.

    Another side note, often whenever I see people I don’t know dressed more informally in a church setting, I try to remember to think that maybe those are their best clothes. Not everyone can afford a suit.

  8. Andy Wong says:

    I can’t speak to any other church, but being a Fort Worth resident, Fellowship church and Ed Young definitely give the vibe of the “cool kids church.” Lots of super fancy sound and video equipment (“better than most professional tv studios” – my friend who goes to Fellowship), lots of money, lots of non-biblical “advice for daily living” (recent sermon series – have sex 7 days in a row for lasting intimacy). Can’t help but think Ed Young’s attire is part of the whole image (is schtick too judgmental? Cause that’s what I would have called it).

  9. Lindsay Woods Wong says:

    It’s hard for me not to be cynical about Ed Young Jr. and his church since they have for-profit corporations that cover some of their merchandise and book sales in-house in the church, and each year they pull in too much in offerings instead of using surpluses to aid homeless or hunger ministries, they throw out old sound/video equipment to buy higher end stuff to keep their non-profit status (also from friend who is a member/volunteer there). When she asked them why they didn’t give away old equipment to struggling churches, they volunteered to sell it (for a discount) to struggling churches in lieu of their practice of throwing it out.

    Also, their Fort Worth location is in one of the poorest Hispanic neighborhoods in Fort Worth and does little to no mission in that neighborhood.

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