The minister’s casual dress in the pulpit is not appropriate.

This question came up this week from some of our listeners. They are an “older” couple in a Baptist church where the long time pastor has gradually accommodated the desires of the youth by starting a contemporary service and by allowing the youth minister to come to church dressed in cut-offs and flip-flops. The couple contacted us after the youth minister preached that he dressed that way to make the statement “don’t judge people by their appearance.” During the sermon, he was critical of the suit, tie and dress crowd.

It’s always tough when you have to deal with problems in the church, particularly when you have to go to someone who has a position in the church. The youth minister has obviously not applied the same standard to himself that he has to others. When he was critical of the nicely dressed church members for attracting attention to themselves, he failed to see that he was doing the same thing, if not more so, by making his statement in cut-offs and flip-flops.

We realize that we live in times of more casual dress. The old-time pictures at the courthouse are of men on horseback in suits and ties. Today the cowboys wear jeans and khaki shirts. On Wednesday evening and sometimes on Sunday evening, I’ll wear khakis and a nice dress shirt, whereas the old-time preachers would never get in the pulpit without a coat and tie. Last May, we attended graduation at a little Christian school. A few men attended in coats and ties. However, even family members of some of the graduates attended in shorts and sandals. We’re just more casual these days.

The youth minister evidently believes that he can be an example to people by what he wears. However, when Paul was training his “youth” minister he told him specifically how to be an example. He said, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity,” (1 Tim 4:12). Those are the things in which he should be an example. If the youth minister really wanted to get his point across about judging people by their clothes, he should preach what the Lord said in Jas 2:1-4.

You know the old illustrations. If the youth minister were invited to the White House or even to the Governor’s mansion, do you suppose that he would be wearing cut-offs? No, we’re sure he would be trying to make a different impression there. He would wear something better than cut-offs. In a way of thinking, your church is the Lord’s house — at least our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor 3:16, 6:19-20). And in these bodies we are to glorify God. So, why dress for the politicians and not for Jesus??

One of the dangers of young ministers is that they can get lifted up in pride. That’s easy to do when they THINK they’re “God’s gift” to the youth of a church. 1 Tim 3:6 says, “Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.”

Another danger is that they can get a bad report from others. This is common in churches where there are older and younger generations of Christians. Some of the elder Christians have just seen and experienced more than the “youngsters” and know the pitfalls of trying to be “cool.” 1 Tim 3:7 says, “Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” The devil can have a hey-day with a young minister if he’s not careful in these two areas.

Now here’s the dilemma with all of this. The pastor should be taking care of the problems with the youth minister’s cut-offs and music if he disagrees with them or if they are hurting the flock. Paul said to the Philippians, “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you,” (Phil 4:9).

You see the church, or the young minister in this case, ought to follow the lead of the pastor (as long as he’s doing right). Well, if the pastor is not giving him any direction here, he’s going to do what he wants to do and he’ll find a way to justify it (kind of sounds like what the youth minister was really doing from the pulpit when he preached on why he wears cut-offs).

Before you go to the youth minister, you should take time to pray. Read over these verses in this answer. Look up the ones that aren’t typed out. Mention to the pastor that you’d like to visit with the young man to help him understand what the “older” generation sees in his deportment.

If the pastor approves, then, invite the youth minister for a meal (at home or out to eat) and give him some “fatherly” advice (Titus 2:1-2; 6-8). Be gentle, but instructive (2 Tim 2:24-26). You know you might win a friend and do him a lot of good. Remind him that the youth of the church will take their lead from him and that their parents might disagree with his dress that is so casual at church.

We remember years ago that our children were enrolled in a church school. The church had a youth pastor who wanted to be “hip.” He highlighted his hair. He dressed very casually. He listened to rock music. And he thought the kids were really impressed with him. Just the other day, our children were talking about that old school and they laughed about how foolish that youth minister was by trying to “get down on their level.” As it turns out, they didn’t have the respect for him that he thought he was getting. It was a put on. It was a statement. And they saw through it. Perhaps the circumstances are the same with your youth minister, as well.