Church & Culture
We Can Whine About the New Generation or Worship with Them – But We Can’t Do Both
We need to remember how devalued we felt when previous generations told us our music was too loud, our clothing was silly and our questions were inappropriate.

Why don’t people wear their Sunday Best for church any more?

A lot of older churchgoers (that is, my generation) seem to be worried about that lately.

I’d like to respond to that question with a couple of my own.

When did the members of my generation become such old fogeys? And why do they care so much about something that matters so little?

Yet that is part of a growing sentiment from my peers.

According to far too many older churchgoers and pastors, some of the biggest problems in the church today are

  • Skinny jeans
  • Flip-flops
  • Coffee cups
  • Wood pallets on stage
  • Stage lighting
  • Spikey or swooped-back hair
  • Scruffy beards
  • Smart phones
  • Short pants
  • and untucked shirts

It’s hard to imagine anything that would concern Jesus less than how we dress for church. Or the technology and instruments we use while we’re there.

It’s hard to imagine anything that would concern Jesus less than how we dress for church.

As a member of the age group that is making most of these complaints, here’s my take on it.

We can either whine about how the new generation chooses to worship, or we can worship and minister with them. But we can’t do both.

Don’t we remember when churchgoers in our parents’ generation complained about the length, color or poofiness of our hair? Or the rolled-up sleeves and lack of a tie on our pastel-colored Miami Vice suit? Not to mention that we replaced some of their beloved hymns with our new praise songs, sung with guitars, not organs?

Have we forgotten how devalued we felt when they told us our music was too loud, our clothing looked silly, our questions were inappropriate and our opinions were wrong? It didn’t make us want to worship their way. It made us want to leave the church. And many of us did – never to return.

What Is Proper Church Dress and Behavior?

What’s considered proper clothing and behavior in one culture isn’t the same in another culture. Or another era. Or in a different church down the street.

Respectful clothing will include

  • Aloha shirts in Hawaii
  • Cowboy boots in Montana
  • Removing your shoes in Japan
  • Kilts in Scotland
  • and maybe suits and dresses in your church

You know how people dress when they come to the church I pastor? They wear the same clothes they wear when they do other things they enjoy. Since we live in Southern California, that often means tennis shoes and T-shirts, skinny jeans and ball caps.

Teens and twenty-somethings regularly come to our church ready to go to the beach afterwards. They stroll in wearing shorts, grab a coffee in the church lobby, then bring it with them into the sanctuary. They chat and laugh as they head to their seat in the front two rows – yes the front rows. From the moment the band starts playing, they’re on their feet, entering into worship with all their heart and soul.

When I open the Bible to share God’s Word, they pull out their iPhones to read along using a Bible app, taking notes between sips of coffee or soda. When church is over, they stick around for conversations, sign up for community service projects and help tear down the furniture for the next event.

It’s not unusual for young people to seek me out with compelling questions about the message. And several of them simply will not leave church until they get their pastor-hug for the week.

By the time I get home, many of them have shared quotes from my message, lyrics from the songs we sang and other news about their church experience with their friends on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

And it’s not just the kids acting this way. The behavior I’ve described applies to a lot of the adults in my church, too. Including me.

People are offering their Sunday Best when they show up with enthusiasm, worship with gusto, give to the needy and share what they learned with their friends.

People are offering their Sunday Best when they show up with enthusiasm, worship with gusto, give to the needy and share what they learned with their friends. As long as they’re doing that, I don’t care what they wear. (Unless it’s a Dallas Cowboys shirt – you gotta draw the line somewhere.)

Why Does This Matter?

If I’m sounding worked-up about this, here’s why.

Flip-flops in church isn’t a sociological phenomenon for me. As a small church pastor, I know the names of the people wearing them. I see their passion. I’ve cried with them through their sorrows. And I know that some of them are still working through resentment against churches that cared more about the flip-flops on their feet than the passion in their hearts.

This isn’t an issue of treating God, the church or the worship experience casually. It’s about paying attention to what matters and ignoring what doesn’t.

Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Aren’t There Any Standards?

Yes, there are standards for how people should dress and behave. Not just in church, but everywhere.

It’s important that our clothing is not

  • Immodest
  • Rebellious
  • or Prideful

Following those standards, the furs and pearls of yesteryear and the power suits of today may be more sinful than short pants and ball caps, depending on the attitude of the person wearing them.

Other than that, clothing is far more a matter of style and culture than of respect and holiness. So wear what fits your culture and context. And quit judging what others wear in their culture and context.

Like Jesus said, we need to “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” (John 7:24)

Support our work. Subscribe to CT and get one year free.

February 17, 2017 at 3:24 AM

Join in the conversation about this post on Facebook.

Recent Posts
Include results from Christianity Today

Read More from Karl

Follow Christianity Today

Free Newsletters

More Newsletters ...