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What Not to Wear

You are about to read a post about women and clothing. It probably cannot get more stereotypical, but before you cringe and click out of this window, I beg you to come along. This is about the community of God—not the power of the pedicure.

I once exchanged ideas with two male seminary classmates. Graduation was near, and as we chatted about the students moving into pastoral roles, we tossed out the name of a very talented female graduate. "I wonder what Sally will do?" I said. Sally was smart, savvy, and anointed in a powerful way. She was also gorgeous and turned the heads of many men (not something she tried to do).

My colleague said this, "Sally is phenomenal, but when she preaches few men will be thinking about God. If you know what I mean."

"So, you saying she's too pretty to preach?"

My friend, a very honorable man of God, said basically that only men who have done the hard work of capturing their thoughts will be able to consistently focus on the message. The rest may cave into some tempting thoughts. He was an egalitarian in his views on women, and it saddened him to say this. But he shared from his heart a potential land mine into which women leaders can easily trip.

Another friend recently shared a story from a communion service she attended. In this particular church the pastor served communion from atop a set of steps leading up to the pulpit. The recipient stood a good foot lower than the pastor when receiving the elements. This vulnerable pastor, after serving communion, opened his heart and made a public plea to the females in his congregation. He said simply that as a man trying to honor God, it would help him greatly if women would refrain from wearing low cut blouses on communion day.

The response from the congregation was applause. A clear reminder of the power that something as seemingly benign as a wardrobe choice can have on a community of faith.

So, to risk the stereotypical question, in a consumer-driven, sexually-charged culture, how should a woman in leadership decide what to wear?

And what about the menfolk? This is an issue that reaches farther than a pair of heels. I often joke about what I call "pastor hair." How many young, emerging leaders sporting a spiked do with edgy glasses (think Rob Bell) do you know? Others spend a good chunk of time perfecting the worship leader look (David Crowder admits to this in his book "Sunsets and Sushi").

When attending youth conventions I could always spot the youth pastors as they boarded the plane. Cargo shorts, a goatee, and a t-shirt stating support of some edgy cause. People in ministry think about these things. I am not saying this is time well spent but at times I am aware it can be the reflection of an earnest desire to connect with a particular sub-culture.

To navigate the pitfalls of ego, temptation, and consumerism, female leaders need to make wise, God-honoring choices when it comes to how we dress. As women, we need to recognize the struggle that most men face (statistics say 80 percent are tempted by pornography). And even though women should not receive blame for the thought lives of men, women can help or hinder their chances of triumph. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul reminds us to live so that we do not become stumbling blocks to one another.

We need to think wisely about these choices and engage the conversation. Just as my friend's pastor did when serving communion. How freeing to publicly engage these private struggles so many face? How honoring to our men, women, youth pastors, students, and marriages to bring these conversations to light? For both women in the pulpit and youth pastors on the plane, how we dress and why we worry about it is ultimately something God does indeed find important as it reflects a larger reality, how we value and view one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

August18, 2009 at 9:33 PM

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