Reformation day is past and so is Halloween. So the question is not, what was your costume but what is your costume? If you are a member of the clergy that might not be such a simple question. It not only involves what you wear but how you wear it. But doesn’t it go much deeper than clothing?

Popular pastors come in skinny jeans and untucked shirts with beards. In the past, professional clergy wore clerical collars and black suits. Pastors were seen as being in the “professional class” which put them in the same ball park as doctors and lawyers. It was (is) considered a “profession” attained through higher education not to mention one’s expertise and the trust of those served. The clothes also reflected that assumption and some insist on sticking to that “uniform” albeit for many reasons.

Yet that professional designation, grates against many clergy today. It seems out of place. Pastors often don’t want to be considered “above” their flock. Ask a pastor how they want to be thought of and many if not most will describe themselves as “forgiven sinners” who aren’t any different than anyone else. (Plus there are those that want to continually remind them!) They are just blessed to preside at the church’s altar and administer the sacraments and proclaim the Word of God on Sunday. Fair enough. So we don’t want to “dress” above our flock. Casual is the order of the day.

Perhaps the end of “dress for success” began with “casual Friday.” That was the day when everyone was allowed to “dress down.” Instead of formal suits, ties and dresses each was allowed to wear a standardized look such as a company polo shirt and dress pants or khakis. The trend continued to include more days and wearing short stubble followed. But perhaps that something deeper and more important was also slipping away at the same time.

Yet before you dismiss this blog and its author as out of touch, I would agree. It doesn’t matter so much what you wear as much as your appearance is appropriate to the event and audience. Common courtesy and respect for others would say you want to look your best when you see people. It isn’t to make yourself look good but rather to be “presentable” out of respect to others. We honor them when we arrive seeking to be our better selves. For instance, it would be incongruent to attend a formal occasion wearing short pants. When gathering at a member’s home, it shows respect to put on something clean and a bit nicer than you would going to the beach. When we wear dress shoes (remember those?) we put a little bit of polish on them. We tuck our shirt in. It says “you are worth me putting forth some effort to look nice.” Kind of like the reason our mothers gave us for putting on our “Sunday best” when going to church.

But it is not so much about our clothes.

What is forgotten and excused and overlooked among the clergy is that sense of professional-ism and even more, what goes with it: an ethic, a code of conduct and behavior that is not bound by vocation, by dress or salary, size of church or length of experience. It is a mindset that should have a solidarity with lay people and clergy alike (so there is no danger of “elevating” one’s self above the other). It is a servant like identity that brings common courtesy and graciousness. It is Christ like, yet such attitudes and the related behavior has become elusive.

Every action and inaction says something about us. Like it or not it becomes an advertisement for who we are and reflects upon the One we represent. St Paul does indeed call us ambassadors in 2 Cor 5:20. Like what actions and inactions exactly? Consider the following possibilities:

  • How quickly (if ever) do we respond to emails?
  • How quickly (if ever) do we respond to texts?
  • How quickly (if ever) do we return phone calls?
  • How quickly do we leave a conversation because “I’m so busy”?
  • How often do we miss appointments or arrive late or even skip meetings?
  • How often do we drop the ball and not do what we say we will do (or do the opposite!)?

But let’s get even more personal. What does it say if we walk into a hospital room, a nursing home, a member’s home or even the chancel and we haven’t combed our hair? Gotten a hair cut? Trimmed our beard? Taken even a shower? Or, dare I say it, spent some effort in being a good steward of our body and physical health through moderate eating and “moving” regularly (aka: exercise)? 

You see, our appearance goes beyond our choice of clothes. So what does it mean to “put on Christ” (Rm 13)? We wouldn’t want to show up grumpy or quarrelsome, so neither would we show up as a wrinkled mess with stains or unkept hair and body odor. Yes, our attitude and demeanor are important but our loving nature can be blocked by our appearance not to mention our appetite demonstrated at the buffet line or the frequency we visit the open bar. Don’t kid yourself, such sins of excess are noticed.

Professional dress is one thing. Professionalism and seeking to be Christ like is another. If one wants to represent Christ, then it includes more than we might allow ourselves to think. It is how we steward our attitude, our speech, our behavior and our dress but also how we take care of ourselves and our body. All these things say something about not only ourselves but our fidelity to the one we represent as His servant and ambassador. It also signals a respect we have for those we serve and those we hope to touch with the gospel. 

Perhaps we have normalized boorish behavior to the point that we accept overeating and over drinking, being witty to the point of causing offense and pushing the boundaries to appear to be “one of the guys.” Maybe like casual Fridays, we have also “casualized” into acceptance a bent toward being rude, unreliable and sloppy. Perhaps we have normalized gluttony and drunkenness and laziness or “quiet quitting.” Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

I am not advocating a suit and tie. I am rather asking, how do you want to show up, in all that may include? How can we worship Jesus in our thinking, speaking and doing, our ministry practices and stewardship of self? Jesus took on the form of a servant, how can we grow in our service for Him by managing and stewarding ourselves, our body and our very life? By His grace, we can look at ourselves and even our blind spots with the help of a loving outsider. It will be an act of worship and love for the one who is love incarnate. 


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What IS Your Costume?
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One thought on “What IS Your Costume?

  • November 1, 2022 at 4:30 pm

    Thanks Scott. Nice dose of common sense!


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