As senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, I often have faith-based questions brought to my attention from people from all over — and from all walks of life.
I do my best to answer them always! Here, I answer a question that came my way from an acquaintance in another state.
Question: “Many people in church these days dress so casually — it’s as if they just stopped in after playing ball or going for a jog! This doesn’t seem respectful to me. I try not to judge, and I try not to be distracted in church — but sometimes this just really upsets me and distracts me. What is your advice?”
What matters most to God is not the clothing on the outside, but the character on the inside.
Answer: For those who make the investment of time and effort in dressing up for church, it can be frustrating to see others wearing ripped jeans, workout clothes, casual T-shirts, even shorts and other skimpy outfits. Our typical reaction is to accuse those people of being lazy, uncaring, or worst of all — disrespectful toward God.
Back in July 2005, many Americans were mortified when members of the women’s national championship lacrosse team from Northwestern University wore flip-flops during their White House visit with President George W. Bush.
Their choice of footwear caused a national uproar, what some humorously called the “flip-flop flap.” Many people believe that when you meet someone important, your clothing should reflect your respect and admiration. If upscale clothing matters when you meet with the president, how much more important when you meet with God, right?
Not so fast. When we turn to Scripture, nowhere in the New Testament do we find an explicit “dress code” for church gatherings. Fancy or expensive clothing is not mandatory.
Instead, the Bible emphasizes decency and modesty (1 Timothy 2:9-10), so that our focus is not on each other’s body shapes or fashion statements — but on worshipping God and appropriating His truth. What matters most to God is not the clothing on the outside, but the character on the inside (1 Samuel 16:7). The heart is what really counts, that innermost self that honors God (1 Peter 3:3-4) and worships Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23).
Before you cast a critical glance toward the guy in ripped jeans or the young woman in workout clothes, remember that you may not have all the information. That guy in jeans may have just finished a mandatory overtime at his plant — but desperately wanted to attend church before heading home. The girl in workout clothes may have spent the previous night taking care of a sick friend who’s battling cancer. Workout clothes or not, she wasn’t going to miss another opportunity to be encouraged by God’s power and talk to Him about her friend’s condition.
The next time you see people in church wearing “questionable” attire, don’t jump to conclusions. Be patient. Show love. Extend to them some of the same kindness God extends to you. Be thankful that out of all the places they could be at that moment, they made the right choice to be at church, worshipping God.
Pastor Ryan Day is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he has served for 18 years. He is a regular contributor to LifeZette.