What Pastors Wear for Worship

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I’m wearing something different for leading worship these days. This constitutes a small breakthrough for me and I’d like to explain the change.

I was raised in a traditional Presbyterian church where men wore a coat and tie to Sunday worship. Often boys did too, and I hated it. The physical discomfort and the emotional confinement of “putting on my Sunday best” was a major reason I disliked church.

In the 80’s a new style of church emerged that encouraged casual dress. They rejected the incongruity of looking good on the outside while evading what was happening on the inside. I think this approach is essentially correct. Scripture doesn’t concern itself about what clothing worshippers should wear. (1 Corinthians 11 discusses head coverings, an interesting but different topic). The casual approach has helped revive in white Protestant churches a more expressive and heart-felt style of worship which I find both biblical and spiritually vibrant.

But I’ve been slower to find dress I felt good about for pastors. The Old Testament had extremely detailed requirements for what priests should wear in Exodus 28, but the New Testament overturned Old Testament worship wholesale in Hebrews 8–10. Still, what a pastor wears conveys important messages about what worship is and how we do it. So consider my options for dress: the black robe conveys reverence, but also formality and judgment (since judges wear black robes). Jeans & a golf shirt may be authentic, and I like that for a mid-week service, but for Sundays they fail to convey the sacredness of worship. I considered wearing a clergy collar, but that too communicates more formality than I think appropriate. So I adopted “business casual” – a simple shirt and tie. But it didn’t feel very spiritual to me.

I’ve finally found something I think fits. It’s a hand-made shirt from Nepal I happened upon at a fair trade store. It’s a simple color, clasps at the neck, and the material is warm and cottony. I bought a black one and a brown one and will use them only for leading worship – they will be set apart or “consecrated” only for that use. Interestingly, a guest told me last Sunday she liked it because it made me seem approachable.

When I put on this shirt I feel spiritual, but not casual; holy, but not formal. More importantly, I think it conveys those qualities to you. It cues you that we are in a sacred place, but that you can still be yourself before the Lord.

What we wear for worship will probably flux continually. Our culture has become very informal in our dress, and I think this mirrors a simultaneous relaxing of moral and religious rigor. So in the future our dress for worship may again need to emphasize the majesty and other-worldliness of the Church’s worship. But for now I think I’ve found attire that accords well with what we aim for in worship, and I hope you agree.

For a fun article check out "What Your Pastors' Jeans Say About Their Theology."