Preaching Dress and Sermon Length

navets —  April 18, 2012 — 3 Comments

When I preach in a context that is unfamiliar, I always ask two questions that reveal much about the people to whom I will preach. I inquire, what is the appropriate sermon dress and length? How long I preach and what I wear are factors that, despite their less than spiritual significance, can help or hinder the reception of the sermon. While some preachers may claim a certain sermon length or style of dress as God-ordained, these considerations are determined more by the preaching context than any other factor.

Sermon length and clothing must not only fit with the people in the preaching context, they must also match the personality of the preacher and the community that surrounds the preaching context. So, whether preaching in the local church I serve or as a guest preacher in unfamiliar territory, I aim to be in close proximity to people in the church, to people in the community around the church, and to my personality in terms of what I wear and how long I preach.

Match the Preaching Context

Wherever we preach, we want to be sensitive to the particularities of the context. Although I am quite comfortable preaching with jeans, I wouldn’t even think about doing so in a church with a large number of senior citizens. I own a few suits, but I wouldn’t dare sport mine when addressing teens or twenty-somethings. I saw a well known Christian author speak at a conference for mostly mainline pastors. He was a white young man donning dread-locks and a long skirt-like shirt. His dress did not distract me from the important and impactful message he shared, but it did become an obstacle to several of my colleagues in attendance. It was unfortunate that some allowed the preacher’s clothing to keep them from hearing his message, but I wonder if he could have done more to prevent his dress from blocking his Gospel message.

Sermon length is another contextual issue. I preached as a guest at a multi-ethnic church in Queens, NY that asked me to preach a 45-60 minute message. The suburban, mostly white congregation in the Midwest that invited me to preach wanted a 25-30 minute sermon. The preacher who stays within the bounds of contextual expectations regarding sermon length is more likely to be heard than the preacher who totally ignores these boundaries.

Match the Preacher’s Personality

While ignoring the preaching context is disrespectful, ignoring your personality is inauthentic. As much as possible within the parameters of your context, be yourself. If you are a 23 year old preacher, my guess is the three piece suit is not your style even if it fits the context. If you are a 75 year old preacher, you may not want to wear baggie jeans and a t-shirt even if that dress aligns with the style of most of the people in the preaching context.

I tend to be a 25-30 minute preacher, perhaps because I am a product of my sitcom culture. Unless I’m invited to speak longer or shorter, this is the sermon length I hit every time. You probably have a default sermon length too, along with convictions to support your modus operandi. The point is, know yourself.

When a local church hires me to be their pastor or someone invites me to be a guest preacher, I assume they want me to be me and not a clone of some other preacher. However, in an effort to be myself I must also be sensitive to the context. In some instances, we preachers have to find a compromise between the context and our personality. For example, you may be a jean wearing preacher in a congregational context that expects and desires a suit wearing messenger. Perhaps you can compromise by wearing a shirt and tie without a suit coat. If you prefer to preach 25 minutes and the context expects 45, perhaps you can stretch to 35. Know yourself, know your context, and preach in a manner that is sensitive to both.

Match The Community

The community around the preaching context matters too. If you are a local church pastor you will likely want to wrestle with the question: What kind of dress would foster a sense of welcome to people in the community who do not yet attend the church? One of the churches I served was attracting people from the lower social classes within the community. Few of them owned or could afford a suit. Our pastoral staff and most lay leaders dressed in a manner that the economically challenged could adopt for themselves.

The preacher must also consider the community when it comes to sermon length. One church I served as pastor was in an area consisting mostly of Roman Catholic churches. Many of the people moving into the community were from a nominal Roman Catholic background. So, most people from the community who visited our church were used to the 10-15 minute homily of the Roman Catholic liturgy. I didn’t want to overly exhaust them with a 35-40 minute sermon so I tended to go about 25 minutes, which fit with my personality. The preacher’s sermon length and style of dress should not be a needless barrier to community people who visit the church and are processing the decision to return.

QUESTION:

How does or how should your personality, local church, and community context impact how you dress and how long you preach?


Dr. Lenny Luchetti presently serves as Assistant Professor of Proclamation and Christian Ministries at Wesley Seminary of Indiana Wesleyan University. He began his 15 years of pastoral ministry when he was 23 years old. During that time he has served as the Pastor of a small rural church, the Assistant Pastor of a large church, and as the Lead Pastor of a congregation that grew from a small to a large missional and multi-ethnic church during his tenure. Lenny has taught preaching courses for ministers since 2003. He has preached at churches, camps, and colleges in the United States and around the world. His passion these days is to invest in those who are investing in local churches.

Dr. Luchetti blogs at lennyluchetti.blogspot.com

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3 responses to Preaching Dress and Sermon Length

  1. Pastor Bob Turton May 29, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    I grew up and was an altar boy (acolyte) in a denomination in which all the clergy wore obvious religious garb. When I was a teenager I met the workers
    (elders, deacons, deaconesses) of a particular holiness church society who wore a uniform (brother and sister-workers, married and single). It was through these servants of God that I heard the biblical truth proclaimed: the message and life of “salvation – present, full, and free” and as a result by God’s grace I made my choice for Jesus Christ. Later I learned that other churches also preached a full Gospel of justification and sanctification by grace.
    Quite obviously I listened carefully and responded to the Word and the Spirit of God as shared with me (and others in our family) who dressed in a manner that convinced us that they were “real ministers” with a “right message.”
    Not only was I converted to Christ, but I was led onto the path of “considering for the work,” eventually “offering for the wor,” “entering the work,” and “continuing in the work” for over fifty years now.
    First Samuel 16:7 is often used to defend a casual and even careless appearance of anyone, including people in leadership. While it is true that some people cannot afford to dress in a certain manner, however, even we who are seriously poor are able to wear what is appropriate for various occasions. There are many people, believers and unbelievers, who are not favorable impressed by sloppiness of any sort, not only the way God’s servants dress, but also the laxadaizical manner in which some church services are conducted or thrown together as if the Holy Spirit cannot or will not guide in prior preparation and significant presentation of the worship services and the preaching of the Word of God.
    Many people tell us they attend church services, not to be entertained nor to be uncomfortably confused; they long for an awesome sense of God’s presence, which some places comes across as less than what was anticipated.
    There is a difference between ritual and liturgy, but that is a different subject than what we were hereby invited to comment. Where a service is more or less “formal,” or “informal,” the literal meaning of “liturgy” is “what the people do in worship.” The more the congregants participate individually and corporately within the context of the service, realizing that God is the Audience Whom we seek to please, rather than the people being entertained, the closer we come to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,” and “worship God in Spirit and in Truth.” The outward appearance may be a refelction of what is in the heart; God sees both, and people can see only the outward, but what does the outward express to those who are present? Does it help or hinder anyone in his or her relationship with Jesus Christ and with other children of God? Just wondering? In the secular world, in businesses, on athletic teams, in the military, waitresses in restaurants, police, toll-collectors,nurses, etc., usually wear something prescribed by the systems they serve that will identify who they are so they can be easily recognized. Is this same tendency of no value in the ministry of the church, especially when it comes to modesty, and the balance of humility and dignity, on the part of those in ministry and leadership roles in worship, preaching, and teaching positions in public gatherings of the church? I know many will disagree and accuse us of being old-fashioned and legalistic and too traditional. Pray about it and the Holy Spirit will show you and us what honors God and can bless a large segment of those whom we serve in His Name. Thank you for your kind patience in simply thinking about these things.

    • Brother,

      I fully agree that we as Christians should dress with
      modesty and respect. However it evident that many of the members of the Wesleyan church does not agree.

      I see young women wearing attire that leaves little to the imagination. I feel the leadership needs to deal with this in a positive way, instead of hiding our heads in the sand because we are AFRAID we might offend.

      Young men dress as if they are on a fishing trip in stead of
      attend worship service.

      My question is: Why has “respect for the Lord and His house” been discarded?

      Blessing brother,

  2. Pastor Bob Turton May 29, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    I grew up and was an altar boy (acolyte) in a denomination in which all the clergy wore obvious religious garb. When I was a teenager I met the workers
    (elders, deacons, deaconesses) of a particular holiness church society who wore a uniform (brother and sister-workers, married and single). It was through these servants of God that I heard the biblical truth proclaimed: the message and life of “salvation – present, full, and free” and as a result by God’s grace I made my choice for Jesus Christ. Later I learned that other churches also preached a full Gospel of justification and sanctification by grace.
    Quite obviously I listened carefully and responded to the Word and the Spirit of God as shared with me (and others in our family) by people who dressed in a manner that convinced us that they were “real ministers” with a “right message.”
    Not only was I converted to Christ, but I was led onto the path of “considering for the work,” eventually “offering for the wor,” “entering the work,” and “continuing in the work” for over fifty years now. When it is appropriate some of us continue to wear “clergy shirts or blouses” for men and women in the ministry.
    First Samuel 16:7 is often used to defend a casual and even careless appearance of anyone, including people in leadership. While it is true that some people cannot afford to dress in a certain manner, however, even we who are seriously poor are able to wear what is appropriate for various occasions. Jeans and a t-shirt are not appropriate for pastors to wear to conduct Sunday morning, holy communion, ordination, or funeral services, which we have seen ourselves to the dismay of many, both the saved and the unsaved.
    There are many people, believers and unbelievers, who are not favorably impressed by sloppiness of any sort, not only the way God’s servants dress, but also the laxadaizical manner in which some church services are conducted or “thrown together” as if the Holy Spirit cannot or will not guide His ministers and musicians in prior preparation and significant presentation of the worship services and the preaching of the Word of God.
    Many people tell us they attend church services, not to be entertained nor to be uncomfortably confused; they long for an awesome sense of God’s presence, which in some places comes across as less than what was anticipated.
    There is a difference between “ritual” and “liturgy,” but that is another subject than what we were hereby invited to comment. Where a service is more or less “formal,” or “informal,” the literal meaning of “liturgy” is “what the people do in worship.” The more the congregants participate individually and corporately within the context of the service, realizing that God is the Audience Whom we seek to please, rather than the people being entertained, the closer we come to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,” and “worship God in Spirit and in Truth.” The outward appearance may be a refelction of what is in the heart; God sees both, and people can see only the outward, but what does the outward express to those who are present? Does it help or hinder anyone in his or her relationship with Jesus Christ and with other children of God? Just wondering? In the secular world, in businesses, on athletic teams, in the military, waitresses in restaurants, police, toll-collectors,nurses, etc., usually wear something prescribed by the systems they serve that will identify who they are so they can be easily recognized. Is this same tendency of no value in the ministry of the church, especially when it comes to modesty, and the balance of humility and dignity, on the part of those in ministry and leadership roles in worship, preaching, and teaching positions in public gatherings of the church? I know many will disagree and accuse us of being old-fashioned and legalistic and too traditional. Pray about it and the Holy Spirit will show you and us what honors God and can bless a large segment of those whom we serve in His Name. Thank you for your kind patience in simply thinking about these things.

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