In the last decade, and perhaps further back, a new phenomenon has been taking hold in the evangelical world of leadership. I am speaking about the pastor who is “cool”. He may appear wearing the trendy upscale brands or a toque. He has a t-shirt which shows off the many tattoos on his body. He is in excellent physical shape, indeed it is clear that he works out. We are told he relates well to a certain young segment of society and is the kind of person that many can easily identify with. He is cool. Sometimes he is interviewed on the most popular shows on the continent. He may even have celebrities as his friends. And above all, he knows how to market himself.
I have been contemplating this. In some Christian traditions, pastors dress in clothing that distinctly marks them as members of the clergy. But evangelicals have, to the most part, rejected this. The reason is simple. While acknowledging that the clergy has a unique role among God’s people, they also feel that the clergy must take their place as one of the people of God. Hence evangelicals have resisted specialized clothing. Their clergy were to look like one of them.
Since that is the case, it should not shock us to find that pastors can be found wearing a wide variety of clothing, depending upon the cultural context in which they are found. So why would I have a problem with the pastor wearing a torn t-shirt, and flip flops on his feet? If he is working among those who are in the tech sector, chances are he is dressing the way that many in his congregation dress. It is fascinating that there are those who argue that in many businesses today, suits and ties are going out of fashion. Why then should we be surprised that the same is happening among the evangelical clergy? While I was in the pulpit every Sunday, I had jettisoned my tie years earlier. I did so because I recognized that I was the only member in my congregation wearing one. It turns out, I as clergy, had been wearing specialized clothing!
And yet, while I certainly do not hold that a pastor must wear a certain stereotypical clothing, I have been feeling a sense of discomfort. Perhaps I am just getting older, but I think something else has been bothering me. The more I thought about it, the clothing was simply a symbol of something more profound.
What has been bothering me is the symbol portrayed in the pastor. Let’s get back to clothing. Most of us will acknowledge that clothing is a symbol of the image of the person.
In order to test my theory, I went online, looking for famous people in various professions. Famous scientists sometimes appeared in suits, but they also appeared in lab coats or other more casual forms of clothing. But in each case, the clothing and the profession were in line with each other. Hockey coaches in the NHL are required to wear suits and ties. Politicians dress within certain boundaries. School teachers, physicians and nurses dress within certain boundaries. I, for my own part, would hesitate to be treated by a physician who dressed in ripped jeans and a toque.
This blog is really not about clothing. It is about returning to a model of pastoral ministry that reflects the seriousness of the task. The pastor as the man of holiness, known for compassion and for sober-mindedness. The pastor as a man who knows the scripture well. The pastor as a scholar and as a man of prayer. The pastor who is a shepherd, working to heal the injured, bind up the wounded, add comfort to the dying, and reach out to the lost and doubting. The pastor as a man who knows that eternal life and eternal horrors are at stake in his work. I want to return to the pastor as a man of God. I don’t want him to be cool.
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