Sunday Best

For those of you who don’t know, I have two places which are my favorite to eat in our beautiful little town. One is the Brick House Café. The other is the Cable Café, especially for breakfast. If you haven’t been in either of these lately, go in and support local businesses.

I’ve been in the Cable Café enough that I have met most of the local regulars. But this morning, I met an elderly gentleman for the first time. After saying, “Good morning,” the next thing he said was, “You look like a logger.” Of course, I responded, “Nope. I’m a pastor,” and pointed the direction to my church. He was surprised. Many might wonder about this. Shouldn’t I look like a pastor when out in the community? Is there a problem when a pastor does not dress “like a pastor”?

When someone mistakes me for a logger, a truck driver, a rancher (I’ve been considered all of these) it is a great compliment. Honestly, if a person upon first meeting concluded I was a pastor, I would go home and change. This is unlikely since I am not from a tradition that uses “holy garb” like the clerical collar or cassock. When pastors in our tradition dress up (dress for the role) it is usually a simple business suit.

But this shows a profound issue in the church. Should we be known as holy because of a garment we wrap around ourselves or because of our lives in the community? I want people to see me as a pastor because of my heart. I want them to know that without a doubt, I love them—failures and all. I also want them to know I’ve lived their lives. I’ve scraped manure off my boots. I’ve greased more than my share of log truck grease fittings (changed tires on them also) and been on the back of plenty of chain saws (including fighting the Yellowstone fire in the late 80’s). I’ve wrestled cattle for branding, plowed fields, and bailed hay.

You see, I never want to be Holy Joe! I want to be Pastor Ken—the guy people know can laugh with them, cry with them, talk with them, accept them, all without judging them. But I also want to be a guy who can still call the same people to Christ and true holiness—to a transformed life.

The funny thing is this view also matches my practice on Sunday—at least if I had my druthers. Shouldn’t a pastor model how to dress on Sunday? Yes! Absolutely! And I do that every week. How should one dress on Sunday? Well, it depends upon where the church is located. For example, if it’s snowing and twenty below, are shorts appropriate? If it’s over ninety degrees and humid, should one wear a coat? But wait! What about wearing one’s “Sunday Best”? I challenge anyone to find this concept anywhere in scripture. It’s not there. When I hear “wear your Sunday best,” what I hear is, “You should dress in such a way to make those with nothing nice to feel out of place.” But I want people to know coming in with manure on your boots is fine. I want people coming in who may only have dirty or ragged clothes. Besides, I’ve heard some of the most incredible biblical wisdom come from the mouths of people who had nothing—people for whom the “Sunday best” crowd has little time.

I’ve also had another experience with dressing for church. In many of the churches where I attended, those dressed the nicest were the least holy. Some women dressed to the nines on Sunday spent the rest of the week tearing others down. Men in the best Sunday suits often operated their business with no concern for ethics. But what about in church? I have never been judged harshly, verbally attacked or my character assailed in church by a man or woman in dirty work clothes but have had both from people in fine Sunday attire (in other churches, of course). Clothing does not impress God. And anyone who has spent enough time in churches should not be impressed either.

Years ago, I filled the pulpit for a friend who was on vacation. I drove to his church in another state. I didn’t know the people or how to dress, so I defaulted to business casual slacks, a dress shirt, tie, and sportscoats. After service, an elderly farmer came up apologetically, “Pastor, I’m sorry for the way I’m dressed. All I have are my work overalls.” I was heartbroken that a hard-working person would be made to feel lesser by how I was dressed. I told him, “Sir! If you feel there is something wrong with the way you are dressed because of the way I’m dressed, then I owe you an apology.” I went on to tell him, “My policy about how to dress for church: if everything is covered that is supposed to be covered, then you are dressed for church.”

This is still my policy today. The problem comes when I apply this standard to myself. Someone will take the wind out of me by commenting on how they feel a pastor should dress. But I am a pastor. I have been a pastor for twenty-five years. The way I am dressed is how a pastor should dress in the setting where you see me. It is who I am.

Let me share an experience with you that illustrates this. Back when my children were young, I worked as a tile setter. I worked long hours trying to make a contracting business successful—many 16-hour days. But I always strove to take my family to church whenever the doors were open. On a couple occasions, this required wearing my work clothes so I could leave right after to get to a job site. It was interesting to be treated differently week to week when the only difference was whether I wore clean slacks or caulk and grout-covered work pants. I was the same person. My heart was unchanged week to week. Such should never be with God’s people. If God does not look to the outside but at the heart, then we who are grateful for this should do the same.

Leave a comment