Wearing Suits to Church

A Shepherd Thoughts reader asks, “Why is it so important to wear suit coats for church services, rather than a simple shirt and tie? I have been a stickler about always wearing a suit coat for church services, even when my pastor does not.”

Wearing suits to church has been a common American tradition for decades. (It continues in many churches today, though not all.) What is the biblical reason for this?

Advocates for wearing a suit to church commonly point to Matthew 22:11-12 as a biblical reason.

And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.

They conclude that since we wear appropriate clothing to a wedding, so we should wear appropriate clothing – a suit – to church out of respect to the Lord. This desire to respect the Lord is commendable. However, it is difficult to make a strong case, using this verse, that men should wear a suit to every church service.

Those who advocate for a casual, “come as you are” approach to corporate worship often remind us that God looks on the heart, not the outward appearance (1 Sam. 16:7). Is this true? Yes, most definitely. As you know, looks can be deceiving. But regardless of the clothes you wear, God looks past outward appearances to the inner condition of your heart.

Not everyone who wears a suit to church is worshiping the Lord in his heart. At the same time, there are many who truly worship the Lord without wearing a suit.

So are the clothes you wear to church irrelevant? No, they are still important to consider. We have to admit that our clothing is a form of nonverbal communication that conveys a message. If I wear a tank top, shorts and flipflops to a job interview, what does that communicate? If I wear pajamas to the grocery store, what does that convey? Are these appropriate choices?

We have to admit that our clothing is a form of nonverbal communication that conveys a message.

While God is able to see our true inner condition, those with whom we worship at church see our outward appearance. Therefore, our worship attire should convey the right message about what we are doing.

Would it be wise for me to wear blue jeans, along with a Mets baseball jersey and ballcap to church on Sunday? Probably not. Why? Because it sends the wrong message. I could argue that I am worshiping God in my heart, and maybe I am. But my baseball outfit sends confusing signals that distract others from worship, for understandable reasons. By wearing this outfit, I am not saying, “I am here to worship the Lord.”

So here are some thoughts for you to consider as you evaluate your church service attire:

  1. Dress in a respectful way. You are worshiping the Lord God. If anyone deserves respectful attire, it is Him. This may not require a tuxedo, but not all clothing shows appropriate respect (Malachi 1:8).
  2. Dress in a holy manner. Worship is not a ballgame. It is stepping away from the affairs of this life, the evil and the trivial. It is “setting apart” yourself to give undivided attention to the Lord. If there is ever a time not to be pressed into the mold of the world, it is corporate worship (Rom. 12:1-2).
  3. Dress modestly. Dress in a way that does not draw attention to yourself. Avoid clothing that stands out from the crowd (Mark 12:38, James 2:3). A full suit, complete with a vest, handkerchief, cuff links and wingtips may be respectful and common in Southern U.S. church, but it would certainly be immodest in a village church in South Africa!

One pastor has said this, and I like it:

“May the Lord help us to so carry ourselves … that the congregation cannot remember what we had on, but cannot forget the word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ!”

So in conclusion, should you wear a suit to church? The answer to that question will be different, depending on your church and culture. There is no one right answer for every congregation and every service. But whatever you wear to worship, dress in a respectful, holy and modest way and worship the Lord from your heart. That should never change.

For more helpful thoughts on this topic, I highly recommend that you read the thorough and helpful article, Clothing Matters: What We Wear to Church.

10 replies
  1. TOvermiller
    TOvermiller says:

    So true, Matt. Immodesty is “not being modest.” It is any attitude, attire, words or behavior that draws attention to yourself. Certainly, wearing “not enough clothes” is immodest, because it draws inappropriate attention in your direction. But the Pharisees were also immodest, wearing long flowing robes (Mark 12:38). Many sermons have waxed eloquent about ostentatious women in church gatherings (1 Timothy 2:9); but how many sermons have exposed the problem of ostentatious, gold-fingered men (James 2:2)?

  2. Joshua
    Joshua says:

    I appreciated this discussion because it is something that I have been thinking about lately. Please bear with me as I write a long comment. I just became the head pastor of church. There is no pressure to dress any particular way. After discussions with the deacons, I get the impression that if I wanted to steer the church to dress casually that they wouldn’t protest and vice versa. Therefore, I have been asking myself many questions about the type of dress I should wear throughout the week and whenever I preach.
    Interestingly, I came across a vlog this week with a well-known comedian, Kevin Hart. It was in my youtube feed, and I decided to skim through it. What is relevant to the conversation is his discussion of why he wears an expensive watch. He explained that a watch should mean something and that people should not to get a watch just to have one. Frankly, I know very few people that wear watches today other than my children:). Anyway, he goes on to explain that the most valuable thing you have is your time and when people look at your wrist, “it should be a representation of your time and how you spend your time.” (https://youtu.be/8-S-o_XY2jM?t=3m45s; I would play only the segment between 3:30-4:13 due to language)
    If the secular world knows how much you value your position, job, activity, or service by such arbitrary articles of clothing, then shouldn’t I evaluate my clothing with the some scrutiny so that it communicates the value of my ministry for the Lord? After thinking though this, a pastor may choose to wear either a suit, or shirt and tie, or sports coat with no tie, etc. However, it is clear that the world has elevated what is trivial, sports, to the same level of importance as politics by making sports news anchors, play callers, and even athletes wear a suit. I don’t think I ever see weather anchors on a designated weather channel dress down unless they are outside giving a report. How much importance do we place on our ministry? The world wants the pastor’s voice to be insignificant and have less authority. The world loves a pastor that makes what is holy considered common or profane (Ez. 22:26). The pressure from the world is to delegitimize the value of the pastor’s office. I believe the pastor should stand above the world and dress in such a way that communicates the importance of his calling, Preaching the Word.
    -Thanks for enduring my long comment

  3. TOvermiller
    TOvermiller says:

    Joshua, thank you for sharing your thoughts. And may God bless you as you shepherd His people! In this (worship attire), and in everything else, a pastor should provide an example for the believers he serves (1 Timothy 4:12). As church shepherds, we should present ourselves in a respectable, holy and modest way. We aim to point our people to Christ. How we dress for church as pastors should be biblical first, and then appropriate from a cultural perspective second. Furthermore, we should conscientiously avoid noticeable self-expression or appealing to a particular subculture at the expense of another. I really appreciate what H.B. Charles says here:

    May the Lord help us to so carry ourselves in the pulpit that the congregation cannot remember what we had on but cannot forget the word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ we preached!

  4. Jack
    Jack says:

    I appreciate your sports analogies. I agree that we should not come dressed as a mere fan; we should come dressed as NFL colored commentators and play-by-play announcers. They always dress impeccably and look very sharp. I don’t think there’s a red-blooded American male alive who does not take the NFL almost as serious as he does his faith. Therefore, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to expect men to dress for church as if they were going to be on live tv with Jimmy The Greek and Dennis Miller and all the others.

  5. TOvermiller
    TOvermiller says:

    Jack, I’m glad you find the sports analogies helpful. From a broad vantage point, we should recognize that while NFL commentators and announcers dress impeccably, many NFL fans dress quite the opposite, wearing crazy clothes, going shirtless and all the rest. Furthermore, we must also recognize that economic factors affect our worship attire. What is “serious, impeccable and respectable” for one may not be possible for another due to financial limitations. So without offering specific rules or attire recommendations (like “wear a suit and tie,” etc.), I find it most appropriate to emphasize the three important principles I’ve suggested: respectfulness, holiness and modesty. Our attire should never distract from our worship. One such distraction, as you’ve mentioned, is a stubborn insistence of deliberate sloppiness and casualness.

  6. Jack
    Jack says:

    We need to point out that just because a man wears a suit, he is not necessarily spiritual. We mainly see Donald Trump wear a suit, but no Christian can in good conscious vote for him, even though he does wear a suit.

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