A friend shared this article on Facebook this morning. As I read it, several thoughts began to stir in my mind.
All of the points are important to consider. However, the third point is especially important because of the assumptions that some are prone to make.
Too often, those in more traditional/formal churches translate “less formal” into “void of substance”. We convince ourselves that “less formal” means that worship would not be based on Scripture and the music would be weak theologically. Too often, well-intentioned church folk equate the style of dress with the seriousness of the content. We have to realize that blue jeans and un-tucked shirts have little, if nothing, to do with the content and biblical/theological substance of a worship service. When the leadership team discusses the idea of a “contemporary service”, people get nervous and are afraid that the pastor is going to get “all new-agey”!
It is possible to do high church liturgy and be “less formal”. “Less formal” has very little to do with worship style. Much of it comes down to attitude, a comfortable environment, and the assumed dress code. We should also remember that some of our high church liturgy and favorite hymns are theologically weaker than songs by Crowder, Gungor, and the like.
I’ll be honest, I would be a lot more comfortable, relaxed, and feel like myself if I didn’t feel like I needed to consider others expectations when it comes to a Sunday morning dress code. I try to find a middle ground…not too formal, not too casual. And yet, the fact that I have to spend any time thinking about what I’ll wear on a Sunday morning indicates that we might take ourselves a bit too seriously.
In some of my clergy friend circles, we often laugh about the things that seem to upset folks. One friend talked about getting a phone call and a nasty letter in regards to not tucking in his shirt. One friend was told it was inappropriate for a “woman preacher to wear slacks on a Sunday”. Another friend talked about getting an anonymous letter indicating that she should not wear open-toed shoes. I had someone ask why I didn’t feel like honoring God by wearing a tie when I preach. I could go on and on. None of these things have to do with theology, doctrine or mission. Yet, folks felt the need to address these minor differences of opinion.
As you can see, too often, we get caught up focusing on the wrong things. Formal vs. informal (along with the so-called “worship wars”) might be one of the biggest “majoring in the minors” obstacles of the modern church.
Plus, think about how “less formal” could be more comfortable and inviting to those in our community. There may be some in our communities who avoid church because they are embarrassed by their “Sunday best.” There may be some who have sat in an office all week in their business attire and the last thing they want to do is get dressed up and go sit in an uncomfortable chair for an hour (or more). There may be some who have been in a classroom all week having to follow all the rules so they don’t get a card pulled and the last thing they want to do is go sit in an environment where they are expected to behave like adults rather than children and youth. There may be some who are so exhausted from a week of getting the kids ready for school, making breakfast/lunch/dinner, cleaning the house, transporting the kids all over town for this and that and Sunday is the only day they feel like they can simply relax and not care if the kids look halfway decent.
Maybe we could all learn something from Cal Naughton, Jr, of Talladega Nights fame, who said, “I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-Shirt because it says I want to be formal, but I’m here to party.” So, maybe the assumed dress code for church should be tuxedo t-shirts!