By Dennis Wiggs
Let me be frank. This article is mostly personal opinion. I realize that today’s appearance standards have changed, and you may disagree with my observations. That’s fine. My goal is simply to make you think carefully about your appearance.
What You Wear
Pastors should dress professionally for public ministry. Once I stood at a hospital information desk when another pastor approached and requested a list of patients. He wore denim jeans and a tight-fitting polo shirt. The lady asked, “Are you a preacher?” When he replied that he was, she blurted out, “Well, you don’t look like one!”
I quietly agreed. The minister was dressed well for playing golf or fishing, but not for visiting church members in the hospital. The minister will usually be better received if he wears a jacket, tie, and dress pants. He must remember that he represents the Lord and his church at the bedside of a sick church member.
By the way, Hospital personnel have more respect for a pastor who dresses professionally. Of course, that may not always be possible when he receives an emergency call in the middle of the night or on the back nine of the local golf course. In those cases, it is always more important just to be there, no matter how you are dressed.
What You Say
The young pastor needs to be careful about his words. Slang words or profanity should never fall from the preacher’s lips. The conscientious preacher should be extremely careful about any expression that degrades the name of God. He should avoid telling jokes that make light of the Faith. And he should never take the name of the Lord in vain.
And don’t just be careful about your words, but take care of that breath! Offensive breath can turn people away. When you leave the pulpit, place a mint in your mouth. Always keep some type of breath refresher in your pocket. Whether you are witnessing for Christ or carrying on a normal conversation, your breath should not be offensive to listeners.
Don’t stand too close! Give people a comfort zone. Have respect for their personal space. When you crowd people, you tend to come across as defensive or overbearing.
What You Project
Once, just before stepping into the church pulpit area during a funeral, the other pastor told me that he had almost hanged himself on his lapel microphone earlier that morning. The humorous pictures produced a broad smile across my face as I walked toward the pulpit. Did my wife straighten me out after the funeral!
That experience still reminds me to be careful of my actions, especially in the presence of the bereaved. Even when the young preacher drives in the funeral processional, he needs to be careful, remembering that people are observing his behavior.
When the ushers come down the aisle to receive the offering, the pastor should place his tithing envelope or check in the offering plate. He is setting an example. The congregation recognizes that the preacher is practicing what he preaches. That’s not pride. It’s leadership.
Shake hands. I believe the pastor should shake as many hands as he can before and after services. Personal contact is invaluable. The preacher will learn about people’s problems, fears, frustrations, and blessings while shaking hands.
Many people attend church services with heavy burdens. A touch and a kind word can relieve that difficulty. At the same time, the pastor should be careful about physical contact with the opposite sex. Maybe some preachers can freely hug the church ladies, but most of us shouldn’t. A quick arm around their shoulder from the side will suffice. In this day of moral failure, even an accusation of inappropriate conduct can ruin your ministry. Don’t take any chances. If you show deference to the ladies of your church, they will respect you for it.
In addition, today’s pastor must be careful about counseling the opposite sex. I have an window in the door of my study so others can easily see, but not hear, the person receiving counseling. When a woman unexpectedly dropped by for counseling one Saturday morning, I called a church staff member to drop by the office.
Always consider the basics of your appearance. While you don’t have to wear Italian suits, take time to match your clothes carefully. Don’t wear a tie with stains. Polish your shoes. If you think the shirt needs ironing, it does. Stand in front of the mirror each day and say to yourself, “l am a preacher. God help me to be the very best ambassador I can be.”
About the Writer:Dennis Wiggs retired in 2004 after many years in ministry.
Adapted from Contact magazine, June 1999.