Why Have a Student Ministry Dress Standard
In our last two articles we began considering the question, “Does God care what we wear?” Again, so many responded positively to these articles! In a day when sloppier and sleezier is finding its way into the church and the Christian home, may we reconsider clear biblical principles and transfer them to our children. God gives us many good reasons to carefully choose our dress and to set guidelines for how we “appear.” The first six reasons were as follows:
1. To please the Lord Jesus Christ and honor Him above all. 2. To submit to the biblical principle of modesty. 3. To submit to the biblical principle of appropriateness and identify with godliness. 4. To promote an environment of purity and spiritual growth. 5. To honor the convictions of spiritual authorities. 6. To give account to the Lord with joy. Let’s consider four final principles to choosing “what we wear” and why to have a student ministry dress standard.
7. To promote a spirit of maturity. Maturity isn’t an age, it is the acceptance of responsibility. The young people we influence are quickly becoming adults, and no responsible adult gets to dress the way they want all the time! We accept given boundaries in a multitude of environments—because we take responsibility seriously.
When we let kids wear whatever they want, we are teaching them to be self-centered—to believe that the world revolves around them. The sooner I can get our teens over their fashion-conscious insecurities, the more mature and responsible they will become. First Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
It is possible to help this generation of young people understand what it means to be mature examples. In fact, this is what God commands in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
8. To exemplify a distinct lifestyle not conformed to the world. Simply put, the attitude that says, “I can wear what I want when I want and nobody can tell me different” is not a spiritual life—it’s a carnal life. This is a life conformed, not transformed. Ephesians 5:8, “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.” Romans 12:2, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
I still believe that God intend for us to walk “out of step” with the world. This simply isn’t the case for modern Christendom. Most Christians are trying to blend in as best as they can with the world’s styles. Why do we care what the world thinks more than what the Lord desires? God instructs us in Galatians that, even as we are in Christ, we are also to put on Christ. Most Christians are more than happy to be in Christ, but far fewer really desire to put on Christ.
9. To protect the thoughts and innocence of young men and young ladies. No parent would want young men lusting after your daughter. No parent would want a son tempted at a youth function. Unfortunately, our sons will most likely see more inappropriate clothing by accident during their teens years than their grandfathers could have looked for in a lifetime.
For this reason, I contend that a church youth group should be a “spiritually-safe” environment for young people. When we teach modesty to young women, we are teaching them to value themselves as God does and to save themselves for marriage. And we are protecting the hearts and minds of young men—teaching them to guard their thoughts. When we teach appropriateness to young men, we are teaching them responsibility and respect toward the Lord and others.
Second Timothy 2:22, “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” Proverbs 4:23, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”
10. To be a clear witness of the Gospel. You would have to take several dozen teenagers to public places on a regular basis to understand this one. When our teenagers pile out of a church bus in a McDonalds parking lot, or stand in line together at a theme park—they are noticed. And when they are dressed sharp—they flat out SHINE!
Not long ago, we had a group of one-hundred senior-highers at an In-N-Out Burger (a Southern California favorite). As our group spent forty-five minutes enjoying food and fellowship, they were dressed sharp, they acted respectfully, and they were kind to others in the restaurant. (For instance, our teens allow other people to take the front of the line whenever our entire group is in line at a restaurant.) Toward the end of our visit, two adults approached me and asked where these “wonderful students” were from. I happily said, “Lancaster Baptist Church”—to which they replied, “Well, this sure gives us hope for the next generation! What a great group of young people!”
I was so thankful for the testimony that the Lord allowed us to have at that moment. Sadly, I’ve seen some youth groups that were in no way different from any other group of teens in secular America. Why can’t we remember that man always looks on the outward appearance—1 Samuel 16:7? Jesus taught us in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
So there you have them—ten principles to validate that God does care what we wear. I pray you will consider them and teach them. Teens want to know “why.” They won’t always understand all of our rules, but this is one area where they are more than capable of connecting the dots—if we present them reasonably and biblically. Everybody knows that dress matters. It’s really just a matter of submitting our selfish wills to God and living to please Him first.
These same principles would apply to hairstyles, make-up, manners and other areas of outward conduct as well. Perhaps as you read these principles you thought, “Well, that’s just not ME. I have to be ME.” May I gently encourage you to give up that self-centered thought process. I figured out a long time ago that “being myself” was a losing proposition—and a very limiting one. The winning life is really about surrendering your identity fully to Jesus Christ.
Just trust the Lord and His Word. If you are a spiritual leader, lead your group in the right direction. Give clear biblical direction and unashamedly lead the way. If you’re a teenager—value yourself, your testimony, and your future enough to dress for God’s glory. Set aside your own preferences or self-centered thinking. Decide to dress in a way that absolutely pleases the Lord and shows respect for Him in every environment.
As I close, I would like to contextualize everything I’ve stated earlier with this final thought. Encouraging Christians to dress to honor the Lord is not about legalism or arrogance. We (as a youth group) are not “Gestapo” about this. We don’t look down on someone who doesn’t dress perfectly to our standard. We are compassionate towards them. Every week, we welcome hundreds of teens to our church that don’t dress the way we wish they would. Yet we still love them, teach them, and minister to them.
We just don’t buy into the argument that successful youth ministry requires rock music, grunge dress, and freakishly immature youth pastors. In fact, the youth groups that I see with that philosophy are failing miserably at life change. Judging by the product—NO THANKS!
As you raise the bar in the area, please do so with tenderness and compassion. Teach the truth with love and patience. Teach your teens that decent dress doesn’t produce a right heart—it should reflect one! Christ-honoring dress should be the product of a pure heart, not the white-washed exterior of a proud one.
Finally, I haven’t tried to define your standard. That’s up to you, the Lord, and His Word. It’s up to your authorities. If your standard isn’t mine, I’m not accountable for that. My standard doesn’t define spirituality, it merely defines what God has put on my heart for the environments and people that I lead and influence. You must define your standard by God’s leading, and be prepared to answer to Him for it. One final story and we’re done.
Not long ago I was with my family strolling through an open shopping area when we happened upon a new bowling alley that served lunch to your lane. We needed lunch and bowling sounded fun, so a few moments later, we were bowling, eating, and making some great memories. It wasn’t until we were leaving that I noticed a large sign at the entrance explaining the dress code. I read this sign in disbelief.
The rules were as follows: No sweatshirts or sports jerseys, no jogging pants or jumpsuits, no MC colors, no hats or headgear, no baggy clothing, all clothing must be neat and clean, no long shorts, no boots, no long or baggy T-shirts, no sleeveless shirts, and no solid color T-shirts. Wow! All that just for bowling!
In closing, think about that bowling alley. Somebody there really respects that environment. When it comes to dress—do you care as much about honoring the Lord as they do about bowling?