Why Have a Student Ministry Dress Standard
As a youth pastor I am often asked about dress standards—from teens, from parents, and from other youth leaders. Do we have a dress standard? What is it? How do we enforce it? Why do we have one? What about visitors? The questions and the reasonings sometimes seem endless, and can actually be seriously distracting from the central point of student ministry. To get straight to the point, this is a real issue in youth ministry in the twenty-first century and many are looking for balanced biblical answers.
As culture continually slips into sloppier and sleazier, many churches and families have all but given up this battle. Many are opting for the “well, God loves us no matter how we dress” approach to Christianity. And of course He does! No one argues that point. But God loves me regardless of how I live too! That’s just not a valid argument when considering “what to wear.” God’s love or acceptance isn’t the issue—pleasing Him and representing Him well are the issues.
In the next couple of articles I would like to explore the subject of dress from a student ministry perspective. If you are a parent, these articles will encourage you to consider biblical principles for your children and your own home. If you are a youth leader or pastor, this article will challenge you to reasonably define and compassionately lead your group environment to be honoring to the Lord. Either way, I hope we all decide to “raise the bar” for some very good, biblical reasons. I believe the Bible is very clear—YES—God does care what we wear.
In Matthew 11:7–9 Jesus is speaking about John the Baptist. And while the central context of this passage is not about clothing, He draws a clear distinction between what a godly man wears and what would be worn in a pagan environment. (The term soft clothing in this passage refers to common homosexual practices of the day.) The Bible draws the same conclusion in Proverbs 7:10 where it says, “…the attire of an harlot.” Point being—different types of people dress differently and clothing certainly identifies us with a lifestyle. To put one point of these verses in plain English: godly men don’t dress the same as effeminate men, and godly ladies don’t dress like harlots.
Would you consider with me your dress choices? Would you consider what you allow your teenager to wear in a variety of contexts, and would you let those decisions be subject to God’s will? If so, then I pray that these following considerations will challenge your thinking and provoke serious consideration of this matter. I recently gave our students and parents ten reasons why we have a student ministry dress standard, and why I have a dress standard for my family. Let me share three of them with you now and the rest over the next couple of articles.
1. To please the Lord Jesus Christ and honor Him above all. So many of our dress decisions are purely based on pleasing self and pleasing others. When you wake up and get dressed, for whom are you dressing? First Corinthians 10:31 teaches, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
2. To submit to the biblical principle of modesty. This is more of an issue with ladies because men are “sight oriented.” If you have a home with only girls, you may not really get this! What some ladies or moms think is “cute” is very often provocative. Dad must be the authority in this area and moms should work to educate themselves on what their daughters “look like” through the eyes of young men. First Timothy 2:9 teaches, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel…”.
3. To submit to the biblical principle of appropriateness and to identify with godliness. Philippians 4:5 teaches, “Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.” The definition of moderation is appropriateness. While young men might not have to struggle so much with modesty, they certainly should be taught what is appropriate dress for various environments.
It seems our young people are being taught that wearing their “ball-game” clothing to church is appropriate. It simply isn’t. When it comes to dress, we should have a higher respect for spiritual environments than we do for mowing the lawn. It’s the same reason we dress better for weddings and funerals—because we respect the people and the environment involved. Why should the Lord get less respect than the dead?
We’ve just barely scratched the surface of this topic. I pray that you will take these first three points and teach them to your teenagers, your children, or your youth group. 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. Thanks for reading. We will continue the discussion in the next article!