For one, I detest coffee. I don’t touch the stuff.
I also don’t dress like the “typical” youth minister does. I hate flip flops. I’ve never worn them, and I don’t plan on it. My jeans have no holes. I’ve also never worn anything trendy in my life. A quick glance in my closet will reveal no American Eagle apparel. It’s just not my style.
On Sundays, I wear a suit and tie. On Wednesday nights, it’s rare to see me without a polo shirt and khaki pants. I believe it’s important to make a good first impression on parents, visitors and others in the congregation that expect professionalism from the church staff. I’ve found in rural settings that helps more often than it hurts.
A recent article brought this issue back to light.
I have to be honest. For too many years I’ve heard the argument that you have to dress fashionable to be accessible to teens. I’ve never found that to be true. My suit has never hindered my relationship with a student. Wearing a collared shirt on Wednesdays has never prevented me from connecting with my group.
On the other hand, having nice clothes has made hospital visits easier when it’s time to pray for a student or parent prior to surgery. No nurse or receptionist has given me second thought for access when I have nice clothes on.
Similarly, it’s given me instant credibility with parents who see me as an authority in their child’s life. When I greet them at church or enter their home, the nice clothes communicates how important I think they are.
A wise pastor friend once told me this: if you want the respect of a pastor, then you need to dress like a pastor. Too often we, as youth ministers, lament not having the respect of the congregation while we dress like we don’t care about our jobs. Like it or not, most first impressions come from your clothing and grooming. First impressions are hard to overcome.
Do I think you need to dress up every day? Of course not. I only wear suits on Sundays. The dress pants only come out on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (both heavy office days for me) or during days I have to make a visit. The rest of the week, at my pastor’s suggestion, I wear jeans or shorts. Even then, though, the collared-shirt remains. I want people to know I take my job seriously. It’s how I get buy-in with adults.
So let me encourage you to dress up a bit. If youth ministry is your job (part or full time), then have some pride in your position and dress like you care. You might be surprised how far a business-casual look will get you.
It certainly won’t hurt in the respect department. In fact, I believe it will help.