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What Not to Wear: How to Teach Modesty

By Dr. Roger Barrier


Dear Dr. Barrier,

For several weeks, I have been wrestling with sending you an email. Having been in church ministry for 35 years (senior pastorate), I know that there are kooks out there, but I assure you... I am not a kook. Neither am I a legalist, writing tickets and leaving them on the windshields of souls.

. . . But I have an issue...

I am now popping the top on my can-of-worms...whether it be Sunday morning worship service, ladies bible study, ladies prayer service, deaconess meetings, or the female leadership from the stage to the lawn, they look as though they walked off the cover of the Cosmopolitan magazine . . . Last Sunday our pastor’s wife, (I am not down on pastors’ wives) was wearing a top so low cut, she could have breast fed a child . . . the Capri pants that matched the top had entrenched themselves in the folds of her skin, requiring a quality crowbar for removal.

While she and the remainder of the Praise and Worship Team left the stage, one of the ladies who heads the Biblical Counseling Team stepped on the platform to make a special announcement, her little black dress and laced-up-to-the-knee, black platform shoes, helped to secure male volunteers for the “clean-up committee”.

The seventeen year old offspring of this same pastoral family was sitting on the front row in a see-through mini skirt and see-through top that matched (the bright pink thong was an added touch). While her father was delivering his sermon, she sat in a chair next to her boyfriend and . . . propped her legs over the arm rest of her chair with her feet resting on her boyfriends arm.

After the 8:00 am service that I attend, I headed to my prayer group, where in the Hallway, I was accosted by the Education Director for Children’s Ministry, who had to point out to me her new “tramp stamp” on her lower back, with her low rider waist shorts and halter top, she was “stylin”. . .

Have we as women forgotten that God calls us to holy living? So why are we allowing Hollywood, New York, and Italy to set our standards? Are we the Temple of a “Goddess” or the temple of the most Holy God?

 First Corinthians 6:19-20  says that we are the temple of God.
 First Peter 2:9  says that we are a royal priesthood.
 Romans 12:1-2  says that we are living sacrifices to God.

I am aware that I cannot legislate holy living, what people wear, or Godly attitudes. These traits should come out of a relationship with the true and living God. But I am concerned. Just because we live in a modern society, does not mean that we can cast off all restraint. We who call ourselves pastors, teachers, and speakers of God’s word are leading God’s flock, leaving lasting impressions. At times, we look like, talk like, dress like and sound like the world? Should there not be a difference? So what has happened with Paul’s statement; “Follow me, as I follow Christ?”

Once again, I know, this is a “touchy” subject, if it is addressed, you are perceived as “being judgmental”, “condemning others”, or “condoning legalism”. (I am not doing any of these.)

But, what can I say? Are my hands tied? Am I going nuts, better yet, crazy? I’m not a prude, I like nice clothes and style, but not to the degree that my influence with the public as a believer or my relationship with my Heavenly father is damaged, in any form.

This is what I do know, I will walk humbly before the Lord, and continue to let him mold me and shape me after his image, and continue to keep it as a matter of prayer before the Lord.

A penny for your thoughts...

In His Service,

Martha


Dear Martha,

My thoughts? I am thinking “Bravo!” How we need to hear the word of the Lord as spoken through His prophetess, you, Martha.

That’s not all I am thinking.

I’ll tell you what my thirty-year-old daughter was thinking. As we read your letter together she said to me:

Remember the short shorts I wore to school in ninth grade even in the winter? I thought I looked cute. I dressed like all the other girls. I wore what all my friends were wearing. Do you know what would have changed my mind about wearing such skimpy apparel? If I had known what the men and boys were really thinking and imagining as they looked at me. I would’ve been so embarrassed that I would’ve changed my attire in a New York Minute. I wish I’d spent more time wanting them to think of me as an elegant, lovely, respected, Christian lady, not a slut with nice legs.

The struggle over what to wear—or what not to wear—is an issue of eternity. It’s gone on for generations.

For teenagers the universal struggles of rebellion and assertion of independence are nothing new. In some generations the struggle is symbolized by appearance. Think mini-skirts, bra burning and long hair in the sixties.

Unfortunately, the current skimpy dress styles are not issues of assertion or rebellion. They are blatantly and unashamedly opening the door to sin and to the lust of the eyes at the expense of modesty and purity.

In the earlier years parents teach—and enforce—principles and values.

Things change when entering the teenage years. Parents must begin transitioning to clarifying values, principles and behaviors and then mentoring their children to choose to live accordingly.

As the teenage years progress, parents would do well give their teenagers more and more freedom to make their own choices. This is a touchy area if Christian values were poorly taught, or if the discussion degrades into a shouting match where every one gets hurt. At that point the dress discussion becomes just one more battlefield of rebellion that damages relationships and isolates individuals.

So, as parents, how do we handle our teenagers’ desires to dress like sluts—or slobs—as the case may be?

What am I thinking, Martha? Allow me to share some thoughts to consider:

First, clarify issues

  • Carefully have them consider that they can’t live on their parents’ faith forever. The time comes when they must personally decide for themselves whether or not they will take up the Christian faith and live accordingly.
  • Discuss the Biblical teachings regarding the relationship between proper dress and looking more like Christ than looking like the world.
  • Help your teen to see that this choice is not just a decision of outside clothes but of inner character and spirituality.
  • Make it clear that choosing to dress more modestly may actually lead to being a living sacrifice for Jesus (Romans 12:1-2). Acknowledge that the difficulty for living sacrifices is overcoming the incredible temptation to crawl off the altar. Help them understand that living for Jesus is costly but worth it at any price (Matthew 5:10-12 and 1 Peter 1:6-9).
  • Help them to understand that God uses difficulties to refine us to look more and more like Jesus. The decision to dress properly is not just something they are doing to help Jesus; they are getting a lot out of it, too.
  • Help them see the powerful impact they can have by daring to be different. Alternative dress in contrast to what everyone else is wearing may result in opportunities to lead people closer to, instead of away from Jesus.

Second, allow your teen the freedom to make his or her choice.

  • Stand beside them regardless. If they dress more modestly then praise God! But, if they choose otherwise, then pray that their consciences will lead them back to the better path.
  • If your relationship was not damaged by a sustained battle, you are in a position to help them pick up the pieces and start over again when they return for repentance, forgiveness and comfort.

Oh, by the way, I am certain that you’ve noticed; I hope everyone else has: of all the people you mentioned— only one was a teenager.

Martha, again, let me thank you for such a poignant and relevant letter. You’ve spoken for many of us.

Love,
Roger

Dr. Roger Barrier recently retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work isGot Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answerfrom Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at roger@preachitteachit.org.

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