Warning: Long post ahead! We’re considering a dress code policy for youth ministry. It could become emotionally charged. It’s difficult, but it’s important. Read on for a lengthy, back and forth look at the problem.
I’m struggling with what to do with regards to a clothing policy for student ministry. The issue has come up as a part of preparing for our Workcamp to Piqua. Just a sampling of some of the questions our leadership team has to consider:
- Should we have a policy?
- How detailed should it be?
- How do we enforce it?
- What are the consequences for breaking it?
- Does it turn kids away from a possibly life-changing experience at Workcamp, either because we have one or because we don’t?
- Is this an altar worth dying on?
- How do we balance the culture of today with the timeless truths of Scripture?
Is forcing a dress code on youth any different than how the Pharisees acted? Jesus called them hypocrites and compared them to whitewashed tombs for appearing to follow the law outwardly while not following it in their hearts. Youth may keep our dress code, but resent it inwardly. Is that doing them or us any good? Is it akin to legislating morality? We may win the battle, but lose the war in the end. We need to be in the world, not isolated from it, so maybe that means inviting people to come as they are.
And yet, we are not the world. We are to be in the world, but not of it.
Paul told Timothy:
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
We are to set an example for other believers in the area of purity. More than that, our body is not our own. We should treat it with respect not only in how we dress, but also how we use it and how we feed and care for it. Women are called to dress modestly, possibly because guys have a hard time thinking pure thoughts. In the end, purity and modesty matter to God, so they should matter to us.
God does not want empty sacrifice, but rather a broken heart. Do we present the dress code as a Law to follow while at youth trips and say you can’t come unless you agree to dress to our standards while there? Will youth make that meaningless (to God) sacrifice and still participate in the trip?
Or, do we set a minimum (and I think we almost have to), but hold up the high standard and let youth and parents choose to keep it or not? If you don’t want to go beyond the minimum, fine, but know that God has something more for you. You can still come as you are, but know that we want more for you as well. Maybe it’s enough if youth just start considering that God might have higher standards for how they dress and act at this point in their faith-walk.
We aren’t asking youth to dress modestly because we’re no fun. God made them beautiful and living a pure life means caring for and protecting that beauty for their future spouses. It’s about helping our young men, who have surprisingly little else on their minds than sex at this age sometimes. But it’s also about not clouding our message to other believers and, more importantly, to the world. I’m reminded of John’s words:
He must increase, but I must decrease.
Immodest dress is all about drawing attention to ourselves, which distracts from our message. If we are going to share the Gospel with the world, we must decrease and Jesus must increase. And now we get to the heart of the matter and perhaps the answer to our dilemma. Is Workcamp about having a good time with friends, traveling to a new part of the country and enjoying an after-event together? Or is it about bringing God’s Word in physical form to the people of Piqua, Ohio, loving on them and being Christ to them? If the former, we’re no different than anyone else in the world and it doesn’t matter how we dress or act or think. But if it’s the latter, then He must increase, but we must decrease.
I don’t know what the final policy will be. I hate that we have to consider setting one at all, but we can’t just ignore those parts of God’s Word. This is part of living in a world where God’s Word is counter-cultural. It could be an unpopular decision for us either way. But that’s part of being in leadership.
Share your thoughts on either side in the comments. Remember, we’re all on the same team, even though we might have different views on the subject. I’m thankful we’re at a place where we can speak the truth in love, looking to do what’s best for our students and sharing the Gospel.