A few things need to be said about the ethos of the preacher. Bad ethos can nix a good sermon. What do I mean by ethos? I mean the way a preacher comes across— aurally, visually, personally, tone of voice, gestures etc. As the rhetoricians will tell you, you need to establish rapport with your audience at the outset, and if you have some ‘inhibiting’ factors to establishing that positive rapport, then you need to overcome your ethos liabilities. For example, let’s say you have a tic— say a tendency to jerk your head a bit when making a point, or a tendency to never make eye contact with your audience, but rather stare off into the distance, or at the camera, or at the ceiling. This inhibits establishing rapport with the congregation. Looking at people is part of establishing good contact and rapport with them. Think of how many times your Mom or Dad said to you when you were avoiding their glance “Look at me. Pay attention.” Not looking at someone means you are not paying attention to them, and apparently care little about them. It’s all about you and your message.
Let’s take another. Suppose you have a voice rather like my old avocado salesman at the New Quincy Market in downtown Boston– gravely, grating, irritating. If you have a weird, or funny, or annoying or too soft-spoken a voice, you are going to have to: 1) take some voice lessons to overcome this, or 2) simply tone it down or up, and learn how to speak publicly in a more neutral or even appealing manner. If you want to win some, you need to be winsome, even in your speech patterns.
Apparel. I keep waiting for the day when we hear about casual Christians who decide it’s o.k. especially on the day of a baptism by immersion, to show up in church in bathing suits. Can’t you just picture a whole church full of people in their bathing suits sitting in the pews— old people, young people, fat people, thin people, small people, tall people beautiful people, and not so much. If this seem ridiculous to you, it makes a point. How you appear matters as a preacher, especially in an appearance crazy culture.
Remember the old NIKON ad with Andre Agassi the punchline of which is ‘image is everything’. Which Sprite tried unsuccessfully to rebut with ‘image is nothing, obey your thirst’. Whether we like it or not, image does matter, and the preacher is supposed to be setting some kind of example. At a minimum he should be clean and neat. Preferably he should look like what he is about to do actually matters. ‘Casual is as casual does’ Forest Gump might say. But there is nothing casual, off-hand or simple about the Gospel and its proclamation. While I am at it, there is nothing casual about worship. Casual worship is as much of an oxymoron as Microsoft Works (with apologies to Microsoft). Coming into the presence of a living and holy God is never a casual matter, and why some preachers think its o.k. to signal to an already too casual about everything culture that you can come to church that way, dressing and looking like a slob, is beyond me.
It’s not about style or wealth or ostentation, its about giving God our best. Think about a parallel situation— going to a wedding. In a sense you are going to a wedding ceremony when you go to church. You are going to celebrate the union of God with his people! Look your best. It’s not about you and what you feel most comfortable with. It’s about honoring the Lord.
And the preacher should be setting the example here. The message of his ethos should not be— ‘it doesn’t matter how I dress or look– ‘slovenly is us’. Wrong. This is just capitulating to the casual culture with casual attitudes that thinks its all about its comfort. It’s not.
Its about meeting someone more important than how you would dress to meet the President— namely GOD! There is nothing casual about that. You are going to meet the Comforter, not look like you just slept on one! Again, not a dress code, but an appearance that reflects that you know that your encounter with God matters enormously and reflects your desire to be whole, clean, sanctified, saved when you meet the living God.
Ethos matters, especially when it reflects the state of your life, your soul, your heart for God’s people and the lost.