When I served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference in 2008, I told the twelve men on the program to preach in “what they were comfortable with.” In other words, I wanted them to preach however they normally preached in their congregation or as they traveled the country. Some preached in slacks and a golf shirt, some with a coat and open-collar shirt. One preached in jeans with his shirttail out. One thing was consistent: they all preached the Word without apology and challenged us on the matters of prayer, brokenness, revival and evangelism.
The day after the convention, a man, I assume a preacher, approached me wearing jeans and tennis shoes and started a conversation with me in the LifeWay Bookstore area. “Are you the one who was in charge of the Pastors’ Conference?” he asked. “Yes, I am.” “Well,” he said, “who gave them permission to preach without ties?” I told him I did. He then got that self-righteous pharisaical look of a guy with a Ph.D. and said, “I’ve got a problem with people who preach without ties.”
If it hadn’t been such a stupid statement, and if he hadn’t been so serious, I would have burst out laughing. I shared it with a friend of mine, and he said, “That’s what ticks him off about Jesus; He didn’t wear a tie either.”
I’ve thought about that situation over the last few months. First of all, the guy who preached in the slacks and golf shirt is the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention and has probably baptized more people in the last year than that guy will in fifty years. The guy who preached in jeans with his shirttail out showed a video of a baptism where over 800 people were baptized in one day. Another guy who preached during the conference baptized over 400 last Easter Sunday. I guess if they wore ties, they would really be reaching the world for Christ.
As the great D. L. Moody said one day when someone criticized him for his methods, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.” The reality is that we get hung up on tie or no tie, and Jesus hung on a cross for people bound by sin.
A few weeks ago, I was preaching to a room full of pastors. I told the preceding story about the incident at the Pastors’ Conference. I happened to be preaching in a nice mock turtle shirt, a sports coat and nice dress slacks. I wasn’t underdressed, but I wasn’t wearing a tie. I knew what I was doing when I got dressed that morning. I wanted to see if dumb preachers actually breed.
They do. This guy came up to me and confronted me after the message and said, “Preaching is about the majesty and glory of Jesus.” I totally agree with him. We talked for a few more minutes and then he said, “You can’t talk about the majesty of Jesus and preach about the majesty of Jesus if you don’t wear a tie. We should dress our best before Him.”
Let’s follow that line of logic for a moment. Does that pastor who confronted me sleep in a tie? Does he cut his grass in a tie? If our entire lives are to be lived for the glory of God, does he ever take off his tie? Based on what he said, I doubt it. I wonder if he’ll meet the risen Lord in heaven one day and find Jesus wearing his best J. C. Penny suit and a nice tie.
Will his first question to his Savior be, “Is that a Brooks Brothers tie? Did you get that from Robert Talbort? Was it on sale when you bought it, Lord?” What will he do when he meets people from other cultures like the tribes in Africa and people groups in the Far East? Will they be in heaven? Their preachers don’t wear ties. Most of us spend more on one tie than some of them make in a year.
Is a tie the sign of spirituality? I don’t think so. Having said that, let me be clear. I do think we should do our best and wear our best if possible. 95% of the time when I am preaching, I am wearing a tie. I like to dress up in a suit and tie. I enjoy buying a really nice tie. I’ve got dozens of ties. But I don’t get my stomach in a knot of someone is preaching and isn’t wearing a tie.
We must not fall into legalism and think that ties are essentials. They are preferences. Some people believe a woman should never be in church without her head covered. I wonder if those brothers are as strict on the women and head coverings as they are on men and ties. I’m still trying to find where Paul addressed the whole “to tie or not to tie, that is the question” issue.
Here’s the problem for me. I don’t really care whether another person wears a tie or not. I’ve preached over 100 youth camps and seen kids saved and dozens and dozens come to Christ, and I never wore a tie. Would more students have been saved if I had? As long as the person is preaching the unapologetic, inspired, authoritative, inerrant Word of God, I don’t care if he is wearing WalMart jeans or dress slacks from Sacs Fifth Avenue.
It is sad to me that in 2009 we are debating matters that cause the lost world to look at us and call us losers. We still can’t get over the lie that unbelievers must clean up before we’ll let them in. If ties are the issue, then we can only reach the up and up, never the down and out.
I don’t think we have to become like the world to reach the world. I don’t believe we have to compromise to give people the gospel. I do believe we need to get our eyes off things that won’t matter ten seconds after we die and get them on a lost and dying world. We need to confront carnality in the church, not people who are seeking to live for God but dress differently than we do. I’d rather drink coffee any day with a man in a t-shirt and jeans who wants to pursue God than a man in an expensive suit who thinks he’s better than everyone else.
Only in America could we debate such silly issues. Only in America would I even have to write an article like this. You don’t have to agree with me. It doesn’t matter what side you fall on with this issue. Just give God room to use whomever and whatever He chooses.
Let’s all get over ourselves and get on with Jesus. Let’s get off the minors and focus on the majors. Let’s stop the foolishness and the arrogance that might lend itself to say, “Since I preach in a tie (or don’t), I am a better preacher or representative of Christ than those others are.” Let God be God. Get off the world management committee. Lift up Jesus…and if you need to, wear a tie.
(copyright 2009, Michael Catt)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.