Walking the line between nerd and cool.

We Are Not The World

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.


9 responses

  1. Darcy F

    I guess my first thoughts…

    It is sad but probably in some form true. I think back in the dark ages when I was in youth group there may have been rules (either by our group or places we went, I’m not sure) about no 2 piece bathing suits.

    My other thought is that part of preparing for the trip should be a Bible Study that explains the reasoning for such a rule. No, we are not trying to be no fun. We are trying to help youth see God’s divine purpose and plan for them and guide them to fulfill it. Isn’t that what youth ministry is all about?

    There are other issues that would suffer consequences if not adhered to, correct? What are those consequences? It should fall into place beside those other expectations, no smoking, drinking, drug use, etc. In some circles, those we be considered “no fun”, too. But we are not those circles. We are the body of Christ and need to live as such.

    May 21, 2008 at 12:22 pm

  2. Jaime

    I think that generally most people would agree that we, on a Christian youth event, should be encouraging modest dress. I think the great difficulty will come in defining modest dress.

    We had a one-piece rule when I was in youth group, too. With that said, that was before tankinis became popular and I’ve seen lots of modest and appropriate suits that are two-piece. With *that* said, my definition of modest and appropriate is surely different from lots of other people’s.

    The same is true with shirts and shorts. What defines “modest?” No cleavage? No stringy straps? Shorts that reach your fingertips? How snug is “too tight”? There’s a big gray area that will make it difficult to reach consensus.

    I like the idea of a bible study.

    Either that, or we bring back MC Hammer pants. 2 legit 2 quit, baby.

    May 21, 2008 at 6:09 pm

  3. Tracy

    This is a tough issue, Jason, and I applaud you for tackling it.

    May 21, 2008 at 6:51 pm

  4. Chuck Whited

    Let me begin by saying I wear a one piece. I really liked Darcy’s idea of a Bible study before hand. With open and honest discussion, maybe the youth can come to a general decision before a policy even needs to be considered.

    It isn’t just about me and what I want to show off of my body, but it is about others and the hurtful thoughts I cause them to experience. How can we encourage and build up one another and not cause a brother or sister to sin or be ashamed? Paul said in Philippians 2 that we are to consider others as more important than ourselves.

    Just another thought – this isn’t just boys and bad thoughts (although that is big), it is also an issue of self-esteem for some.

    Is what I am doing honoring Christ?

    May 22, 2008 at 9:13 am

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone! A Bible Study sounds like a good idea.

    May 22, 2008 at 10:02 am

  6. Pam S

    I think dress code expectations are just as appropriate as any other expectation that youth will be required to follow on a youth group trip. Youth will be required to follow a curfew, honor specified meeting times/places, use appropriate conduct, have group devotions, etc.

    Many of these areas are gray in nature, are probably handled differently in different families and we could spend endless hours debating what is “right”. But, I feel that as a parent sending my child on a trip, I am trusting the decisionsof those in charge. Regardless of what we may choose to set as guidelines at home, my son will be expected to respectfully adhere to the policies and guidlines provided.

    I am quite certain that there will be choices made for him that he will not like, he’ll think are stupid and pointless and certainly unfair, but he will know that he is expected to follow them. My goodness, he finds the mere concept of work offensive and we’re sending him to workcamp. Why, because I trust and believe that depite any complaining that may occur, God will plant seeds of serving in his heart.

    I want him to learn that real joy comes form serving others, not himself, just as Christ came to serve. (Right now he thinks real joy comes from the right hair product. ) I think our part as parents in helping kids learn to be servants is “gently “helping them to realize that it’s not all about them. Following rules set by DCEs, etc. helps them to know that we are all accountable, ultimately to God.

    I think that rather than having heated discussions about how much skin is OK to show, we ought to consider how we can best teach our children that the greatest blessings come with obedience.

    I must admit, it was my daughter that helped me to refocus my own thinking when she questioned why there was even a dress code issue. I thought I needed to explain that people had different opinions, etc., etc. and she said, “No, there shouldn’t even be a question because it says in the bible that we should obey those in authority.”

    Here’s what it says in Hebrews 13:17
    Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

    I love the idea of more dialoque in the form of Bible studies that can help kids learn to honor God in all of their choices, but for now, I’m hoping that we can help bring joy to those that are planning this trip by honoring their decisions.

    May 22, 2008 at 4:40 pm

  7. Tim

    OOOHH!!! Tough issue. Most have addressed all sides of the matter and Jason you really discussed much of the pros/cons. Pastor advice, as is everyones is very good. A bible study is certainly a way to go.

    Regarding a “policy” I suggest it be biblical and general modesty be the “rule” based on the bible study; don’t even try to legislate limits and appropriateness – most really already know. It is a slippery slope. It could be group legislated (peer pressure).

    I’ll pray for you all.

    May 22, 2008 at 4:53 pm

  8. Jaime

    Pam, if I had hair as cool as your son’s, I’d probably find great joy in hair products as well. 🙂

    May 22, 2008 at 4:57 pm

  9. Jen

    Unless the teen makes a conscious choice to want to dress more appropriately, then it’s not really their doing. What I mean is, they need to learn the why of it and the impact they have on others. Why one tank top is okay but the other is inappropriate. Why shorts that hang down and show your undies is not what God had in mind for a Christian example.

    I think the Bible Study on God’s plan for “His Temples” is a good idea b/c ultimately, it’s the teen who has to choose to dress in a certain way. At least to make it something that is honoring God and not a rule that HAS to be followed.

    However, that doesn’t mean guidelines wouldn’t be helpful! Examples can never be harmful.

    A difficult situation; one that I know you will handle with God’s full guidance.

    Thankful for your ministry…

    May 24, 2008 at 9:40 am

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