Monday Morning Insights

Photo of Todd

    Is the church afraid of modesty?

    Is the church afraid of modesty?

    Recently, Randy Alcorn was asked about modesty in the church.  This is an age old question in the church; but one I really haven't heard for a while.  One side of the coin says that women need to watch what they wear to make sure men don't lust after you or look at you 'that way'.  The other side of the coin is that men just need to not lust.  I don't know that either one is practical; or that the issue is quite that simple.

    Here's the question and answer:

    QUESTION: My husband and I are glad that the church is finally talking about the problem of pornography and purity in the Body of Christ, and helping men address this issue. But why do we never hear about purity for women in the way they dress? I’m talking about women who profess to be Christ-followers. They become a stumbling block to their brothers when they dress seductively or dress to be sexy as the world has deemed fashionable. Please address the issue of modesty.

    ANSWER: That is a great question, and it’s very problematic. Just recently I was speaking at a church, and found I could not look a certain direction at the congregation because of how one woman was dressed. This happens frequently. I’ve been in churches where I can’t look at the worship team because of how a woman is dressed and swaying seductively while holding the microphone. It’s something you would expect in a nightclub, yet it’s in the church—the Body of Christ.

    I’m all for sex and I think it’s great for a woman to be sexy with one person—her husband. The irony is there are cases where women have gotten so used to appearing sexy in public yet actually have no sexual relationship with their own husbands. So we have two issues going on related to the issue of modesty—modesty in public, and modesty when the Body of Christ is assembled. And this latter one is huge.

    When I was a youth pastor, many years ago, we had a problem with swimsuits that is much worse today for church youth groups because of the change in fashions. The way girls wore their two-piece swimsuits, and even many one-pieces, showed so much. You have young men on a church retreat who are looking at these girls—their sisters in Christ—and thinking what young men think and being led into temptation. I’m not justifying the way men think. It is a problem, but it is also true—as the person indicates who asks this question—that there’s a responsibility here for girls, and certainly for their dads and moms, to seriously consider this.

    As for the part of the question asking why this is not being addressed like it should be in churches, I believe the answer is fear. I think there are many pastors and church leaders, who, like many husbands and fathers, are afraid to speak up for fear of offending women who are fashion-conscious. Some women think that to be fashionable, you have to have outfits that are sexy—including the split skirts, the very tight skirts and pants, and low-cut tops. All of these things send a message to men, and pastors are very self-conscious about speaking up because they think, There are women who will think I am a pervert for even mentioning this. “Oh, is that what the pastor is thinking about when he’s up front?” It’s a difficult situation, but it’s an issue I believe male leaders of the home and church need the courage to speak up about and address directly.

    We also need godly women (especially godly women who can be reasonably fashionable and attractive in the right sense of attractive—not sexually attractive) who will lovingly challenge other women and let them know they are sending a wrong message. And if they don’t care about the message they’re sending, then something’s really wrong and they need to repent. We need open, clear discussions about this so women can become aware and understand the issue.

    The Bible says our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. That compels us to honor God in all we do and say. Sadly, many inappropriate relationships develop in the church. Sometimes they start in small groups; others start through working relationships between church staff. There have been adulterous relationships that began during small group retreats, where women and men dressed and acted a certain way. Many of these relationships could be avoided if we paid closer attention to how we dress, how we come across, and the kind of affection we show.

    I love to show physical affection. I often side-hug women I care about and know—if I have a close, appropriate brother-sister relationship—by putting my hand on their shoulders and pulling them toward me. But I avoid full-frontal hugs. Women sometimes are not aware how these kinds of hugs can affect their brothers in Christ.

    Here are some of my random thoughts/comments.  Not that you asked.

    1.  I do think it's totally acceptable for church leaders to ask ladies (or men) in positions of leadership to dress accordingly.  We've all had instances when we've seen someone serving in leadership at church and had to look at each other and say "what were they thinking!?"  

    Sometimes they are sexually provocative.  Sometimes they are just weird.  Sometimes they are inappropriate.  Sometimes they are just bad judgment.

    Like wearing biking shorts under a short skirt.

    Or wearing a prom dress to sing on the worship team (not particularly sexy, I might add, just out of place and inappropriate)

    2.  Can I say it?  For many men, the lust factor is not determined primarily by clothes.  Some ladies could wear very provocative clothes and not catch a man's eye in that way.  Others could wear a full length parka and catch men's eyes.  What clothing they are wearing is 'a' factor, but not the 'only' factor.

    3.  Side hugs have always caught me to be a little weird.  I save hugs for weddings and funerals primarily.  Although, it could be that I'm just not a real touchy-feely kinda guy.  Side hugs can be just as lust-filled as 'full frontal' hugs.  Depends on the guy; and the girl; and the thoughts that those side hugs provoke.

    4.  God made men to notice pretty women.  For some reason.  And that's not a sin.  I'm glad he did.  But just because a man notices a pretty woman does not mean that he wants to sleep with her.  (OK... some men automatically go there, but that has not been my experience in the church).

    5.  I was just talking with a church leader this week who said they had a problem with the way a young, attractive staff person was dressing.  The first plan at his church was to write a dress code policy.  He said that was silly.  What needed to be done was to talk to the person directly.  In this sense, church church does fear in this situation.  I've never met a church that liked to confront.  It's much easier to write a policy.

    6.  Is it the responsibility of women to dress appropriately?  Yes, absolutely.  And it is (I think) the responsibility of their husbands (if they have one) to keep that in check. Tell your wife if something makes you uncomfortable (because if it makes you, the husband uncomfortable), it will probably make other men take notice as well.

    7.  Is it the responsibility of men not to lust?  Absolutely.  And you need to guard your heart (and your eyes) when you're tempted.  For sure, don't run up to the lady that tempts you and give her a side hug.

    How do YOU deal with modesty at YOUR church?  Have you had to have hard discussions with individuals about what they wear?  How did that go for you?

    What's the best way in the church to promote modesty without being a total prude?

    Is this really even an issue for you at your church?




    if you want a Globally Recognized Avatar (the images next to your profile) get them here. Once you sign up, your picture will displayed on any website that supports gravitars.

    1. Peter Hamm on Mon, November 15, 2010

      Genius of the and.

      Men need to keep a watch over their heart.

      So do women.

      Let’s work together on this!

      btw, in my experience, many of the most attractive women do indeed dress very modestly. Then again, as I get older, I think everybody has their own beauty.

    2. Q. on Mon, November 15, 2010

      I think this issue is important but like many important issues we start to talk about in the church-we tend to miss the forest for the trees in the early stages and we typcially divide the issue along the lines of gender unfortunately…

      Like finally getting up the gumption to talk about pornography-but only about how it effects ‘men’...ignoring the early stats that said that 1 in 3 (to 2 in 4) visitors to adult sites are women, that’s nearly half (to exactly half) and that was a conservative estimate…  It tends to take a while to talk about how both genders are effected equally (just like other sins-as sin never has shown much of a gender preference).

      While not all (or even most) men struggle in this department, everyone should err on the side of caution…not paranoia, caution; while reminding ourselves that modesty is subjective.  No matter what, some people will always look down on those who don’t wear burkah’s just like they look down on the ‘jeans and tee shirt’ equipped person as too scandelous…while scapegoating the ‘men’ who really aren’t swayed or tempted in the least by it. 

      I know that there are a few that would ‘stumble’ and we need to be mindful of that-but I don’t think we need to act like it’s just the men and certainly not ALL the men…  I think we need to be honest and understand that some people do stumble in this area, and of that group of ‘some’ you will probably find that half are men and half are women (what a shocker).  smile

      So IMHO I think the church needs to be respectful in a realistic way, not in a way that distorts or exaggerates the issue…  When in doubt, err on the side of caution and grace while patiently guiding those who are affected by this issue…

    3. Leonard on Mon, November 15, 2010

      We do Shirts and Skins Sunday… Actually, when men complain to me, I tell them to sit on the other side of the room and to grow up a bit. 

      When women complain about other women to me, I tell them in a respectful way, this is between you and your sister, go talk to them.  It is not sin so do not confront, it is about love and care so go love and care.

      I think keeping the leadership of a church out of the conversation is always best of possible. 

      We had a few young women whose appearance became more modest as their faith became more mature.  So lets disciple people and see what happens.

    4. Leonard on Mon, November 15, 2010

      By the way, I will often stand at the door as people are leaving or entering and shout… High fives all around!  It is funny that people of all ages and genders line up for this.  Every time, someone in line will stop and say, “I only hug” and then hug me.

    5. sgillesp on Mon, November 15, 2010

      Once again, I would like to throw into the conversation that the problem is not that women are women, or that women’s bodies are somehow in themselves inherently evil.  Nothing on this post has said that, but in my experience the conversation among Christians has a tendency to go there, so let’s just nip that in the bud.  I especially feel that when we get to talking about youth: yes, the culture is not helping and young women’s fashions are a big problem if we want to insist on modesty, but at the same time the first message a young girl gets when coming to a youth group ought not to be “we think there is something wrong with female bodies, and therefore do not want to see yours.”  Of course that’s not what we believe, but I worry that it is the message that is caught.  Thanks for humoring my anxiety on this issue before it has even cropped up.

    6. Peter Hamm on Mon, November 15, 2010

      Good point, but I feel like I’m seeing way too much cleavage the last few years… of both kinds…

    7. Q. on Mon, November 15, 2010


              I’ve never heard that argument you referenced and I’m glad I haven’t…that line of thinking would be hard to take seriously even for the sake of argument…  Sorry you had to fight those battles but I’m glad that it hasn’t permeated enough to have made it’s way onto my radar…

      Kudos to you for fighting the good fight…

    8. Dave on Tue, November 16, 2010

      Nothing too low, too tight, too short…is a good standard. Asking your husband his opinion is always good too.

    9. Hank Chase on Sun, November 21, 2010


      Don’t look

    10. Matthew Rathbun on Sun, November 21, 2010

      A.)  Straight men are going to notice a un-modestly dressed woman.  To say “look away” shows a level of naivety that is prevalent in today’s church leadership.  It’s what men do after seeing this that is what they can / should control.  It’s that second look that we have to worry about.

      B.)  Women should consider what they would be wearing when standing in front of our Savior.  I think there is a wide variety of apparel that women wear that isn’t offensive, but jealous women would classify as such.

    11. Pastor Steve on Sat, November 27, 2010

      I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.
      In like manner also, that women adorn themselves modestly and not provocativly. 1Tim 2:9-10

      I’m no clothes line preacher but this issue in our culture of marketing and dressing young girls up like street walkers with shorts that have their cheeks hanging out and tops that leave nothing to the imagination is getting out of control.  Abercrombie and Fitch should not be dressing your teenage girls.

      And it is filtering into the church because there’s not many other choices in when it comes to fasshion except going back to dressing like pilgrims. Which is not the most flattering look to say the least. There must be a balance of looking nice and not showing off all your flesh.

      On the flip side I get tired of walking into a nice resteraunt or even going into the mall and seeing 40 yr old men with a hat kicked sideways wearing thier favorite sports team jersy that’s 3 sizes to big and jeans that are in great danger of ending up around thier ankles.

      I can understand when you’re at home watching the game, but seriuously, I just want to say grow up dude, go back home and give your 13 year old son his clothes back.

      We need to rise above the cultural standard that’s been set and begin to look like men and women of God… and act like it too. My lil soap box, Just Sayin

    12. Leonard on Sat, November 27, 2010

      Steve, not sure the connection with the Jerseys and the modesty in church.  Wearing a jersey is amoral not immoral. 

      We fuss way too much about peoples clothing and blame God for our opinions.  We had a young lady in our church years ago who often came to church from being out all night partying.  Her appearance was less on the modest side of the clothing standard. 

      I had a few men complain and a few women complain.  I suggested that instead of trying to clean up her appearance, why not disciple her.  Instead of whining about stumbling over her modesty, why not band together and pray for her. 

      Guess what, The Holy Spirit didn’t need our rules in order for her heart to be changed and with a changed heart came a different look.  There was no shame, no judgement, no confronting…  Just life transformation.  Took a little longer but worked a lot better. 

      Today, she and her husband are growing to maturity in Christ, and instead of feeling like on object that men oogled and women judged, she feels like a person that God loves. 

      The whole focus of this is on appearance and some guy stumbling, lets fix the appearance but guess what…  The heart will still find a way to sin.  Guys don’t need to see an immodest look to lust, we can do that just because we are sinners.  Beating lust is not about modesty but accountability.  Lets focus on redemption and discipleship.  It has always been much easier to stand on a soap box than to love in word and deed.

    13. Barb on Fri, December 03, 2010

      Don’t look? Are you serious?  I was in church one morning and a gorgeous young woman came in with a way, way, low neckline.  Like, how low can you go neckline.  She was friends with folks sitting on the front and went and sat by them.  When greeting time came, and people turned to shake hands, I noticed that men had no choice but to see, especially since most were taller.  As a woman, I do mentor young women and we talk about this.  After all, when the demoniac was naked, and Jesus delivered him, the next thing we see he is that he is fully dressed!

    14. eB on Sat, December 04, 2010

      Ha!  Good point, Barb.

    15. Page 1 of 1 pages

      Post a Comment

    16. (will not be published)

      Remember my personal information

      Notify me of follow-up comments?