Godly or Cool?

March 30, 2012

Bill Harrell has served as Pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, Georgia, for over 30 years. He also is active in the Augusta Baptist Association, Georgia Baptist Convention, and SBC, including having serving as the Vice-President of the Georgia Baptist Convention and as Chairman of the SBC Executive Committee.


For the generation that is getting a little older, it is quite disconcerting and puzzling to observe that it is now more popular to be cool than it is to be godly. Only a few short years ago, pastors were men who stood out from the crowd because of the example they set in an effort to lead people into a godly, committed way of life. They looked different from the crowd because they set an example in their dress and in their good conduct. Men of God honored their position by dressing in a professional manner which was neat and orderly. It helped people understand that here was someone from which they could take an example as to how to conduct themselves as a Christian. These same men were not only identified by their dress, they were respected because of the way in which they conducted themselves in and out of the pulpit. People looking for hope and help looked to the pastor for a heavenly example. These men were more than mere men. They represented God to those around them.

In those days, what one believed was the most important thing. How could a pastor impart proper understanding of the Scripture unless he believed and revered it himself? He was concerned more with being right than he was with being “cool.” In fact, being cool was something that was a million miles from his conception of what a pastor and preacher was suppose to be. It never entered his mind to be “cool.” It simply was not part of the mix. These men from yesteryear, were disciplined and committed to being sure they led the people properly and set the proper example. It never crossed their minds that they needed to identify with the people by being like them even to the lowest common denominator of acceptability. The pastor was suppose to set an example of what we should strive to be like. He never dreamed that he would be expected to downgrade himself in order to win their affection or attention. Where was the example in that?

But, today there are many young preachers who feel that it is a necessity to be “cool” in order to be accepted and build a big church. The idea is that descending to the least common denominator of dress and example will enable people to see that you are a “regular, cool guy” who can identify with them. In other words, being “cool” is the identifying mark of today. People just love it. But, we are supposed to elevate people, not fall to whatever level makes them comfortable.

The pastor or preacher should identify with his people. But, his identity with them should be grounded in the fact that they identify with him because they have been elevated to his godly standard instead of his becoming like the masses in order to find an identity with them.

In previous generations, what a man believed as well as his conduct and example was what was important. He elevated his people with his preaching, teaching, conduct and example. But, today, “cool” can say or do just about anything because it sounds cool and confirms that they are just that – cool. When one says or demonstrates that he wants to be “cool” he is actually saying that he wants to be acceptable. He doesn’t want to stand out from the crowd: “Why, they will leave if they are confronted by anything that says they should be living or believing differently, he will say.” The fact that one is a great Bible scholar and expositor is secondary to whether or not he is acceptable to the populace. Being popular and “with it” (cool) is a necessity for success especially if one wants to be in the “in crowd.” Being “cool” is a human effort to go places and achieve things that might not be on God’s agenda for a person.

But, one will say, “When I get them here because they are not threatened by me, then I can preach the gospel to them.” Sorry. It won’t work. The message is lost in the environment. The crowd that will be drawn won’t really want to hear the message and apply it. They just want to go to heaven; and they think that if they are in church and really feel good about their experience, then that is the ticket. The “punch” of the message is lost because someone who looks and, in many cases talks and acts just like them, is delivering it and his example is no better than theirs.

It’s “cool” to be edgy. Some try to see what they can get away with. Just how far can I go, they will think. Because they are the preacher and have the authority of that position behind them they think the people will not challenge them or be offended by off-color language, remarks, or insinuations. After all, he is the authority. The sad thing is that people will put up with such actions. They have slowly been programmed to feel that there is nothing wrong with the environment or the content. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with the preacher. He can say those things and imply those things because he is God’s man and that should not be questioned. Besides he is the coolest of the cool. Everyone is talking about him so that makes him successful, and, by implication, it makes him right in whatever he says and does. “I like him. He makes me feel good about me and that makes him acceptable and cool.”

The great pastors and preachers of years gone by and the ones still existing today are not known as “cool.” They are looked upon and respected because of the godly example they are setting and not because they fit the desirable mold of today’s mindset. What we have today in many cases is a “spiritual entertainer” who relies more on methods to excite and entertain than he does on what he should be telling them. A desire to return and see the next show is greater than the desire to hear a word from God. Human nature always demands more than was done the last time or they will get bored with what is happening. That is why some preachers today are continually trying to find ways to make the next gathering more “electric” than the last. It’s “cool” to be edgy and groovy. It meets the demand of a “video clip” and “sound byte” generation who really wants no more than that.

We are tolerating things in our churches that are embarrassing to godly people who believe the Bible. Things which are said and taught are things that even the world did in a dark corner a few years ago. But, just because the church is allowing such things to take place in its midst does not make it godly or biblical. Our godly preaching forefathers would “turn over in their graves” if they heard some of the language being used in church today. They would be absolutely horrified to hear young preachers telling people it is acceptable to drink alcohol. They would be even more horrified to hear someone talk of sex in the way it is being discussed today. How far we have drifted! And it is all in the name of the “cool” and acceptable.

Each succeeding generation can only learn from the examples set by the previous generation. They will also “fill in the blanks” with their own accepted moral and spiritual mores when proper guidance was either not taught or not learned. It is incumbent upon each generation to make sure that they set the right example so that their offspring will be pointed in the right direction even if they deviate from it. If we continue down the road that many are choosing today, what will the next generation look like? They in turn will pass along to their offspring only so much as they know with the result being that the next generation will “fill in some blanks” with meeting their own perceived needs and desires being a driving force. Therein is the downgrade.

I realize that anyone who is a part of the “cool” generational movement will find much to criticize about this little article but there are many others who will see great value in it. It cannot be denied that in the past twenty years we have flirted with many things that our forefathers would never have imagined. And, in the process we are losing our unique identity as people who set a godly standard for others to follow. We are in the process of becoming just another denomination in a vast sea of denominations. If we keep going in the direction we are now headed, we will, one day, be heaped in with all the other denominations which have compromised away their witness and who have lost their ability to influence the world with great spiritual power and authority.

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Jeff Johnson

Great article. Thanks for the time it took to write and the courage to say what you have said.

Josh Collins

Thank you for the necessary reminder that there are more important things in the pastorate than being “cool”. I am in general agreement with the major thrust of your post.

I do question how much the pastor’s dress weighs in this discussion. The former days when pastors wore suits was a byproduct of culture, most men in any professional employment regularly wore suits and caps, even to baseball games. I don’t find clothing or apparel listed anywhere in the Scriptural requirements for a pastor. These days, less professional careers require suits and look more like business casual. In cities where there is a large young working population, jeans have become part of standard workplace dress. I’m not sure how a pastor is stooping down to dress modestly and in a way that is appropriate for the people he is working with. While a pastor should seek to dress in a manor respectful to the position they hold and the event they are attending (like a wedding or funeral), what is considered respectful will vary from region to region and will change between generations.

TJ

Probably for this very reason a number of pastors have fallen into sin. Too many expectations that they were “more than mere men”.

What I see is a whole generation that has left the church. They have no desire to be involved precisely b/c of the “stuffiness” of the traditional church.

Yes, the pastor should be a leader, should teach the Bible (without adding cultural preferences to what is/isn’t ok)…but how he dresses matters not a bit!

I can think of a number of “pastors” this article might be referring to. If there is someone specific in mind, it should be said, b/c otherwise it leaves the impression that if you don’t wear a suit and tie to preach/teach, then you are not a good example to your church.

Obviously, wearing a tie and being a good example hasn’t worked out too well for some pastors or whole lot of missing congregants.

Max

Rev. Harrell,

Thank you for this article. While some readers may get locked up on your comments regarding slacks vs. suits, I agree with your overall concern that there has been an unhealthy adaptation of method and message to suit the culture.

I’m an old guy who could be accused of being “traditional”, but I’ve never been too concerned (until recent years) about form, as long as there was some substance to go with it. I don’t get too hung up over “contemporary” – after all, Jesus is the eternal contemporary. I’ve been patient with dress style, bands vs. choirs, and stools vs. pulpits. But this in-your-face new breed who says we will do it our way at all costs (including church splits) is starting to wear thin. Crowds have replaced congregations in too many SBC works these days. If you lower the price, folks will come to church.

William Comstock

Amen, Bro. Harrell! It makes all the difference in the world. Culture is culture, but in all cultures the preacher dressed “up” not down. We live in America and a suit and tie represent dressing “up!” Always has, always will (secular and religious).

What the preacher wears will affect what others wear in the church. My observation is that those who belittle dressing “up” for church usually have no separation standards outside the church either; they are just as worldly as the lost and there is NO difference in them than the lost. The Bible teaches that there is a difference that takes place when a person is truly born again; that change affects the whole man (and woman). Even secular books on “dressing for success” point out the importance of dressing “up” not down.

When the Lord called me to preach (just a country farm boy; at the time), I said “I will never wear a suit or tie; God knew who and what I was before He called me to preach.” But God! Yes, God got a hold of my heart and I was wearing a tie before two-weeks were out (lol).

Many of these contemporary preachers are not called to preach anyway; they lecture, they testify, they give speeches, they perform, but they do not preach (put forth the teachings of the word of God with the authority of the word and in the power of the Holy Spirit). Too many preachers are nothing more than ear-ticklers.

The contemporary church has plenty of form, but no power within. I’ll take the old-time religion any day! Of course, this is not to say all preachers who wear a suit and tie have the Spirit of God on them–many are D E A D!

God bless!

Joshua

I am so very thankful that God’s inspired word never creates false dichotomies such as “Godly or cool.”

Max

Look beyond stereotype in the following short videos and allow your heart to hear the contrast which speaks of Rev. Harrell’s concern.

Cool … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RJBd8zE48A

Godly … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGMG_PVaJoI

Scott

I find it interesting that this article did not quote one single portion of Scripture.

    volfan007

    Scott,

    I find it interesting that your comment did not contain one, single portion of Scripture.

    David

Les

David,

Scott is not the one making a case for “Godly or Cool.”

The author said, for instance,

“The pastor or preacher should identify with his people. But, his identity with them should be grounded in the fact that they identify with him because they have been elevated to his godly standard instead of his becoming like the masses in order to find an identity with them.”

The “should” here is not given with scripture to back it up.

Much of this post is grounded in cultural expectations rather than scriptural standards. Would that scripture had been supplied to back up the main post.

    volfan007

    My take on this, was that this post was all about Bill Harrel’s opinion. He wasnt trying to make a Scriptural arguement about these points. He was simply sharing his opinion. And, while I dont agree with his opinion about clothes and music….I hate ties…the guy, who made ties, is probably in Hades right now j/k….and I love comtemporary, praise music. I like the old hymns, as well. We have a blended worship style at my church, and I love it.

    But, this is his opinion. So, for Joshua and Scott to come in here with super spiritual platitudes and snarky comments…as if they’re some kind of super Saints…is not well taken by me. Of course, I’m used to a certain crowd being very angry and arrogant…so, it doesnt surprise me.

    David

      Bill Harrell

      David:
      You are right. If I had wanted to do an exposition on the subject, I could have easily done it. The article is simply my opinion as to what is happening to us and where it will take us. I assumed that people would be able to perceive that fact. I see that I was assuming too much where some are concerned.

      Bill Harrell

Les

Dave,

You may be right. If it was posed as just his opinion, then fine. No need for scripture references. Ties, much do not like. Suits? Hardly ever wear them anymore.

I like some contemporary music, if theologically sound. Much is not so I say we need to be careful. I love older hymns, especially the 18th century and prior. I also like much of what RUF and Kevin Twitt (and other Reformed University Fellowship) has done with many older hymns put to contemporary sounds. I think you would too. Check them out.

I’ll not comment on Joshua’s and Scott’s state of spirituality.

God bless,

Les

    volfan007

    Les,

    The only time I wear a suit, anymore, is when I’m marrying or burying people. I also wear a suit when observing the Lord’s Supper. It’s just something they do here….all of my Deacons wear suits for the Lord’s Supper, so if I dont, then I’ll look very out of place. I have a suit on while typing this, because we buried one of my church members this afternoon, and we’re observing the Lord’s Supper tonight.

    I wish ties and suits would go the way of the dinosaur.

    David

Max

On the surface, this posting could be reduced to youthful arrogance vs. seasoned wisdom, contemporary style vs. traditional method, and perhaps theological clash. But, the comments here and in growing numbers across the blogosphere, speak of a deeper problem which has entered SBC ranks. Young Christians are tuning out the voice of older believers and losing the perspective of generations which came before them.

I was young and now am old, and was even cool at one stage in my life (as coolness was measured eons ago). When I was cool, I had it all figured out. I found old church ways wanting and desired change with ever fiber in me. I was young, restless, and non-reformed … I am now old, secure and non-reformed. When I was cool, I pushed away anything which didn’t agree with my understanding of things. I sought out influencers who affirmed and encouraged my cool views and suppressed voices of dissent, correction and rebuke. I was too cool to recognize and heed Godly influence being sent my way. I stand amazed that I wasn’t fried with a lightning bolt in my rebellion and praise God that he allowed me to develop a better perspective through trial and experience of His faithfulness, grace and mercy (It’s been a long ride!). When it was clear that cool would no longer satisfy, I dug a little deeper in my pursuit of holiness and godliness (I’m still on that journey). I found myself wanting to hear what the older folks had to say and gleaned much from their witness.

One can argue that this has always been the case … this cool vs. godly thing. I suppose it is possible to be both cool and godly. But, I fear that multi-generations have been segregated more than ever in the SBC mix, as young folks turn a disrespectful ear to the old guys and determine only to hear the voice of their peers. I see older folks losing patience with this new cool strain and less willing to embrace it, since it is more arrogant and militant than cool versions which went before it. This new coolness is largely indifferent to seasoned perspective. There appears no win-win in the offing this time around as cool tries to finds its way to godliness given the tremendous influence of change-agents at work around us.

If we lose respect for each other and fail to pass testimonies of personal relationships with Jesus from one generation to another, we will have lost much in the overall growth of His Kingdom on earth under this banner called Southern Baptist. The baton is not being effectively passed between generations, a characteristic of earlier times. Thus, we desperately need balance to return to our ranks, but how do we get back to the future? IF my people … THEN will I (2 Chronicles 7:14).

kevin

Thank you brother Harrell for your service to the Lord. There is no doubt that there are popular preachers today who today have used their “liberty” in Christ when holiness would have been the far wiser choice. There is a reason that pastors are called to be undershepherds…..to lead the people in their walk with the Chief Shepherd. One doesn’t lead people towards Christ when he is catering to the flesh.
@ Joshua…..By your comments in this thread and others, you seem to be an intelligent young man. I have no doubt that you understood Pastor Harrell’s dichotomy between “godly and cool” as reflecting the Scriptural mandate of holiness as opposed to carnality, and spiritual versus fleshly. The pastor is not the priest for the congregation, but certainly we understand that God set apart a particular clothing for the priesthood in their serice to Him. I do not think it a great stretch to translate the idea or practice that the undershepherd should take his responsibilty as a messenger of God’s Word in the sense that it is important enough to treat the delivery of His message in more than a casual sense through wearing holey jeans(not holy jeans)— pun intended. Certainly, the situation will vary in the individual settings, but I appreciate pastor Harrell’s recognition that the pastor does convey through his attire the importance of the message he is bringing. Even if we only used the anecdotal evidence of our own lives, we all recognize the authority of a judge’s robes, the authority of a policeman’s uniform, the distinction of a business person in his suit……. the pastor has a far greater responsibility and message and role than any othese positions….Should his attire reflect a casual nature of his role? I say no, at least, when he has other options available(not speaking of countries where there is no other option of nicer clothes).

Linda

I am an attorney in a small community. Several years ago our local judge had a sign made and posted on the courtroom door “no half-shirts, no muscle shirts, no shorts”. It was necessary due to the way individuals were dressing when they came to court. When witnesses would ask me how they should dress when they testified, I would tell them to dress as if they were going to church. Back then (and now) I thought the problem with courtroom attire was due in part to the breakdown of the local church community. I had been observing for some time that many people dressed for church as if they were going to a picnic at the lake instead going to worship a Holy God. It struck me as being somewhat like Cain when he decided he would bring to God what he wanted, not what God commanded. Our society continues on downward spiral. Will the church?

    Max

    The church used to be counter-culture to the world, but is now sub-culture. In our pursuit to be “culturally relevant”, how much world can we bring into the church and still appear Christian?

      volfan007

      Linda,

      No where in the Bible are we commanded to wear suits and ties. No where in the Scriptures are ladies told to wear only dresses. No where in the Bible tells us exactly how to dress to attend Church.

      Now, your opinion might be the same as Bill Harrell’s about dressing up in suits and ties for men, and ladies wearing dresses; and that’s fine. But we shouldnt make it a matter of what God has commanded us to do. Because, God has commanded us to wear suits and ties.

      David

        Max

        David,

        More than jeans vs. suits, the real issue at hand I believe is the lack of respect of the young and restless (reformed or not) for any concern voiced by older believers. There is an angry, arrogant, aggressive spirit now flowing through SBC which challenges message and method with we-don’t-care-what-you-think attitude which needs to be resolved if the generations are to move forward together.

        One can argue that bucking authority has been characteristic of every generation of young folks, but I do believe this thing is different. We should not get distracted by what the flesh looks like when it comes to church and miss the deeper spiritual problems in our midst. We need the fire of genuine revival to refine us all until we stand naked before Him. We could then, perhaps, return to church dressed and in our right mind.

        volfan007

        That should read “Because God has not commanded us to wear suits and ties.”

        David

          volfan007

          Max,

          I agree with you about an angry, arrogant and rebellious attitude floating around today, especially amongst the YRR. I agree that we’ve been dealing with the same arrogant, rebellious attitude also amonst the seeker friendly, “Dont care about doctrine” crowd, as well.

          But, I still cant agree about the clothes and the music/worship style.

          David

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