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it matters  Mentally Engage, Don’t Mentally Eject

I have tried to push aside this element’s impact on public speaking and preaching, but am repeatedly drawn back to the conclusion — No, It really does matter!  It plays a part in communication.

Culture and Christian Culture Is Wrong On This!

Our culture and society have changed so much, that it is almost not “PC” (maybe we can say it is not “RC” — Religiously Correct) to argue this issue.  To argue this issue is to be considered “legalistic,” or “old-fashioned.”  Readers and listeners will just shut down and reject out of hand this issue and discussion.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that “we” have it wrong on this principle of communication!

 “Communication Theory” has always argued the issue of “ethos” — The credibility of the speaker.

AND

 “Communication Theory” has always maintained that we communicate both verbally — by the words we use — “word matter” — AND non-verbally — by such elements as . . . .

 
Facial Expressions
Body Movements
Posture
Gestures
Eye Contact
Touch
Space
Vocal Tone
Movement
Word Choice
Content Choice
Fastidiousness
Appearance
. . . .  are all part of our “paralanguage.”  All can pose a barrier to effective communication!
AND
 “Communication Theory” has always taken the position that non-verbal communication is part of a speaker’s ethos.

 

Now you might well detect where I am going and that I am right about readers and listeners tuning, out of hand, this non-verbal area of communication.  In fact, you may have even jumped ahead to see if what you are thinking is indeed where I am going because you are of the tribe of those who discount and dismiss this position.

Nevertheless, “Communication Theory” has always taken the position that appearance matters, even if “appearance” has a cultural and/or societal relativity or subjectivity.

 

Speakers and preachers can hold on to the position that appearance and dress do not play a meaningful part in the communication process, but not without a collision with classical, or even contemporary rhetorical theory.

I have been teaching one-month Public Address modules at Keiser University over the past three years.  One of the requirements of the students is appearance and dress.  Keiser University is not a “Christian University,” nevertheless, it understands the role that appearance and dress play in culture.

At Keiser, men must wear a shirt and tie to class, and women must appear professional (I know some may be saying — “Whatever that means!”)  However, even though there may be some differences in what that does mean, that does not mean that Keiser will not address what it does not mean.

I have often said that while we might disagree where the ocean begins, and the shore ends, as the waves move in and out on the sands of the shore, we know what it means to be clearly on the beach and what it means to be out at sea.

 

Let me lay out ten reasons that I believe we have it wrong when it comes to appearance and dress as it relates to a speaking and/or preaching context . . . .

#1)  The Visual Matters To God:  There is a reason that the design of the Temple is visually impressive.  There is a reason that our Creator designed and form a world which is marked by beauty (and thereby enjoyed by those He created in His image).

#2) “Beauty” Is Not In The Eye Of The Beholder:  This one will probably stop you in your steps!  God created “beauty.”  Beauty is defined by Him.  While there may well be a span which encompasses all that is beautiful, there is “ugly.”  There are gradations — from beautiful to grotesque.

#3) Biblically, The Appearance Of People Communicated:  Whether it was the attire of the High Priest, or a harlot, the dress or appearance of that person was designed to and did communicate.

#4) Dress Communicates: I Timothy 2:9-10 says that women are to dress in a way that professes godliness.  That also means that there are ways to dress which does not profess godliness.  Apparently, dress can and does communicate.

#5) Disparities or Subjectivity Does Not Meaninglessness: Because there is a span or breadth of measure in what may well be communicated by this-or-that kind of dress, does not mean that all dress or appearance has no communicative worth or importance.  There are differences and disparities in how this-or-that kind of attire is read or understood, in every and any culture, during any particular age or era.  However, it does not follow that all attire communicates the same message or that we are living in an era where attire has no meaning and/or no significant meaning.

#6) Cultural Reality:  The fact and reality are that in at least American culture, dress still has meaning and it has significant meaning.  Dress communicates so strongly that it affects how we look when we attend a wedding, funeral, graduation, celebration, or court.  Those who move in some of the highest or most influential realms of business, politics, law, or business reflect the fact that dress communicates. **

#7) Manner & Customs Communicate:  It is not “worldly” to regard appearance or dress. I have heard it argued that “wearing a business suit” is allowing the world to impose upon us its vantages or standards.  That argument is as fallacious as saying that “manners and customs” of a culture should be disregarded.  We teach those moving to a “foreign” field for ministry to learn the manners and customs of that culture, and that includes dress.

#8) Secular Reality: There is probably not a book, written on the actual topic of public address, business, sales, or leadership which maintains that dress does not matter, and indeed argues that it does!  Have you heard it said, “If you want to be treated like a professional, look like one.”?  As Ivanka Trump about looking like a professional!  It is an American cultural, social reality.  They seem to understand communication!

#9) Entrenchment Value:  While “entrenchment value” may be easily dismissed, none the less it should add some weight to the argument.  For centuries certain classical pieces and musical renditions have been used to train, entertain, and display musical greatness.  That has to say something for the cultural and social value of those selections.  Likewise, appearance has been part of “ethos” and non-verbal communication for centuries, since the earliest days of classical theory, and that has to say something about the cultural and social value of appearance and dress.

#10) Honesty:  The fact is, we know that dress matters!  We might like to suppress the voice which selfishly tells us that “What does it matter?” but we know that it is not true and that is why we even make choices as to dress when we think what we will and should wear to this-or-that event.  If you really believe that dress is a non-issue, go to the next wedding you are invited to with flip-flops, a tee shirt, and cut-off jeans — Why Not?
Don’t allow your comfort to squelch the voice of honesty and reasonableness! ***
There is a subjectivity to “dress,” but that does not mean that everything communicates the same message.  It only means that there is a span, but a reasonable span, of evaluative differences which will exist when it comes to our differences.  It does not mean that we cannot know and understand that what we wear matters**
While I cannot tell you where the shore ends and the ocean begins, I can determine when we are safely on shore, or out to sea.
I belong to the tribe who says,
“We have it wrong when it comes to this area of life, living, AND MINISTRY!


* For an interesting set of articles on non-verbal communication, see the one on “facial expression” which also links to several others.
** Likewise, the point being made is not that we need to “dress to the nines!”  Rather, that we are communicating by our dress, and that we need to at least ask, “What are we intentionally seeking to communicate about us and/or the event we are attending?”
***Honestly! — That is what I want to say to some who call up disingenuous arguments!
Let me address a common argument.  “What about those who dress as they do because they don’t have any better?”  That argues the point, not diminishes it.  We all understand, as we come to know people over time and circumstances (which is how we form and/or should form our evaluations) the cultural and societal reality of social and financial differences or status.  Nevertheless, that does not mean that one still does not seek to adjust what he-she wears in light of their temporal resources.  Visit Haiti or the Philippines and then let’s talk about this again!
I may not be able to dress THE best, but I can dress my best.
Does that mean I have to “wear a suit” to church? — Honestly!  Is that where we are in the argument?  “No, that does not mean that you have to wear shirt-tie-and suit, but it does mean that what you select matters and that there is nothing wrong if you can, that you do.
Note: All of us have some “line” whether the discussion is about music or dress, we all draw a line somewhere (If not we should, else randomness or selfishness is the rule.).  Why do you draw any line?  Because you honestly understand that dress communicates!
Note: As the pastor, so the people.  You will see a congregation reflect a pastor’s vantage on dress and appearance, just like they will follow a shepherd’s behavior in other areas of life and living.  That is why Paul tells Timothy, “Be thou an example.”

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