by Robert Earl Houston
I’m going to give a disclaimer right off the bat. I am unapologetically old school when it comes to ministerial training. My father in the ministry, the late Dr. A. Bernard Devers, I, of Portland, Oregon was trained by one of the best, the late Dr. C.E. Williams of Seattle, Washington.
When I came to him 35 years ago to tell him that I had been called to preach, I entered into sacred covenant with him. I literally put my life (and my preaching career) in his hands. I had to trust his judgements, decisions and even if I thought I didn’t agree with him, time would be the ultimate judge. He was not infallible, but he was correct and as a 17 years old preacher with zero experience, my job was to be that sponge to learn from and of him – both right and wrong. I became a disciple.
Having said this, there is a phenomenon that is occurring in the Black Baptist church that did not appear 35 years ago – and that is the minister with an earring. I’ve seen young preachers with them. I’ve seen young pastors with them. And not to be outdone, I’ve seen middle-aged preachers with them and even senior aged pastors with them.
I want to first say that there is no biblical command in the New Testament concerning ministers and earrings. Matter of fact, the Bible is quite clear about jewelry and females (1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Peter 3:3, 1 Timothy 2:9-10, for instance) however there is not anything spoken of regarding men and earrings because it was not custom of the day for men to wear earrings, which were normally worn by women.
However, in this day and time, because of the influence frankly of athletes, rappers, and entertainment figures, more men are wearing earrings than in any other time in history. Also, it is not unusual for a young male baby to have his ears pierced as a female would be. Culturally, things have changed.
Initially, in some communities, the thought of a man wearing an earring was supposed to represent something non-masculine. However, who will walk up to Shaquille O’Neal or Michael Jordan or Denzel Washington and hurl that charge today? It has become acceptable in our societal culture.
But what about the pulpit? Again, this writing is not about the pew, this is about those of the male gender who have been called to preach. I want to make three observations and obviously these are not directives, these are suggestions:
1. NOT IN THE PULPIT
I’m old-fashioned on this. If you have an earring, don’t wear it in the pulpit – whether you are preaching or not. Wearing an earring doesn’t not make you “hip” or “more relevant” to those who will hear you. It will make you look more vain than anything else.
I found this nugget from the Reformed Church of God:
Also, jewelry of this type for men only appeals to VANITY. Human beings naturally want to be accepted by the world around them. But what does God say about this? “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (I John 2:15-16). Christians must come out of the world (Rev. 18:4). And people should remember them for their CHARACTER—not whether or not they bought into the latest fad.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve moved away from the loud colored suits and into less fashionable attire. Many years ago, a minister of national renown used to hit the pulpit with huge rings on his fingers and a starburst diamond garnish to hold his tie in place. It literally was so bright under the lights that 30 years later, I remember his clothes and not one word he preached.
Truth be told, as preachers, we can get a little too worldly in our attire and too vain to where it not only is a distraction to the congregation, it’s a discouragement to preachers and pastors who may not “measure up” with you.
I have found out that a $700 pair of shoes doesn’t help you preach any better. A $1,500 suit doesn’t exegete the text better. And a huge rock in your ear may cause deafness in the pew.
Secondly, IF YOU GOT ONE, WEAR IT LATER
Paul’s discourse about “if meat offends my brother” (1 Corinthians 8:13) is applicable here. If that earring is going to cause someone to stumble (spiritually) or tune out your sermon (no matter how much whooping sauce you apply), don’t wear it.
Look, it takes all of ten seconds to remove that earring (or earrings) out of your ear (or ears) before you hit the pulpit. This is just not for those who are preaching, but for preachers on the platform or even (hang on) in the audience.
The truth is that some of our seniors just won’t understand, period. I don’t expect a “Miss Jones” (fictitious) who has been “baptist born and baptist bred” to break from everything that she knows about preaching and her expectations of preachers to all of a sudden have an epiphany about your style choices. Don’t make her work that hard, put them away.
You have every right to wear what you want to wear. But consider this – why don’t you hit the pulpit in a swimming outfit? Why don’t you come to the pulpit with a fifth of alcohol? Why don’t you just come to church naked, you won’t be on the platform? You know the answer – because whether you sit under the lights or in the audience there is a certain decorum that is expected of those who preach the gospel.
Lastly, WEAR THEM CASUALLY.
I know, you paid for them. They were a gift. Well, then wear them away from church. Wear them at your secular job. Wear them at home. Wear them at social events. But not, my brother, at the church.
The story is told of a woman that was on her deathbed. She was blind and the doctors had informed the family that she had little time to live. She asked for the chaplain, who worked at the hospital to come in. He arrived and started to pray and prayed until the tears ran down her cheek. She asked him to come close to hear and she reached up to touch his face. Her expression changed and she said: “Oh . . . I thought that was a preacher. When is he getting here?” Point made.
You have more than enough opportunity to wear your earring. Enjoy the use of them, you paid for them. But, in my opinion, the male preacher of God can go a little while, from Sunday School to the Benediction of worship, without his “bling bling.”
One thing I noticed. When it’s “showtime” – Shaq doesn’t wear his; Michael didn’t wear his; and Denzel didn’t wear his (unless his character called for it).
I welcome your comments and observations.