WHEN pastors are dedicated followers of fashion, are they helping to bring young people to Christ, or do they just have an expensive habit?
The debate whether feet shod with trendy trainers are exactly what St Paul (Ephesians 6.15) had in mind is in vogue in the United States. A report in The New York Times says that the pastors have large followings among millennials and others who have turned away from more traditional worship in response to their less formal, more fashionable, style.
Their fashion choices have been highlighted on an Instagram account, “PreachersNSneakers”. It has attracted more than 100,000 followers since the first post appeared in March. Its creator, an anonymous 29-year-old technology worker from Texas, began posting images of pastors and religious enthusiasts sporting footwear that could cost more than a month’s rent for many of their followers. “Pass the collection plate, daddy needs a new pair of shoes” was typical of many of the viewers’ comments.
Jamie Tworkowski, the founder of a group helping people who experience addiction and depression, accused one preacher pictured with a Gucci bag of vanity. “I don’t think it lines up with who Jesus was,” he said. “That is a status symbol. I just feel if you’re struggling to pay for rent or your next meal, that sends an incredibly confusing and maybe even offensive message.”
Other Instagram followers defended the pastors’ fashion tastes, arguing that the account aimed to pillory, and sow discord.
One preacher, the Revd John Gray, the senior pastor of Relentless Church in Greenville, South Carolina, who was shown wearing $5000 bright-red Nike Air Yeezy 2 trainers, designed by the rapper Kanye West, said: “I don’t think you can judge a man’s heart based on their attire. What a person wears doesn’t determine what their value system is.” He added that his shoes were a gift from the company that made his TV show.
Carl Lentz, a lead pastor at the New York campus of the global megachurch Hillsong, who baptised Justin Bieber in a professional basketball player’s bath, admitted that his $500 Nike Air Fear of God trainers were “cool” when he was confronted by the celebrity website TMZ. But he said that pastors were “grown people”. “They have the right to spend their money in a way they’re comfortable with.”