I recently discovered the @preachersnsneakers Instagram account, which, as the name suggests, highlights pastors wearing really expensive shoes and other articles of clothing (like a $1,980 travel bag and $795 pants).
I must admit, something inside me feels a bit sick when I see such photos. It seems so worldly (to use a nice Christianese term) to see Christian leaders walking around in super-costly shoes. At the risk of judging their hearts, such clothing choices do seem to be the very definition of succumbing to vanity, consumerism, and the trappings of fame and fortune.
Fashionista recently interviewed the creator of @preachersnsneakers (who goes by the pseudonym “Tyler Jones”). It’s a really thoughtful interview, and Jones — who is both a Christian and a sneaker aficionado — makes it clear that he’s not simply trying to tear down the people he highlights. But there’s no denying that @preachersnsneakers raises good questions about pastoral accountability, responsibility, image, and even wealth.
Do you think it’s inherently problematic for church leaders to own or post pictures of themselves in expensive stuff?
That is the massive question here. As somebody that has given money to my local church, personally I would be a little irritated if I saw the pastor step out in some fresh Yeezys. I would at least ask the question.
The rebuttal to that is ‘Well, these megachurch guys are doing major book sales or doing speaking tours,’ which is valid. I don’t fault any of them for making a lot of money. But I do think that you’re held to a different standard if you are leading a church that people are contributing money to and investing some amount of their trust in you to lead them spiritually. That’s a pretty heavy calling. I think you at least need to be aware of the optics of the things that you’re wearing.
In this current era, the Church has lost a lot of moral authority in cultural matters, and much of that is its own fault (see the rise of #ChurchToo). Obviously, wearing ridiculously expensive shoes is nowhere near as egregious as sexual abuse. Still, consumerism and materialism should not be dismissed so easily, and sadly, they’re things that the Church has often struggled with. (Consider the heresy that is the prosperity gospel, and how its focus on material well-being has deceived and manipulated countless individuals, or how churches often place an undue emphasis on spectacle and entertainment.)
The Bible makes it clear: those who teach the Gospel and lead the Church are called to a higher standard, to live above and beyond reproach (e.g., James 3:1, 1 Peter 5:1 – 5, 1 Timothy 3:1 – 13, Titus 1:5 – 9). This applies as much to clothing budgets — or any use of disposable income, for that matter — as anything.
None of this is to suggest that pastors and Christian leaders are forbidden from enjoying life’s finer things or the (monetary) fruits of their labors. But it does suggest that if you’re a pastor, and you’re eyeing a pair of sneakers that probably costs more than your average congregant’s rent or mortgage payment, then maybe you should take a moment to consider what such a purchase will communicate to those God has entrusted to you — beyond the size of your bank account or how much swagger you’ve got, that is.
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.