I recently had the privilege of being part of the Creative Team at Spring Harvest, as a dancer for Springs Dance Company. Spring Harvest is a big Christian conference/retreat event, which includes large worship celebrations, kids programs, live art, musicians, acting, great teaching, and all kinds of programs for kids and adults. And it’s all aimed at loving God better, and caring for people better.
Being part of the creative team means helping enrich the worship experience, in our case, by dancing.
At one point the company and I were approached by a church leader who genuinely asked: what do you think about dance in worship? He explained that he sometimes found it distracting and mundane (actually he didn’t say mundane he said, “You know, cradling a hamster….” Picture cupping your hands together and lifting up a small rodent in a Lion King-esque sort of way. We laughed hysterically).
The truth is many great thinkers and theologians have done hard, ground-breaking work to get the universal church to accept arts in general back into the church context (Byron Spradlin, Francis Schaeffer, and others). We can over simplify and blame Protestantism for the loss of creative mediums in the church; they [nobly] wished to focus on the Word. Unfortunately they interpreted that as focusing on “words”, and sadly they lost the richness and power of creative expression along the way. They forgot that the Word was with God in the beginning, and the first thing God and the Word did was create…
Nowadays, thankfully, many churches generally accept artistic expressions of live art, media, drama, and occasionally dance, along with the standard worship music. Great! But many people don’t realize the difficult theological wrestling match that took place to get it back into the church, and the Biblical backing for the arts. They accept (although perhaps don’t understand) the status quo, but it’s a fragile connection for them—ultimately it’s only a matter of time before the arts fade from the church either by lack of interest, or apostasy. (see Todd Farley’s Circle of the Arts critique https://www.facebook.com/notes/todd-farley/the-circle-of-the-arts-arts-in-ministry/10152590677182392/ )
We were so grateful this church leader who took the time to ask us honestly for our thoughts. Here are a couple things we shared:
- Worship/praise in the Bible is “full contact.” Hebrew and Greek words for praise usually connote physical actions. The lifting of hands, bowing, kneeling, dancing, spinning, clapping, playing instruments, singing and others. Do a word study on praise, celebrate, and rejoice if you don’t believe me.
- In Luke 10:27 Jesus confirmed that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.” If we’re expressing our love for the Lord in worship, what does “all my strength” really mean? Only and always, ever just singing?
- The Psalms tell us to dance in worship. Miriam led the women in a (possibly choreographed) dance of worship (Exodus 15:20-21). David danced with all his might (probably improvised) before the ark of the Lord (2 Samuel 6:14).
Our conclusion for our church leader friend was: not everybody necessarily has the ability, or space, to dance in a worship service. But many people can feel the urge to lift up glorious worship to our great God and Savior. In this instance, having a dancer or dance team can be a focus point for worshippers, effectively expressing worship with all their might in ways that other might not be able to. It becomes a conduit for worship in much the same way the reading of a poem or psalm might be used; or perhaps listening to a soloist sing Handel’s Messiah. We can’t all sing like that, or compose poetry like that, but we can lift our hearts to the Lord by faith through another person’s offering.
Our friend also admitted that sometimes he wasn’t sure if it was all just distracting from worship. Dancer quite often are fit, and even (gasp!) attractive. What if watching a dancer diverts your mind from worship and makes you instead start thinking about someone’s body, hair, or complexion (even attractive singers or musicians can cause this problem). Clearly the answer isn’t making sure everybody on stage or at the podium is ugly!
My answer is simple and sincere and judgment free: if dance isn’t helping you enter into the holy place of worship, then close your eyes. Ideally, dance should be an expression of the corporate Body’s worship of the Lord, not some lunatic having a disco-fit in church. Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time to dance, and a time to mourn. This means that (A.) dancing is an expression of joy, as contrasted by mourning. And (B.) there are times to dance, and times not to dance. Sometimes it’s appropriate, sometimes it’s not. But assuming the dancer or dance team was in the right place at the right time, and it’s STILL not helping you worship… just close your eyes. Offer a pure heart to the Lord. Keep Jesus the main thing. The dancers won’t (or shouldn’t) be offended if you’re not watching while they dance. They should be focused on the same thing as you: offering pure worship to the Lord with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength.
I’m also an advocate of skillful expressions of worship, if it’s a church-endorsed team. Churches tend to choose musicians to play in their worship bands, rather than people who’ve never picked up a guitar or played piano in their life. If there’s an official Church Dance Team, one would hope they’ve had some training. That way everyone can enjoy their offerings, and be lifted up into the presence of the Lord. And not just a hamster.