Around the same time that I taught my first worship dance class in the community, Jocelyn Richard began coaching me on dance ministry. She asked me what I wanted her to help me to do. I shared my top two needs–to grow in technique and to raise funds for garments and for my own training. When I shared about the home school worship dance class I was teaching, she suggested I charge for the class as a way to fund my dance ministry. I resisted at first. Sure, I had eleven students, but that was because my class was free, I assumed. If I charged, I doubted anyone would come. I didn’t have a strong technical background either, so could I charge people to take a dance class from me? She told me to teach them what I do know, not what I don’t know. I knew how to use simple movements and sign language to praise Jesus. I could teach them that.
So, I took the plunge and told the parents that I felt called to dance ministry, that I needed funds to continue my own training and to purchase garments, and that the money I earned would go back into this dance ministry. I offered the class at a rate of about half of what the local dance studio charges for their dance classes. Seventeen students register for the next session of worship dance class! I have continued to offer this class over the past two years. It has been a complete joy and delight to me. It has brought blessings I didn’t expect.
I’ve been working with children in my church to dance in worship for almost 15 years. I love dancing as part of a worship service at my local church, dancing with my church family, those I know well and with whom I serve in many other capacities. There is a richness, completeness and fullness to this kind of worship dance. However, two years ago, by what was an accident of mine, the Lord opened the door for me to teach worship dance to children outside my church, in the community. It was the beginning of an adventure I did not expect that has been a joy to me and allowed me to grow as a dancer and impact many more people through dance than I had hoped or imagined. Here’s what happened.
Two years ago, as I was preparing to gather a group of children to dance during advent, I sent an email out to the families in my church. In it, I outlined the commitment I was asking, shared my vision for this dance and for worship dance in general, and asked parents and children to pray and consider whether they were called to be part of this dance. I mistyped the name of a mother in my church and ended up sending the email to a mother in my homeschooling community, who does not attend my church. She immediately emailed back and said her daughter would love to dance, would have no trouble purchasing the skirt and making the rehearsals, and asked if she could share the email with a friend of hers who had daughters that would love this opportunity. When I received her email and realized what I had done, I gulped. I was touched by her eagerness to participate and willingness to make these commitments, but I had concerns: First, I was concerned about pulling families from their home churches. It would mean missing services at their own churches, and more significantly, risked feeling more like a performance since the girls wouldn’t be surrounded by the people they knew and worship with other Sundays. Secondly, our church is small and the space we have to dance in is small, so I didn’t know if I could add several more girls.
So, I countered with another offer: I would offer a worship dance class to girls in our homeschooling community, and we could end the class with a presentation at a nursing home. When I suggested this at a meeting of homeschooling moms, many mothers expressed enthusiasm, and so I offered that class in January, for no charge. Eleven children and two mothers signed up for the class. It was a complete joy to teach, the girls loved the class, and the mothers were so grateful to have a Christ-centered environment for their children to learn to dance. We culminated the class by dancing at a local assisted living facility and visiting with the residents afterwards.
My friend, Marcia Cody of Highest Praise Dance Fitness says, “Worship is not a spectator sport.” In my church, when the team dances, the congregation watches. They are blessed through this ministry, and our prayer is that we embody their worship, giving voice and movement to it. But this Sunday, I had the privilege of inviting the congregation to join me in moving in worship. I had asked my pastor, who is also my husband, if I could share a dance at our end of year worship service. He responded with an amazing invitation and suggestion: “Here’s another thought – what if you shared a 5-minute testimony/teaching in terms of what worship dance means to you and the other dancers? It could include some dance movements but would equip and inspire the congregation to use their bodies in private and public worship”
This was an amazing invitation because this would be totally new for our congregation. We are not a hand-raising, dancing congregation. We have a congregation of amazing servants, people who love Jesus, serve Him, and show their love for Him by loving each other in tangible ways. As Presbyterians, we value the life of the mind, and as a group, our congregation is more wary of very emotional or physical displays of affection in worship. Even having a team of dancers present worship dances is a stretch for some. So, to invite them to join the dance was entering new territory. I knew this was what God would want from me. Jocelyn Richard says that we know we are successful in worship dancing when the congregation joins the worship. So, I set aside the dance that I had on my mind and prayed about a worship song that was familiar to our congregation and lent itself to simple movements.
Here are five things I found helpful in inviting the congregation to move that can help you when you lead your congregation in movement:
1. I began with a brief teaching. During the service, my pastor gave me five minutes to share a testimony of how God has worked in my life through dance over the last year and to do a very brief teaching on the biblical basis for dance in the bible and how dance has impacted my relationship with the Lord. Sharing the biblical basis for dance helped open their minds to something new. Shared my own story helped open their hearts.
2.I chose a song that was familiar to the congregation and lent itself to movement. I didn’t want them to be focusing on learning new words or new music. We used a song we have worshiped to many times over.
3. I choreographed simple movements to the chorus for the congregation. Simple is the key. Lynn Hayden of Dancing for Him Ministries says, in her video “Corporate Worship” that when leading corporate worship, our movements should be simple, repetitive, and predictable (in contrast to choreographed movements for solos or for a team). I had to discipline myself to keep the motions simple. Even so, when I asked my husband how the experience was for him, he said, “Good, but I find I have to really concentrate to remember what to do.” That was a huge lesson for me for next time. Even what feels simple to me (and the enemy tells me is too simple, will be boring) is a stretch to someone learning it for the first time and wanting to worship as they do something new. So, keep it simple.
4. I taught the movements to the congregation and explained what they meant. As I taught each gesture, I briefly told what we are saying (ie, “We put our hands by our mouth and extend them outwards, taking God’s blessing and releasing it,” and “We lift our hands up to the Lord as an expression of offering ourselves to him.”). A couple of people told me afterwards that this was an important part for them, that they appreciated knowing what the movements meant.
5. I danced the verses myself. This was at the suggestion of my friend and prayer partner Jennifer Bodde. This kept what I needed the congregation to do short and simple, and allowed for a time for them to receive ministry through the dance as well.
It was such a joy and a privilege to be able to share dance in this way with my congregation. A friend approached me afterwards, whom I didn’t know had any interest in dancing, and told me that she wants to attend a workshop I am holding in February in my church. It reminded me that while there are those for whom dancing is a stretch, there are also those waiting for an invitation to join in dance.
What are your experiences in leading your congregation in movement? Please share in the comments.
The dance team that I lead at Sherwood Presbyterian Church had the privilege of dancing in worship last Sunday. We danced to a song called, “And a Child Will Lead” by a friend and one of my favorite artists, Douglas Eltzroth. It was such a joy and an honor, and the Lord taught me some important lessons in the process. Here they are:
1) Sometimes Less is More: The last two times we danced, we had 8 dancers, this time I started with only myself and 3 others. I couldn’t help wondering if it would be a bit of a letdown for the congregation, if we were going backwards as a ministry. But I chose to take to heart and rest in something I heard Pastor Lynn Hayden of Dancing for Him Ministries teach: We need listen to the Lord about each dance, not thinking we have to out do each previous dance, but knowing God works uniquely in each one. Of course, He did have a perfect plan for this dance. Because there were only four of us, I had more time to work with each person on the team. We got to really work through the kinks in the dance. Scheduling was much simpler. We were able to schedule an extra rehearsal easily when we found we needed it. There was an intimacy, focus, and unity to this group that was powerful as well as a joy for me as a leader. In this case, the Lord chose a small group, and less was more.
2) Trust the Holy Spirit with the Choreography and Dancers: I saw the Holy Spirit working through the process of choreographing and forming this dance. When I first envisioned thus dance, I saw five dancers (working with an odd number often works better with staging), including a young child. But four agreed to dance, the two children were more young ladies than small children. The young child I felt would be perfect couldn’t commit to the rehearsal schedule and so declined my invitation. So I choreographed for four. I loved what God have me for the four of us. Two weeks before dancing, I could still see this young dancer in the final part of the dance. Her part would be short and simple, but powerful. So I asked her mother again if this young girl might be up for participating in the last few rehearsals. She was delighted. When she entered, she commanded the stage and there was a collective gasp from the congregation. Something about this young girl who danced with power added a critical element to the dance. The Lord knew what He was doing all along. She didn’t need to be at all the rehearsals (in fact her absence freed the rest of us to work our our parts of the dance). She was available when we needed her and completed the dance. Choreography is a process, The Lord doesn’t reveal everything at once, but he knows what He is doing. I learned to trust Him and be flexible.
3) The Devil is in the Details, so Be Diligent about Details: If we have prepared well in the large things, the Enemy will try to derail us through the small things. Because of some complicated staging issues with the worship team, we decided not to do a run through of the dance on stage the morning of our worship dance. We warmed up and practiced in another room. I gave my iPod with the song to the sound tech and talked him through all the details about what we needed from him. But I didn’t have him run a sound check. I know, you’re thinking, “Are you kidding? What were you thinking?” Honestly, I think it was the people pleaser I me that didn’t want to trouble him. (Satan know our weaknesses) The sound tech didn’t think we needed to play the song, and I went along with that, not wanting to be a pest. When it was time to dance and he started the song, the music was barely audible. The sound technician raised the volume, but we had missed the 8 counts of the song. The song had a dramatic beginning, one I was not willing to miss (one that isn’t recorded on the video – another lesson for me about details). I did not let this derail us, though. Without flinching, grimacing, or showing distress or annoyance, I turned around and said, “Can you back it up, please?” We started over, and it was quickly forgotten. Nonetheless, it was a lesson for me: Do a sound check, always. Don’t leave room for the enemy to bring trouble.
4) God is Greater than the Details and Greater than the Enemy. The dance had the impact we prayed for. The team loved dancing, we worshiped, Jesus was present, and ministry happened. A first-time visitor at our church approached one team member afterwards, hugged her, and said, “I’ve always wanted to see a worship dance.” The Lord prepared a gift for this visitor long before she visited. Not only that, the woman asked the team member (for whom I had prayed that morning that the Lord would encourage her that day and affirm her as a dancer), “Have you been dancing ever since you were a little girl?”
A man in our congregation said to me, “Dance has never really spoken to me, but what you do with the children moves me deeply. I can’t really explain it.” The Lord had been present and had touched him through the dance.
In I John 4:4 it is written, “Greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world.” God is greater than the enemy and His grace covers our shortcomings. He desires to touch and bless people through the dance, and if we are submitted to Him, His purposes prevail even if not every details is perfect. Glory to Him.
What has the Lord taught you recently about preparing to minister? Please share in the comments (the comment button is at top, just before article). I would love to hear, and it will help others.
When my oldest son went to preschool, his class prepared a Christmas program to present to the parents. His teacher told them as they practiced for this big event, “This is your Christmas gift to Jesus.” My son, who doesn’t normally care for performing, set his heart on being a wise man, practiced diligently, and walked tall, bearing a crown and toting a box of frankincense. I loved the way his teacher framed their program – as a gift for Jesus, something they could put their heart into, do their best and offer to the Lord.
I admit, while I love receiving gifts, buying gifts often feels stressful to me. Will they like what I chose? Can I afford what they would like most? Have I chosen the right color, style, size, etc. But when I have a gift that I am confident is just right for my loved one, one that fits them to a tee and that expresses my love to them, I love giving the gift. It gives me joy anticipating when I can give it. Giving just the right gift is a delight. So, when I prepare to dance during advent, I remind myself that this is my Christmas gift to the Lord (and to His people). It infuses rehearsals with a greater joy and purpose. I tell my team, “This is your Christmas gift to the Lord.” The children walk taller knowing that they have something to give the Lord who has given so much to them. Of course, every gift to the Lord is simply returning to Him what He has already given us. Nonetheless, He loves it.
6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.
9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
10 And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.
My team is working hard, we love the choreography. We can’t wait to share the dance with the congregation. The song talks about the healing, reconciliation, peace and restoration that Jesus brings. We are praying for God to bring healing and restoration to individuals and families in our congregation. We are praying for Jesus to work powerfully in people’s lives. We are looking forward to the joy of dancing. And I can’t wait to give this latest gift that I am working on to Jesus.
Are you dancing for advent? I’d love to hear about it (better yet, see videos – feel free to leave a link). I pray that He fills you with joy in the giving and equips you with all you need to offer Him your best.
Matthew 2:11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.
I’m writing this post from my parents’ home in Arizona. I’m so thankful to be able to spend this holiday with them. It’s been over ten years since I’ve spent Thanksgiving with my parents, as my husband and I decided years ago that flying at Thanksgiving is too costly and difficult. But this year, I felt like I needed to see my family. It had been too long. I wanted my children to spend time with their grandparents sometime during the holidays. Friends prayed for me, and the Lord opened a way. I’m so grateful that He cares about the things that matter to us.
This vacation is bringing a needed rest for me and for my family. I’ve been super busy over the last six months – first completing my website, then writing and finishing my e-book, then preparing to teach at a couple of teleseminars, all the while homeschooling my three boys and teaching worship dance to children. I write this to acknowledge what God has allowed me to to. He allowed me to complete these works, to gain satisfaction from the work, and to touch the lives of others. He has been gracious to me to permitting me space to pursue what’s been on my heart. He has shown that He cares about the things that matter to me.
Accomplishing these ministry projects has come challenges, though. My husband and children have been missing me. I have felt torn between home and ministry, even though they should be one. So, this time while I’m in Arizona is affording me the time to connect better with my children, to play with them, to listen to them, to enjoy them. And it’s offering me time to reflect, to ask the Lord to help me to learn how to order my time aright. (Lord, teach me to number my days aright so that I might gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12) There is always enough time for what He has called us to do; however, I need to be connected enough to Him to distinguish between what He’s really calling me to do and what activities are distractions.
I’m asking Him to give me willingness to let go of anything that is a distraction as well as willingness to give myself to the work that matters most to Him.
I’m asking Him to help me not to be afraid that if I say, “Not my will but yours be done,” that I’ll lose something of value. Isn’t that Satan’s favorite lie, that if we do what God wants, we’ll lose out? That’s the same lie he used in the Garden of Eden. But the truth is, that God is the giver of every good gift and when He does take something from us, He does it for our good. But when we cling to what we think we need/want, we miss out on this good. (Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could have been theirs. Jonah 2:8)
What about you?
What desires of your heart has the Lord allowed to come to fruition this year?
Are you at peace with how your home life integrates with your ministry and how your lifestyle supports your callings to each? If so, I would love to hear how. Please comment and share.
Are you clinging to any worthless idols that stand in the way of receiving grace from the Lord? Remember that God is the gift of every good gift. Don’t be deceived by the enemies lies. Trust the Lord to give you what is truly good.