Why dance in church? Is it biblical?

theology of danceThis past weekend, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet with the Pastor and the Children’s Ministry Director my church. They had gathered several people who love dance to discuss the possibility of incorporating dance at our church, beginning with children.

This was an answer to prayer. It was such a gift to have these leaders come to me and to ask me to share about dance with them. I have been ministering outside my church in dance through workshops and classes this past year, but have not danced in my church.

It has been hard to imagine dance being welcome in this church. There are just one or two people who raise their hands in worship. Our Pastor and Worship Leader are very intentional to avoid or minimize anything that draws attention to the leader or a specific person. They do this because they want the congregation’s attention focused on the Lord and not the leaders, which I highly respect. The worship team leads from the side of platform and have said that they want to be “invisible” for the same reason. I appreciate their hearts and their humility.

Nonetheless, you can see how it would be hard to see how dancers could lead worship, since the goal is for leaders to be invisible. As dancers, our goal also is to point to the Lord and not to ourselves, but we use a visual art to do this.

In addition, the denomination operates under what is called the “regulative principle,” which basically states that we don’t incorporate anything in the worship service that is not expressly prescribed by scripture. So, if dance is to be incorporated in corporate worship, the Pastor and elders need to have solid theological grounds for doing so.

congregational danceDuring the discussion, my Pastor turned to me and asked,“If someone new came into our church and saw people dancing and asked, ‘Why?’, what would you tell them?”

He wasn’t asking, “Is it okay for Christians to dance?” or, “Can dance be used in evangelism in the community?” He felt secure that the answers to both of those were, “Yes.”

He was asking specifically, “Is dance appropriate in the sanctuary, in corporate worship?

It was a great question. The perfect question. The question I should have been ready and eager to answer. But so many reasons flooded my  mind that I spewed out an impassioned but inarticulate response.

The group was gracious, and we continued our discussion, but I came home convicted that I needed to be able to articulate a concise and compelling biblical answer to this question and to be ready to articulate it on the spot.

i peter 3:15
Just as we need to be prepared to give an answer for the gospel, as dance ministers, we need to give an answer for why we dance.

Those of us called to minister through dance need to be ready, in season and out of season, to give a reason for why we do this. This is especially true if you worship at a church that traditionally has been wary of dance and/or of demonstrative displays of emotion.

So, I wrote out my answer (and emailed it to my pastor and Children’s Ministry Director) and want to share it with you:

As a preface, when I say, “dance,” I mean this: moving to the rhythm of the music, using movement to embody/demonstrate the words or sentiment we are singing, and waving props like flags or banners to enhance/embellish/bring to life the songs/stories we are singing/celebrating.
So, why would we make space for dance in corporate worship?
1. It’s biblical, both through instruction and precedent:
•Psalm 149:3 Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
•Psalm 150:4 Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; (This is in the context of instructing us to praise His name with musical instruments, which we do in corporate worship.)
•Exodus 15:20 Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. While this was not a “worship service,” it was the people of God gathered and both telling of His deeds and responding with thanks and praise. That is what we gather to do in corporate worship.
•Rev. 7:11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.  While this isn’t dance, it involves movement, a physical response of worship. We can better imitate the worship we see in heaven when we use movement.
I’m omitting scriptures about David’s dance, because they may feel overused, but I do think he was dancing in the context of corporate worship.
2. Dance is a language well suited to communicate just the kinds of things we gather in corporate worship to communicate and to do.
(The bold words are the Hebrew words and their English translation. These definitions come from the book, Dance, Dance, Dance! by Lynn Hayden who used the Webster’s New Word Disctionary and the Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible for her definitions))congregational dance
Rejoice: (Ealatz – triumph, joyful, rejoice. Ealatz is to jump for joy, exult) Psalm 68:4 – Sing to God…and rejoice before Him.
Give thanks: (Towdah – Praise, Thanksgiving . Towdah indicates lots of hands extending to praise and worship God through movement) Psalm 50:14 Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High:
Worship: – (Shakah – Worship, to prostrate in homage) O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.
Bless the Lord (Barak – to bless or kneel) Psalm 95:6 O come let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker.
Celebrate: (Halal – Praise or Celebrate. Halal means to make a show, spin around, be clamorously foolish. It’s the root word for Hallelujah) Psalm 35:18 I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you.
Glorify God: I don’t have one specific scripture here, but I believe dance is well suited to demonstrate the beauty and majesty of the Lord, to give a visual representation of the glory, honor, pageantry due the King of Kings.
Each of these can be expressed more fully with dance/movement than with words alone. 
3. Dance and music go hand in hand. Unlike baseball or running, or other gifts, which can be used to glorify God but don’t seem to have a place in the sanctuary, dance is a natural partner for music. We sing in the worship service. It’s natural to move to the music. So, it seems fitting to dance in a worship service.
4. I have seen that the Lord works powerfully when people dance humbly in worship with a heart of worship, with the goal to glorify God and bless the Body. So many times, people are moved to tears. Those watching, when it’s appropriate to watch, experience God’s love for them, are able to hear the words to a song in a new way and take them in, and their hearts are prepared to hear what the Lord has to say through the rest of the service. Those dancing are drawn into greater love for the Lord, grow in a heart to minister to others, and are filled with joy.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. Have you been asked to answer this question? If so, please take a minute to join the discussion.
Answer in the comments section, what did you share? What would you add to this explanation?


9 thoughts on “Why dance in church? Is it biblical?”

  1. Well articulated, Amy! I’m so glad you took the time to expound on it and share with me. I know this, but to put it in such a nice package is truly a blessing!
    God bless.

    1. Thanks, Beverly. I know what you mean. I think because I felt so strongly that dance in corporate worship is all over the bible, I initially had a hard time articulating a simple response.

  2. To me dance is worshipping with your entire body. While singing just uses the mouth.
    Dancing before the Lord with modest garments and movements embodies total praise!
    Thanks Amy for sharing this experience with us.

    I will be the guest on a major radio program soon, and need to have things like this prepared.
    Be Blessed, in Jesus’ Name!

  3. I really appreciate the time you have taken to give a totally scriptural base to this question!
    The bottom line is that when the heart of a worshipper is activated it is almost impossible to sit quietly in your Seat and do nothing! Sometimes words alone are not enough to express the full breath of our affection and love for God! As it is in all relationships. Dancing before the LORD can be seen as us getting up and giving Jesus and hug and embracing HIM with our whole being since dance is a body, mind, and spirit activity. Two of my favorite scriptures for supporting how intrensic movement is to human experience as it pertains to our response to God are Genesis 1:1-2 ” In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

    To hover is to rock gentenlly from side to side! So God moved into position and rocked back and forth over the surface of the waters even before HE begin to speak! Movement even in unborn embeyos happen before they learn how to speak. Movement denotes the presence of life and is a more primal human for of communication than speech.

    The second scripture that I love to share in support of movement as it pertains to our response to GOD is Luke 1: 43-44 And how have I deserved that this honor should be granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, the instant the sound of your voice reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

    Notice the unborn child reaction to the presence of the LORD ( the child Dalaged the LORD meaning he sprang up and leaped)!

    1. Jennifer, I love that explanation.I have never considered those two scriptures in connection to dance in worship, but am moved by both. Thank you so much for articulating this.

      1. Amen Amy, I so appreciate your bringing this topic out into the open for discussion and deeper consideration!

  4. Excellent teaching Amy. I just had a discussion with my Pastor a couple of weeks ago. He basiclly to me that he would make my thoughts and requests in regards to the dance in our church matter of prayer and let it marinate for awhile. This is after 5 years of constant prayer and obedience. To say I was very disspointed by this is an understatement. There is much more to this story…. but all of that to say, I am going to share this with him so he has more to “marinate” with. Love you!

    1. I hope it’s helpful to him, Bobbi. I understand the disappointment. The Lord is in it, though. I’ll keep it in prayer, too. Meanwhile, keep dancing in parades and raising up other dancers.

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