Plant Those Feet!
It was a typical worship service in many ways… typical for an evangelical church in North America, at least. The service started with a three-song set of upbeat contemporary worship choruses. The worship leader was trying to get the congregation to bring some life to the song she was leading, encouraging them to clap and sway to the music: “As long as the feet don’t move, it’s not dancing!” she quipped.
Finally! I now have a definition I can use. We need to plant those feet. I had to laugh… but it got me thinking all over again about the “worship wars.” And how we define what is appropriate or inappropriate in worship. I am not going to even try to answer that question… the dialog, especially on music styles, is long and tired on this topic, and there are no clear winners in the worship wars.
As a dramatist, I have had to fight my own battles—not as fierce or as divisive, perhaps, as those on the music front,—but battles nonetheless. The other day I received this email from a church leader: “Dramas and plays have their place, but it is our reasoning that we do not allow them in our sanctuary.”
It surprised me to hear it stated so bluntly. I have been in ministry, as a dramatist, for over 37 years. I fear if I were not able to share my ministry in a church sanctuary I would have no ministry at all, or at least not the kind of ministry I have today. Yet I know the sentiment is out there, just not verbalized so readily as this person was willing to state it.
Part of me wanted to engage, to fight back, to defend my art, my craft and especially my calling. I wondered what standard I might apply so that what I did would not be considered “drama” at this church. If I limit my movement or don’t change my voice for different characters, is it not drama? If I only quote scripture, is it not drama? I wondered if the pastor was ever accused of “acting” or being theatrical if he told a good story. As one who does this as his life’s work, it was hard not to take it personally. I could easily have taken offense… and perhaps I did just a bit.
I understand it though, really I do. This particular church denomination had in its history taken a stance against the “theater.” At the time they took the stance theater was associated with the worst of the entertainment industry. “The church should not be a place of entertainment” is the cry. We so easily justify “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” when something goes too far in one direction. We especially see this in the church with the arts. Music, dance, and drama—all have had seasons of being embraced and then rejected by the church. (For more on this topic see Redeeming Entertainment and The Pendulum Swings-Worship Trends)
It leaves the artist struggling to find a way to share—what many feel called to share—in a way that gives them a voice without being rejected. We look to find the proper balance. We want to know were we stand. It leads to compromise… sometimes that can be a good thing… and yet the artist also has a prophetic voice and compromise can sometimes render the art impotent. I personally believe that the artist’s voice is especially needed in the church today—needed both inside and outside the sanctuary.
“As long as the feet don’t move, it’s not dancing.” Planting your feet may be the standard… but maybe we really do need to dance!
Have you struggled as an artist to find ways of expressing yourself in the life of your church? As a church leader how do you determine if a certain artistic expression is appropriate for your church?Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 10 comments
Was that church by chance an Orthodox Presbyterian chuch?
No, it wasn’t but it could be almost any denomination…
I am an ol’ CPer. Once PRed a church that definitely was not going to use us. I asked for the pastors name and number as a standard practice and she did not want to give it to me. I told her it was out on the billboard but maybe she could be courteous enough to give it to me?…nope
Some have called the mind the last battlefield, but I wonder if really lies in organized religion. Those who view faith-based creative expression as inappropriate for “the sheep” have obviously never experienced the anointing, the sudden jolt of overwhelming that the “performer” experiences as the Lord moves through him or her and as He touches and iniitiates change in the hearts of audience members. Jesus didn’t need a sanctuary to bring the Father’s message to the people, nor do we. Where He stood was holy ground. The same applies to us as we bring forth the Word creatively. For those shepherds who would deny us access to the sanctuary, sadly they are denying those in their care access to the holy ground that God has placed under our feet. They deny those souls the opportunity for the Lord to put a mirror in front of them, to identify their shortcomings and to explore their personal possibilities to change. Preaching has its place, but so does creative expression. After all, our Father created creativity, He spoke it into existence and imparted creative excellence into those who chose to nurture their special gifts and talents. Thanks for sharing this observation. It’s always great to know what we’re fighting for.
Well said, Diane, thanks!
Hi Chuck… that was really a good read.. have felt this so many times.
It leaves the artist struggling to find a way to share—what many feel called to share—in a way that gives them a voice without being rejected.
and very true:
We so easily justify “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” when something goes too far in one direction.
any plans of coming again to India for a workshop or show?
brother in Christ
Thanks Judah! As for returning to India… no plans… but if the Lord opens a door I will walk through it!
T om jackson
WOW!!!! good stuff
I am a dancer, have been trained over 60 years of dance. Went to a church that “plated feet” and didn’t even raise hands in worship, I am now in a church that embraces dance and I am thankful to praise God in a manner that is pleasing to Him!
We ARE the sanctuary. We are the place the Lord dwells by His spirit. The New testament knows nothing of a “sanctuary” by modern definition (a building of stone). Thanks, Chuck, for a great post! Theatre belongs in worship because the God who created is Himself creative. When we act creatively we reflect His nature. What kind of reflection upon God is a sanctuary devoid of creativity? Don’t get me started!