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