During a recent trip to South Africa I was reminded of the beauty and power of dancing in worship. Along with a team of 30 others, we visited a small school in a rural area of Johannesburg to distribute clothing, toys and school supplies. The kindergarten-aged children delighted us with songs in their native language, to which they danced rhythmically and clapped their hands. Our team ministered in various churches on a Sunday, and we later traded stories of the exuberant dancing displayed during worship times. A visit to Mandela’s House in Soweto was memorable for the articles, photos, and history that it has preserved, but also for the groups of dancers who delighted visitors on the sidewalks in front of the home.
Dancing in worship is not new to many of our modern churches. Dance ministries and other artistic groups are part of numerous expressions of worship and praise in churches of all sizes and traditions. What differentiates what we have from what we observed in South Africa is the passion and intensity that was on display. And the fact that dancing was not relegated to an official group or ministry but everyone participated. I saw young children with happy feet, men who demonstrated remarkable agility as they jumped high and stooped low, and women whose heads, hips, knees and arms communicated joy and gratitude to God. No one was excluded and even members of our team joined in during a service at a Christian college where we facilitated two days of ministry training.
In Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, King Solomon surmised “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (v.1). A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (v.4). Dancing is something that we learn early on in childhood. Even before words and sentences have been formally spoken, you can observe babies and toddlers swaying, bouncing, and nodding their heads to music. As we grow older we learn steps and movements that help to express our joy and happiness. Some have relegated dancing to the clubs, ballrooms, parties, and weddings. But many believers have learned to praise God by dancing in worship services at church.
The Bible presents dancing as an acceptable form of worship. It is even encouraged in several Psalms. At the successful crossing of the Red Sea, in Exodus 15, the people showed their gratitude in dance (v.20). “Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.” In 2 Samuel 6, the ark of God was transported to Jerusalem with a great procession of praise. “Then David danced before the Lord with all his might” (v.14). He would later write a song of praise in Psalm 30 that included this declaration in verse 11, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing.” Psalm 149:3 proclaims, “Let them praise His name with the dance.” And Psalm 150:4 adds, “Praise Him with the timbrel and dance.”
There are many ways to express the joy we feel and the gratitude we have for life’s blessings. There are different ways to worship and show reverence to God. Some offer respectful contemplation, while others engage joyful celebration. Both are appropriate and necessary forms of worship, and believers should be encouraged to embrace them equally. Thoughtful reflection is not reserved for the philosopher alone, neither is dancing the sole domain of the club DJ. We can all bow our heads in reverent worship at church but then there comes a time, in the service and in life, when we should feel free to just get up and dance.
Bishop Patrick L. Kelly is the pastor of Cathedral Church of God, 365 S. Dixie Hwy., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. 954-427-0302.