By Carl Stagner
Though dance appears twenty or so times in the Bible, and usually in the context of worship, it’s encountered some resistance in the church over the years. Certainly dance, like other artistic expressions, can be used in ways that bring dishonor to the Lord. But like so many Church of God congregations today, First Church of God in Paragould, Arkansas, has found a way to reclaim what hell has stolen. They’ve redeemed dance, and use it regularly to worship the Lord and communicate the message of Christ.
Though the church is currently without a senior pastor, Trent Duke, youth pastor of First Church, is striving to carry on life-giving ministry in this season of transition. He started as youth pastor in May 2017, though he’s been working with the youth for four years. He’s excited to see how God is working in the congregation, especially through the children’s ministry and the newly established dance ministry. The church’s dance ministry is relatively new, and its beginnings trace back to youth and children’s conferences in the neighboring state of Alabama.
Trent and his wife Melissa had taken the First Church of God youth group to what’s known as Ramp youth conferences for three years in Hamilton, Alabama. Faith Ohler, who has directed the church’s children’s ministry since August 2017, heard about the Ramp’s children’s ministries through Trent and Melissa, opening the door to raise funds and send eight kids and three adults to a conference. For these kids of First Church, it was the first time they’d ever experienced an event with kids their age who share their love of Jesus.
While at the conference, a ministry known as Chosen led a time of worship through dance. The experience was so moving, Faith couldn’t get it off her mind. Upon her return to Paragould, Faith’s mother asked her if she ever considered incorporating dance into the children’s ministry at church. That seemingly out-of-the-blue question confirmed for Faith what she had already been sensing: God was about to do something innovative and incredible in the children’s ministry of First Church of God.
Trent reflects, “It would be a new kind of worship that would open up the kids to something that may not be so comfortable but would help them step outside the box and worship in a way that reaches not just children, but all ages.” Soon the children’s dance ministry was established at First Church.
Until recently, the dance ministry has been utilized only in the church for worship services. Now the ministry has performed outside of the church walls and other venues are expressing interest in hosting them. A variety of worship music styles accompany the choreography, reflecting the church’s blended weekly worship services. “We believe that God is using new ways to reach the evolving culture,” Pastor Trent explains. “We believe this is an expression of the Word of God through action. The usefulness of our dance ministry is that it creates boldness in the children that will encourage them to step outside of their comfort zones to reach the lost around them. The beauty is they’re learning more about themselves and about God.”
Currently the program includes children ages nine through thirteen, but they’re looking forward to growth. Kaitlyn, one of the girls in the program, exemplifies the sentiment of all the children. “Miss Faith doesn’t just pick the songs that we dance to,” she explains. “You can tell that God gives the songs for a purpose. This makes me want to dance more!”
Pastor Trent concludes, “There is freedom in expressing worship through dance as the Holy Spirit moves through you. Satan likes telling us we must contain it, so whenever we express our worship with dance, we are taking back our freedom in the Lord. There is a song called, “Oh, Mighty One” and, in that song, a line that says, ‘When I move my body, when I move my feet, when I open my mouth, the darkness flees!’ So, we use dance for the Lord to send Satan packing!”
In Arkansas, across North America, and around the world, the Church of God is taking back what hell has stolen. Join the movement. Give life. Donate today at give.jesusisthesubject.org.