Worshipping God

Chats about the heart of worship

Worship art and dance are a core part of our DNA here at Riverlife and regularly feature on stage at our Sunday services and special events as part of our expression for worship. Our Worship Pastor Nick Riddel recently caught up with Petrea Taylor (Worship Art) and Nikki Peck (Worship Dance) on the heart and approach behind this.

Words: Nick Riddel Read: 5 - 10 mins Published: 25 October 2019

NR: Firstly Petrea, in a nutshell, how would you describe what worship art is to someone who is unfamiliar with it? 

PT: I would say it is a physical representation of our heart in worship. Just like when you are in nature and see the wonders that God has made, you can’t help but be in awe of God. Worship art is a way of expressing our love for God through colours, pictures and images that make us think about who God is.

NR: Can you take us through your approach to painting on stage while worship is happening? You often only have 30 minutes, sometimes shorter at other events, how do you come up with what you’re painting?

PT: There are a few different ways I come up with my painting. Firstly, I will sometimes see a picture in my imagination weeks out from doing worship art on stage. At times, I feel that maybe is something God is showing me so I can paint it. I will spend some time practising how to draw that picture and get it from my head to the page so that when I am on stage, I can draw it quickly and then work longer on filling in the image. Due to the time constraints, I like to have a plan. Some of our artists will already have something started that they have been praying into, and they will just finish it on stage. These paintings are often images that might make you think about who God is or an aspect of God’s character, like a lion or a light house. These images the artist believes, God has given them for that service.

My most common method is more abstract. I paint with colours and am inspired by the music and the words and by how I feel during worship. Often songs we might sing have words like “rain down” or “blow through” or “Holy Spirit come.” I love to try and paint in a way, that if you imagined what it might look like for Holy Spirit to rain down into the room right now, those colours and brush strokes are what you might imagine. This can be done quickly, and for me is so worshipful, because I am being inspired by the beautiful colours God has led me too, and the way they interact on the canvas.

Sometimes the art is an act of worship for the artist using colour and movement. Sometimes the art is created to help our congregation see something that might help them worship, become more aware of who God is and think about who they are worshiping.

NR: Apart from using your gifts to glorify God, what’s your heart for the pieces of art you create on stage during a service?

PT: My heart is that, it is never a distraction from God, but something that makes us think about Him. Whether that be because of the image you see before you, or the beauty in the design of it. Art itself is very subjective, but my heart is that all the art you see on stage, no matter the style, points back to God and who He is.

NR: What’s something someone has shared with you after one of your paintings as to how they were impacted by your art?

PT: I have been blessed and encouraged over the years by so many people. Quite a few of my painting are hanging in houses and bedrooms because Holy Spirit powerfully spoke to someone through my painting. My favourite painting would have to be one I painted at a conference. Just a no-plan, go-with-whatever-I-felt-God-wanted painting. I was so inspired by the song ‘Holy Spirit Rain Down’, that I picked up blue and went to town. I felt so connected to God as I played with different tones of blue and literally just worshiped. Then as the music changed, I also felt to change, and started to use gold foil to represent Holy Spirit blowing through the room and falling in that place. I have had so many people say, that as they watched the painting form, they could not help but feel God all around them. To this day, when we ask people what it is a picture of, they say, “I am not sure what it is, but man can you feel the Holy Spirit when you look at it.”

To create something in a moment of worship and have it still to this day have the same impact, even when there is no music playing, no conference atmosphere is incredible. To be used by God, and to use my gifts to glorify him and help others be aware of him is a privilege.

NR: How has your perspective on worship changed since becoming involved in worship art?

PT: I have become more aware that singing is not the only way to worship God. I am so aware now that my imagination can be a place of worship as well.

NR: Nikki, you’ve been a trained dancer and danced most of your life. How does that compare to your approach and experience of worship dance on stage?

NP: My dance training can be both helpful and a hindrance at times while I’m worship dancing! Having the dance skills is so important in being able to express what God is speaking to me while I’m dancing. If I have the ability, it gives me freedom to let me body express what’s going on in my heart and spirit. It flows more freely. But on the flipside, when you train as a dancer, you are taught to be very aware of what your body is doing. You’re aware of the muscles that need to be turned out, the height of your leg, or the position of your arms. So, when you are so accustomed to being aware of yourself, it can be a challenge sometimes to ‘let go’ and let Holy Spirit guide my movements.

NR: How would you best describe the purpose of dance in the worship setting?

NP: When we dance and use our whole bodies to worship God, we are literally shaping the atmosphere with praise. How awesome this that?! The Bible makes it clear that God asks for ALL of us when we worship Him (Acts 17:28; Romans 12:1; Luke 10:27). Dance can help us connect with God, and physically express what is going on in our hearts. It can be a powerful way of using movement to personally surrender to Him.

Dance also adds to the body of believers when we gather corporately to worship. It can be used to declare promises over people and also intercede for the congregation. Much like we use guitars or the piano to make music that declares truths about God, dance is another instrument that proclaims who He is.

NR: What first drew you into this expression of worship?

NP: Often during worship, this feeling of praise would rise up inside of me and singing a song or saying a prayer just wasn’t enough to convey my thankfulness to God. I felt compelled to express my love for God with all of my being, and for me, that moved me to dance. I was lucky enough to attend the School of Worship at Bethel in 2015, which gave me some great tools and teaching to put that into practice. God had been moving others in our church to explore dance in worship, and that lead Ange Pratt and myself to kick-start worship dance about two years ago.

NR: What is your process behind coming up with movements during a service? Are they pre-rehearsed or more natural overflows and expressions of the heart?

NP: Everyone in our team hears from God differently as they prepare to dance in our services. For me, God will often give me an impression of what He wants to do before the service… it might be a word like ‘freedom’ or ‘breakthrough’, or it might be a picture of a storm that is being calmed. And then instinctively, I’ll let God move me during the service to reflect that impression. Quite often, as I dance, God will give me an idea of where to go on the stage next and what movement to do. During the whole time I’m dancing, I’m in constant communion with God, and He is leading me. At times, I might stop because I’m waiting for God to lead me on to the next thing. Everything is very deliberate.

NR: As a church how do you envision us using and implementing worship dance into not only our services, but in our overall worship environment?

NP: I want to see everyone freely moving in our services, without fear of judgement. If you have a desire to dance, you should feel free to dance down the sides of the auditorium! I think we’ve become so accustomed to using singing to praise God, but the idea of using dance is still a little uncomfortable for so many of us. But it shouldn’t be!
The idea of using dance goes beyond just our services. Maybe in your quiet time, when it’s just you and God, you could use movement to express yourself to God. You might find it incredibly freeing. We are running Movement and Worship Workshops, which is a great place to come along and learn some tools in how you can use movement in your worship – everyone is welcome!

NR: What’s something God has revealed to you either before moving onto the stage or as you’ve danced during our corporate worship time?

NP: During a recent evening service, I felt like God wanted to go deeper during worship. I got a picture of a tree whose roots were growing deeper and deeper and deeper. So, I danced that over the service – my movement was very downward, and my feet barely left the floor. Every movement was pressing into Him. But then as the service progressed, I felt like the tree was growing and sprouting. Fruit was being birthed from that place of connection with God. So, my movement reflected that change. I began to prophesy over the church through my movement; that each person would see fruit from their intimacy and connection with God.

NR: How would you encourage people to engage with what’s happening on the platform?

NP: Our desire as a dance team is to see people worshipping freely, however that looks. So, if you are in a service, and you feel like moving during worship, please find a space and move! I think that when we see someone dancing, it’s almost like giving us permission to do the same. We are so blessed to have space down the sides of the auditorium, so please feel free to use that space and join us!
If you don’t want to dance, that’s fine too. Perhaps you might like to ask God to speak to you through the dancing. The dancer might be expressing something that speaks right to your heart.

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