Dancing in the Rhythm of God’s kingdom

I’ve embarked on a new adventure with a group of friends in Miami. We recently planted a church. This came about after three years of praying and dreaming about what it would be like to share a common life of worship and mission.

“Church” has come to mean many things in our day: a building, a Sunday service to attend, an organization that functions like a business, etc. But if you read the New Testament you’ll discover the church is never once referred to as a building or a service, neither is it spoken of as an organization. The church is a living organism. It’s a community of people committed to living the way of Jesus – and committed to doing it together. Different people from diverse backgrounds are brought together by a common Father and common mission. What was meant to be simple and organic has become professionalized, hierarchical, confusing, and commercialized.

So, as my friends and I continued to pray and dialogue, we had a growing conviction that we were supposed to give birth to a fresh expression of the church today. That’s how Rhythm Church came about.

We didn’t choose the name Rhythm because it sounds cool and hip. (In fact, I almost nixed it because I didn’t want a trendy name.) We chose Rhythm because nothing else so clearly describes what we’re about as a community. Perhaps I can explain the theological impetus behind the name by talking about two things I love: DJing and dancing.

I’ve been DJing for a couple of years now. As I like to say: “Preacher by day, DJ by night.” My appreciation for turntablism began while living in England a decade ago. I had friends that would DJ as a hobby, either at home or house parties, and I was always thumbing through their records and messing with the equipment. My fascination grew until I finally got myself a set of fly turntables (and yes, “fly” is a technical term). I’ve been trying my hand at it ever since.
A lot of people don’t understand what all goes into DJing. They think it’s just about playing one song after another – but that’s what a jukebox does, not a DJ. Just put iTunes on shuffle if that’s what you’re looking for. But if you’re interested in DJing, that’s about beat mixing, scratching, and feeling a crowd. It requires a good ear, a quick hand, and a lot of practice.

For instance, you know you’re listening to a good DJ when he or she can keep you grooving on the dance floor for two or more hours. Have you ever gotten tired when dancing and told yourself you’d take a break after the song, only to find that you keep dancing to song after song until you no longer physically can because your legs feel like jello? If so, give props to the DJ (as you hobble your way off the floor) because they did their job well. You didn’t take a break because, literally, the DJ didn’t give you one. He or she created a seamless rhythm from one track to the next so that every time you were about to step off the dance floor, a new song came in – right on beat – that kept you dancing the night away.

Two Turntables and the Trinity

Time for some turntable theology. Imagine God as a DJ. (If that’s a stretch for you, just remember that the Bible compares God to a farmer, banker, and old lady looking for a lost coin.) So there’s God behind the turntables, spinning some vinyl and mixing away. And the mix he’s producing is masterful. Its rhythm is seamless and beautiful. This is the sound of shalom, the rhythm of God’s kingdom.
And here you are, walking along when you hear this soulful song being played. It catches your ear so you sit down to listen. There’s something about it that draws you in, but you’re yet to make to the dance floor. Perhaps you’re unsure of how to groove to this new rhythm. You’ve danced to many others – but this one is different. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard.

But then Jesus appears on the dance floor. (I know my Baptist friends will have a hard time with this, but bear with me.) He’s grooving perfectly to the song, showing us how to jive and boogie to its beat. And the way he moves – it’s as if he has the rhythm within him. His dance is incredibly compelling, and the longer you watch the more you feel you’re missing out. Yet you continue to sit off to the side, a bit reluctant and hesitant to take part. But then he starts waving to you to join him on the dance floor. And before you know it you’re up on your feet, moving and grooving with him.
As you really get going, you can feel a certain energy pushing you along. That’s the Holy Spirit – she’s empowering you to learn the moves and stay in rhythm with Jesus. (And I’ll save why I refer to God’s Spirit as a “she” for another post.)

Then you notice there are others on the dance floor. Jesus has gathered a whole community of people to join in. Maybe you can think of them as dance partners. Some folks look like they’ve been dancing for a long time, while others appear to just be taking their first step. But either way we’re all just trying to keep up with Jesus.

As you continue to dance, you slowly begin to lose your inhibition. You no longer have to think, “Now I’m going to put my foot here and turn this way” like you did when you first began. God’s groove is getting deep within you, and it’s becoming second nature to move along in its rhythm.

A Church Named Rhythm

So why is our church named Rhythm? Because we’re a community of people following Jesus and learning to groove in the rhythm of God’s kingdom. By no means do we have it fully down. Learning this dance takes time and practice. But God’s Spirit is pushing us along and empowering us every step of the way.

What does it look like to actually live in this rhythm? When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment is, he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all you are and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” These two commands – the vertical and horizontal – form a rhythm of worship and mission. Living in this rhythm as a community means sharing a common life that revolves around the practice of loving God and loving others.
To use a slightly different metaphor – just as the human body lives by the back and forth breathing movements of inhaling and exhaling, so our church as an expression of Christ’s body lives by the back and forth movements of worship and mission.

And, again, it’s by following Jesus and patterning ourselves after him that we learn how to live in this rhythm. Here’s what he tells his disciples in Matthew 11:29-30 – “Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

In closing, I want to add that I’m not the first to think of the Christian life in terms of dancing. After meditating on Jesus’ relationship with the Father and Spirit in the gospels, the 8th century Eastern Orthodox theologian John of Damascus described the Trinity as a perichoresis (a combination of the Greek words “dance” and “around”). The image is of the Father, Son, and Spirit indwelling and encircling one another in an exquisite and joyful dance.

More recently, the British theologian C. S. Lewis wrote, “In Christianity God is not an impersonal thing nor a static thing – not even just one person – but a dynamic pulsating activity, a life, a kind of drama, almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance… The pattern of this three-personal life is…the great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality.”

Too often the Christian life is thought of as signing onto a list of beliefs or living by a set of moral principles or attending a weekly service. But that doesn’t even come close to capturing what life with the living God is like. If the Triune God is a perichoresis of perfect love between the Father, Son, and Spirit, then the Christian life is much more like being swept into a divine dance, like hearing a melody that not only moves you inwardly but gets you up and on your feet, grooving with others and taking the dance out to the streets.
This is why Rhythm is a fitting name for our community in Miami. Our church is not a building nor a Sunday service, but a community of people following Jesus and learning how to dance in the rhythm of God’s kingdom.