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What forms of music does the Assemblies of God use in its worship services? Are certain kinds or styles of music favored?
The Assemblies of God encourages and practices a wide variety of music for worship and ministry to the Lord. Hymns, anthems, gospel songs, Scripture choruses, children’s songs, and contemporary Christian music—all find a place in our church Fellowship. Various keyboard, woodwind, brass, string, and percussion instruments are also heard in many of our worship services. Because no two local church congregations are alike, neither are their music preferences.
Not everyone in our church is enriched and blessed by this wide variety of music. Unfortunately, expressions of dissatisfaction with music, fostered by generational, geographic, and ethnic factors, are too frequently heard.
The most common source of discontent about church music lies in the generation gap. Many Christians object to the tempo, cadence, melody, volume, and lyric content of church music that seemingly appeals and communicates to other age levels. This contrast in style preferences is most obvious at the opposite ends of the age spectrum—teens vs. senior adults. Differing age-level preferences show up in old hymns as opposed to new choruses, choice of special music (traditional sacred music versus new contemporary songs), and sometimes even the choice of instruments (piano and organ as opposed to synthesizers, guitars, and drums).
Geography also plays a key role in church music. Just as the slower formal traditions of the North stand in clear contrast to the faster up-tempo music of the South, the East also differs from the West—all of which differ from the conservative heartland. This regional factor is greatly influenced by varying ethnic cultures within each region.
What we must all come to understand is that one’s choice of music is based on personal tastes typically developed during the formative adolescent years. Thus all generations, secular or Christian, will generally acquire differing musical preferences based on unique culture and adolescent experiences.
Fueled by these underlying factors, several arguments frequently surface in the church music debate: 1) An influx of new choruses, often projected on overhead screens and sung repeatedly, has replaced the hymnal with its rich theology. 2) Much of the contemporary Christian music brought into the church tends to mirror the world’s music and may be shallow in message and content. 3) Performers, producers, and composers are sometimes guilty of compromising the integrity of Scripture and spiritual truth for whatever moves an audience. 4) Worship built solely on emotion runs the danger of becoming an end in itself rather than an avenue to real communion with God. 5) Music is sometimes so overemphasized in the church that it frequently encroaches on preaching and the sharing of God’s Word. 6) Ministry, heart-felt conviction, and the use of musicians who live godly lives may be sacrificed for an overemphasis on musical excellence.
In facing these problems in the church we must understand that music is simply a form of communication and expression toward God. As a means of worship it should assist believers to develop intimate communion with God. Music, never an end in itself, should function only as a conduit to God. And because God looks on the heart and not on the talent or sound of our music, there is generally no particular format or style that is more right or more wrong than others. Everyone in the church, young and old, needs to grasp this truth. One of the most divisive conflicts a church can experience centers around selfish attitudes of preferred music. It is tragic that something designed to edify and unite the church all too often ends up hurting and isolating segments of the body of Christ. But it doesn’t have to be that way. An attitude of generosity and acceptance of the music tastes of others is essential.
While the Assemblies of God does not have guidelines for worship in all of its churches, there are some scriptural principles that should guide the church music program: 1) Both lyrics and style should reflect the teaching and spirit of God’s Word and include a focus on the cross and the atoning work of Christ. 2) The inspiration, composition, and presentation of music should also mirror a heart devoted and consecrated to God. 3) A legitimate variety of music should be encouraged by leadership. 4) The hymnal should be recognized and used for its historical and traditional value as a reservoir of biblical truth. 5) Generational differences must be considered so the needs and desires of the entire body of Christ will be met. 6) Spiritual leaders must disallow any music that does not exalt Christ and build up His body of believers.
Like most conflicts affecting the church, the need is for balance. Overemphasis on any one area provides an unhealthy diet. Balance means traditional and contemporary, choruses and hymns, slow and fast, new and old, piano and sound track, accordion and synthesizer, great musicians and mediocre, and song leader and worship team. All have a place in worship to our Lord
It is truly a tragedy when fellow believers turn personal preferences into an agenda for claiming one’s own preference. Does Paul’s admonition, “Bekindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10, NKJV) have any application to our disagreements over music styles? It seems that it should. Although we may not feel that special presence that we have come to cherish with our preferred style of music, can we object if someone else is drawn into intimate communion with another style of music? Is it possible that lack of spiritual maturity causes us to argue for our preferences? Do we who have come to know the Lord in beautiful communion need our “crutch” to maintain that close fellowship? The writer of Hebrews spoke a word to believers, encouraging them to move on from elementary concerns to spiritual maturity (Hebrews 6:1).
To those who experience a special feeling from a particular style of music, we must understand that different things draw different people closer to God. But we must continually ask ourselves, “Is it the truth of God’s power, greatness, and love that stirs our deepest feelings, or is it the tempo and sound of the music that stirs us?” Familiar styles of music can help, but we must never let the vehicle of truth become more important in our Christian walk than the truth itself.
Let us call a truce in our personal Christian music preferences. If we can’t worship because the music isn’t “just right according to me,” the discord will continue. The task of the music minister is to find a balance and incorporate the different styles that will at sometime minister to each of the different tastes. An appreciation of all types of Christian music styles is a special gift of love to a congregation. That appreciation, with the Lord’s help, can be given for the unity of the church by worshipper and music minister alike.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.