Money, mediocrity, and the myth of 'making it' (part 4)

Tom Chevis 11 Feb 21
Having explored what ‘making it’ should and shouldn’t mean in parts 1 and 2, and in part 3 why experiencing mediocrity in one’s career is an inevitability for the vast majority of us, here in part 4, we look at why that mediocrity is not to be despised, and how we might go about it.

Why and how, not so much what

According to the Bible, how you do your work, and for what purposes, is much more important than what it is. This is vitally important. It’s vitally important both generally, but also specifically in our current journey exploring how we might go about ‘mediocre’ musical employment as a Christian. In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul addresses slaves and how they were to work for their masters. And whilst that is not a direct equivalent to our situation, nevertheless the principles he lays down are applicable to all forms of employment today. Colossians 3:23-24 -

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

It’s a clear enough command. Whatever you do – and in context, here the work was of the lowest profile – work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…

The dignity of ALL work

And here’s the thing, this biblical view of work is incredibly dignifying, because it means that even if you haven’t ‘made it’ in the worldly sense, and are instead doing a job (whether musical or not) that you wish you weren’t, that doesn’t mean it is worthless. Rather, it is your current opportunity to serve God, and to serve others and their needs rather than yourself. Here’s how Martin Luther put it:

The prince should think: Christ has served me and made everything to follow him; therefore, I should also serve my neighbour, protect him and everything that belongs to him. That is why God has given me this office, and I have it that I might serve him. That would be a good prince and ruler. When a prince sees his neighbour oppressed, he should think: That concerns me! I must protect and shield my neighbour....The same is true for shoemaker, tailor, scribe, or reader. If he is a Christian tailor, he will say: I make these clothes because God has bidden me do so, so that I can earn a living, so that I can help and serve my neighbour. When a Christian does not serve the other, God is not present; that is not Christian living.[1]

So, if you find yourself in a few years doing only one gig a month, if that, and most of your life spent doing peripatetic teaching to privileged children who don’t practise, as well as occasional work as a delivery driver… if, to put it another way, you find yourself to be mediocre – not in the sense of being untalented or lazy or anything like that, but in the literal sense of being ‘of middling height’ in terms of the career ladder or your own aspirations (see part 3 for more on this) – then take heart, you have not failed. If you are still trusting in Jesus, your identity and worth are found in Him and in Him alone, and therefore such ‘mediocrity’ is a perfectly acceptable, even good, outcome to your music degree, if you make the most of it and heed God’s command to work at it with all your heart, as working for Him.

You may wish to have your compositions played by the world’s top orchestras and sung by the world’s best choirs. But God may have ordained it that for the time being at least, it’ll only be the local county orchestra and your church choir who will perform your pieces, and so the challenge for you will be to be content to bring them joy through the music you write, even though it won’t garner you reviews in the national newspapers or boost your wider reputation much.

You may wish to be performing in the Wigmore Hall and the Carnegie Hall, but it could be that the local group of care homes comprises your current performing arena, and that that is what God has ordained for now. And so the challenge is not to denigrate this, but rather to forget your self, your ego and its aspirations for the hour when you sing/play to a group of sleepy septuagenarians, and to work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.

In both of these hypothetical scenarios, and in all real equivalent scenarios, the challenge is to accept God’s sovereignty over your life - that He is ultimately in control of your career, not you - and therefore to know that this is where He has chosen you to be right now. This is the arena in which you are to serve Him today.

That’s not to say you cannot or should not try to change your situation and attempt to reach new musical heights – you are certainly free to do so, and by all means try. This accepting of a current state of career mediocrity that I’m advocating is not meant to validate or promote a passive acceptance of the status quo as though this current situation must be what you have been forever ‘called to’ and destined for. In Christ we are free to try to change and improve our situation if we can do so without compromising on our walk with Christ.

But all this notwithstanding, the biblical understanding of work does mean that your current ‘mediocre’ situation is not to be despised or disparaged. There is no warrant for glumness or bitterness. There is certainly no warrant for being lax in your practice or professionalism. Because, this is where God has ‘called’ you at this current moment, and this is where you currently have the opportunity to serve Him and to do good to others, and in accepting that, to do it cheerfully! In this way, all work has dignity, however high- or low-profile (or simply ‘mediocre’) it may be.

As may already have become clear, though, if we are to view such ‘mediocrity’ through a biblical lens, and even manage to be cheerful in it, then we will also have to grapple with two related concepts - contentment and calling. We’ll do just that in parts 5 and 6.

[1] Martin Luther, “Sermon in the Castle Church at Weimar” (25 October 1522, Saturday after the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity), inD. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 60 vols. (Weimar: Herman BöhlausNachfolger, 1883–1980) 10/3:382

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