The ninth lesson I learned from J.S. Bach is to actively serve the local church.
Bach's dream and vision from God for his life's work was to produce music of the highest quality in the worship of God. He was employed by the local church, but his heart led him to be there. Many other opportunities were available to him for his career path, but he chose the community of the local church.
Many contemporary musicians think that serving in the local church is beneath them. They think the constraints that are put upon them by the leadership are too hard to bear, and that they need greater freedom of creativity in order to flourish as an artist.
Bach, in his situation, may have felt that way at times, but he was willing to stick it out. As a result, the pressures of relational tensions/resolutions, the 'buffetting' that he endured, actually caused him to excel in his creativity more than if he had been left to himself with endless freedoms.
The simple fact is that community is good for us. "Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." (Prov. 27:17) In a church scenario, there will be moments of 'grinding' that happen, but if we're willing to endure it, we will end up much 'sharper' (i.e. more powerful) for having been willing to go through the process.
Contemporary musicians are afraid that submitting their art to the authorities in the local church will somehow be too constricting, and that it boils down to the "Word" versus "Worship", with the music and worship always getting pushed to a lesser place.
Bach, however, found that 'boundaries' are good. Without boundaries in our lives, we cannot ultimately succeed. The American concept of 'freedom' for every aspect of our lives has led to our country's moral decadence and decay. If we don't exercise self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit, by the way (Gal. 5:23), we will end up being controlled. "The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put to forced labor." (Prov. 12:24) Submitting our artistic lives to the 'constraints' of the local church is probably one of the best things we could do for our continued artistic growth. Bach proved this to be true. As he willingly worked through the 'parameters' of needs, desires and demands of the situation that he worked in, he ultimately created one of the greatest outpourings of music the world has ever seen.
You think he would have succeeded anywhere, just because of his talent and ability? Take a look at people groups all over the world, throughout the course of human history that have endured affliction of one kind or another. They always come out of it a powerful nation. The oppression created higher discipline. The high 'structure' brought out the untapped power of the people. Just look at those who come to America from foreign lands, places that don't have our opportunities. Once they are given the opportunities, their work ethic causes them to rise to great heights, while the average American-born citizen is selfish and lazy by comparison. A little 'buffetting' would do us all some good!
Freedom is never free. Somewhere along the line, someone (including yourself) must pay its price. Jesus paid the price for our salvation and paved the way for our success in every area of life. But He also said, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Lk. 9:23-26)
Bach willingly followed this path of unselfish sacrifice, allowing himself to be 'sharpened' in his skills, as well as his personal growth. This also may be one of the reasons that, compared to later classical composers, he had a balanced and successful life, not falling prey to the moral failures we witness in the succeeding generations of classical musicians. His ability to stay balanced in life caused him to create more music with increasingly higher quality over a successful and productive career.
His dream to serve the local church, the way the Bible outlines, produced success for him. It also set him up as the teacher and role model for great art and musical creation for generations to come.
Application: When you do things God's way, it always works. Honoring Him through a humble attitude, being willing to submit your life and your gifting to godly community and godly authority, according to the promise of Scripture, will bring results beyond what you think you can achieve doing it some other way. There are no short-cuts to success, and there are no shabby rewards, when it comes to God's blessings!
(for more on this subject, see my article from "Current and Future Worship Trends": "My Vision- The Motivation")