Bryan is known for his engaging and interactive style of speaking, teaching, and song-leading. He has been described as an Anabaptist Pete Seeger, with a gift for writing songs that are deeply scriptural, musically memorable, and readily singable – songs that are at once simple, catchy, profound, and fun.
“… a gifted teacher of all ages with his inviting spirit and thoughtful biblical and theological engagement.” – Alissa Bender, pastor
From his early school years in Rosthern, Saskatchewan (singing Scripture in Ken Medema musicals directed by his mother) to his high school years in Cochabamba, Bolivia (reading Walter Brueggemann and attending Bible studies and seminary classes taught by his father), Bryan has lived his life in the dynamic intersection between rigorous biblical scholarship, creative musical expression, and contextual ministry. This intersection is still the “sweet spot” where Bryan’s ministry resides.
“His music is captivating, his lyrics are theologically rich and thought-provoking, and his voice invites us all to live God’s kingdom wherever we are.” Dave Csinos and Brian McLaren, authors
During several years as a youth/young-adult minister and seminary instructor in Colombia, and again as an itinerant speaker and youth pastor in Winnipeg, music had always played a “side” role in Bryan’s work. Songleading in church settings and performing semi-professionally in several Latin American folkloric music groups, Bryan dabbled in songwriting.
But in January 2001, in conversation with a few friends and colleagues, new questions and ideas emerged. What about the songs we sing with our children? What if we could sing with our children in such a way that they would grow up knowing that God has a mission of peace, justice, reconciliation, restoration in the world – and we are all invited to join in that mission?
That afternoon Bryan sat down on the living room floor with his then-3-year-old son and sang:
God’s love is for everybody
Everyone around the world
Me and you and all God’s children
From across the street to around the world
From across the street to around the world…
In short order a few verses took shape, describing God’s mission as lived by various biblical characters, always with the hook that this is our story and our calling too. And the refrain keeps coming back: “God’s love is for everybody . . .”
Little did Bryan know that this song would open the floodgates, the “songs of faith for small and tall” would keep on coming, and a new vocation was born. Songwriting brings together Bryan’s passion for biblical study, theological reflection, contextual analysis, church leadership, worship, ministries with children, youth, and adults; and of course, music. For the next 13 years, songwriting, recording, performing concerts and leading worship (speaking/singing/songleading) would form the core of Bryan’s public ministry activity. Over this time Bryan released 6 studio albums, collaborated in the writing and production of a folk musical, recorded various curriculum CDs, and toured extensively as his songs became favourites in homes and churches across North America and around the world.
“Amidst the glut of new worship music, Bryan offers a much-needed gift to the church: songs that all ages can sing together that ground us in the Person and Mission of God, and that are infectious in their simplicity. Here is the rare musician who writes songs that young and old (small and tall) will not get tired of singing, whether in the sanctuary, in the car or in the woods. Here are songs for the soundtrack of the Kingdom of God.” – Sean Gladding, author
At the same time, parallel developments were in process. Bryan and his wife Julie received more frequent invitations to lead all-ages, activity-based congregational retreats. And Bryan’s passion for Scripture study continued unabated, bubbling up and finding expression in writing and teaching in a variety of modes. A regular Bible study leader with youth in his home community, Bryan was increasingly asked to lead Bible study sessions and series with adults as well. At the same time, prompted by a process in his home church, Bryan was embarking on a program of study and research (currently at the thesis stage) with a particular focus on the Gospel portrayals of Jesus as interpreter of Scripture.
“Your input was so well received by our congregation – thanks, thanks, and many more thanks! The balance of music, original songs, well-chosen stories and intergenerational activities was simple, effective, and had an impact.” – Charleen Jongejan-Harder, pastor
Bryan has crafted a series of workshop/retreat experiences – “Reading the Bible With Jesus” – that immerse participants in each of the four Gospels, paying close attention to the way Jesus is depicted as interpreter of Scripture. How did Jesus use Scripture in addressing the controversies and hot-button issues of the day? What might we learn from Jesus’ example?
“Bryan expresses such a passion for studying scripture that people are drawn in to deeper discussions before they realize it! When he teaches about the way Jesus creatively used scripture to convey the Gospel, Bryan models that same approach for us.” Cameron Kaufman-Frey, pastor
These participative experiences of Bible study and worship are bringing people of diverse backgrounds and understandings to explore Scripture together and discover resources that can help us to be faithful interpreters of Scripture today. Bryan will be the featured speaker on this theme at the upcoming “Pastors Week” at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, and is partnering with the AMBS Church Leadership Center to make this “Reading the Bible With Jesus” experience available to congregations and clusters throughout North America.
In whatever setting – whether concert, worship, retreat, workshop, convention, Bible study series, camp, school, or coffee conversation – Bryan’s passion is to inspire people to see themselves (and sing themselves) as part of the ongoing scriptural drama of God’s great mission in the world. In the words of the title track to his 2011 album, Detectives of Divinity:
“God’s fingerprints are everywhere if you have eyes to see,
’cause God is far from finished with you and you and me…”