blowing my cover

Posted by on Sep 26, 2014

Just over a year ago I had a conversation that changed my life.

I was going into the 11th year of my music ministry and struggling with some dynamics in my work that I was having a hard time naming. A new friend who had asked and listened carefully – very carefully – made two insightful comments that were so simple. Even obvious. But I’d never had the nerve to quite see it – or say it – that way before.

The first comment was this:

“Well, Bryan, it seems to me that SmallTall Music is too small. Too small to describe what you’ve actually been doing, and too small for who you are and what you are called to do in the future.” 

The second was this:

“It seems to me that you’ve been doing biblical scholarship “under cover” for years. That’s where the songwriting comes from. Maybe it’s time to blow your cover.”

Wow. Those two comments hit the nail on the head for me. The past year, with the help of a wise coach, has been an invigorating and exciting (and at times scary) time of exploring the implications of those comments – re-envisioning and re-imagining and beginning to re-articulate how I understand myself and my vocation.

Here is a new “why” statement that has emerged from this process. In many ways, of course, there’s nothing “new” about it – this has been driving my sense of ministry all along. But it’s a new articulation that I’m finding helpful as I move into the future.

“Why” statement – short version:

This is the journey I’m on, and the journey to which I passionately seek to invite others:

to catch a glimpse of God’s great project in the world

      especially as revealed in Scripture

            and be inspired to join in

And here’s a longer version, with more detail and nuance (and notice the chiastic structure, if you’re into that kind of thingā€¦)

Continuously learning

     That I am a beloved child of God

            Called and equipped to play a role

                  As a member of the body of Christ

                        In the ongoing scriptural drama

                              Of God’s great project in the world

                        I seek to engage others in the ongoing scriptural drama

                  As members of the body of Christ

            Called and equipped to play their own roles

      As beloved children of God

Continuously learning

A few concrete things have emerged out of (or in tandem with) this process. One is that I have found myself doing more and more Bible teaching in ways that do not fit neatly into the “SmallTall Music” structure or category. This has been focused especially around the “Reading the Bible With Jesus” initiative that I have been working on for a few years now. (You can see some of that writing here, and an upcoming series of workshops/retreats here.)

Another is that I have finally decided to move some of my ongoing studies and research into “official” and accredited channels – I have taken the plunge to finish my Masters degree (Master of Theological Studies program at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo). My thesis work is continuing research and writing about the Gospel portrayals of Jesus as interpreter of Scripture (see the RTBWJ initiative mentioned above). So that means that for the next year I am a full-time grad student, on top of the ongoing ministry work that I’m doing. It’s full, and busy, but very, very exciting!

Yet another outgrowth of this process is that Julie and I have become increasingly active as a team, leading all-ages congregational retreats. This has been invigorating too!

Does this mean I’m turning away from doing music? By no means! I continue to write songs and do concerts, and sing/speak/teach/lead in different kinds of settingsā€¦ music continues (and will continue) to be a key way that I work at engaging all ages (“small and tall”) in the “ongoing scriptural drama.” That is still true. But I’m trying to be clearer about how the music is part of a bigger picture of ministry…

This, of course, is not exactly “news” to many who have been familiar with different aspects of my work. But it may be new to some who are used to thinking of me and my ministry in a more narrow sense strictly as a “singer/songwriter” and “professional musician.”

So how exactly should I describe my work now? What should my new “bio” (or website, or ministry name) look like? What kinds of structures (economic and otherwise) and what kinds of partnerships should be part of living out the “why” statement above as I prepare for the next 20+ years (hopefully, if God grants me life) of ministry?

I’m not sure. Still working on it, and will likely be working on it for some time to come. I welcome your thoughts, ideas, warnings, suggestions – and prayers – as the journey continues.

For now, I guess I’ve blown my cover. And it feels good.