Earlier this year, John Michael Talbot's wife, Viola, put together a surprise celebration of his 25-year ministry as a Christian musician. Talbot heard tributes from old friends such as his longtime producer (and Sparrow Records founder) Billy Ray Hearn, and musicians Phil Keaggy and Barry McGuire. He received praising letters from Roman Catholic cardinals and a blessing from Pope John Paul II.

"You're aware of your achievements," Talbot tells Christianity Today, "but sometimes you wonder: Is it all worth it?" The tributes from friends helped answer that question, and Talbot was thankful for the gathering.

His friends' tributes reminded Talbot of how far he has journeyed—from Mason Proffit, the folk-rock duo he fronted with his older brother, Terry, to his more than 25 years as a self-described troubadour for the Lord.

If not for decisions Talbot made along the way, the Talbot brothers could be playing on Southern rock nostalgia shows with Lynyrd Skynyrd or the Allman Brothers Band. Instead, Talbot lives among the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, the religious community he founded 20 years ago and serves as general minister. The community lives at The Little Portion Hermitage, located on property in the Ozark Mountains that Talbot purchased when he was still a budding rock & roll musician.

The two most important choices Talbot made were leaving Mason Proffit (to record contemporary Christian albums with his brother) and becoming a Roman Catholic (and joining the secular Franciscans, who live in the world but commit themselves to Franciscan disciplines) in 1978.

"Leaving Mason Proffit was a fairly natural decision. The band had pretty much run its course, and it was beginning to fall apart," Talbot says. "The story of my ...

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