When seeing the tattooed and bearded Dustin Kensrue lead worship on a Sunday morning for the first time, you may be tempted to think that this hasn't always been his gig.
And you'd be right.
For the last decade and a half, the now worship pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue was the front man for the alternative rock band Thrice. The group built a concrete army of fans who faithfully followed them through eight full-length albums, two live records, a smattering of EP's, and countless tours. While he loved his years with the band, as a father and husband the constant touring ultimately became too hard sustain with a growing family. In order to spend more time with his wife of eleven years and their three young girls, Kensrue transitioned Thrice into an indefinite hiatus, and closed the current chapter of the band with a farewell tour in the summer of 2012.
Although the band was not a part of any Christian market, Kensrue was open about his faith, and his lyrics were full of rich, theological concepts. Kensrue felt it was important to write honestly and engagingly, and the things that generally interested him were the bigger issues of life and death, faith and doubt, love and loss. The candid yet layered themes in his songs opened doors for fans, friends, and fellow musicians to discuss faith and God without animosity. "I feel like through the music a place for conversation was created where there generally wasn't one before," Kensrue explains, noting, "It can be taboo to talk about certain things like faith and religion, but I've been able to talk about those things and build great relationships with a lot of musicians and fans and people in general, many of whom I completely disagree with and who disagree with me."
After Thrice decided to put their musical endeavors on pause, Kensrue, musically gifted and armed with an adept theological mind, accepted a Worship Director position at Mars Hill Church. Though this may have seemed a logical step from the outside, he in fact never intended on being a worship pastor. "At one point I apparently told my wife I'd never be a worship leader," recounts Kensrue, "but obviously God had different plans. I felt him challenge me to use the gifts he'd given me to help change the things in the worship music world that I felt were out of step with scripture and the truth of the gospel."
Kensrue laments the fact that most worship music seems to have fallen into a creative rut and has no engagement with the surrounding culture. "Our God creates with excellence, and we should as well," he explains. Beyond taking issue with the musical monotony, he also has strong feelings about the lyrical content of many popular worship tunes. "Growing up and going to church, I felt despair while singing. No matter how flowery or nicely it was stated, the majority of worship songs were essentially just a big dose of Law, of what I needed to do for God. Without first soaking in the good news that Jesus has done it all, that 'It is Finished' in him, the Law is condemning because we simply can't fulfill it." These worship songs, creatively stale and theologically lopsided, spurred in Kensrue the desire to write better songs for the church to sing.