You’ve probably heard of the band Twenty One Pilots. Consisting of vocalist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun, the two musicians achieved unprecedented success in 2015, becoming the third alternative band in history – behind Elvis Presley and The Beatles – to have two concurrent singles hold a top ten place in the Billboard Top 100. This past February, they won a Grammy for Best Pop Duo / Group Performance as well.
What you might not know, however, is that lead singer, Tyler Joseph, attended high school at Worthington Christian High School, a ministry of Grace Polaris, a Grace Brethren congregation in Westerville, Ohio (Mike Yoder, lead pastor).
Troy McIntosh, head of school at Worthington Christian, was Joseph’s principal while he was in high school, and remembers him well.
McIntosh recalls when the band – who started with different backup musicians behind Joseph – started to gain community, then statewide recognition. McIntosh said their potential started to become apparent when they sold out some larger venues in Columbus, Ohio, overnight.
“Around 2010, they were a really small, local band, trying to get gigs in different places wherever they could. They generated a huge local following…all of central Ohio at first. Then they started to sell out smaller venues, and people started to hear about them outside of the small central community.”
During high school, McIntosh never would have expected Joseph to become a celebrity musician. He sang in the choir but shone as an all-league basketball player.
“He was the starting guard on the state runner-up team his senior year,” recalls McIntosh. “He was our second leading scorer that year. When he graduated, I think everyone expected him to play basketball in college. So he shocked everybody when instead he started the band with a couple other WC guys about a year after he graduated.”
“I remember Tyler as an elementary kid, and he was always a really friendly kid to be around,” McIntosh says. “He was really sensitive towards other people and cared about other people. I think that’s reflected in his music. Their music isn’t explicitly Christian, although they are upfront about [their faith].”
Their beliefs show through in their lyrics as well.According to the two musicians, their purpose for making music is “to make people think,” as well as encourage them to find joy in what they come to believe in life. McIntosh thinks that their songwriting is also a unique opportunity to share their testimony.
“Tyler’s the songwriter of the two, so he is the one who is writing the lyrics,” McIntosh explains. “I think he does a phenomenal job of bringing biblical themes and ideas in his music that speaks to people in ways they’re not used to being spoken to. It resonates with people even though they may not at first know exactly why.
“I think the reason they’re so popular is because the music resonates with their generation. [Their music] is not designed for church people – its designed to reach and speak to non-believers…kids who didn’t grow up in church, who don’t understand what hope is. I think their music reflects that sensitivity, that care and concern for other people, that I saw when he was a high school student.”
Despite some criticism the band has gotten for not operating under a Christian record label, McIntosh notes that Christians don’t carry the same expectations of fellow lay people who work normal jobs at banks or factories—as opposed to churchor outright ministry positions. “For some reason, though, we hold that standard to Christian musicians.”
Perhaps it’s this way — as Christians with a pen and a platform — that they have the most opportunity to introduce a culture of unbelievers to Christ.