Josh Jenkins Brings Grace to Your Perfect Mess

Josh Jenkins joined us on Episode 66 of the Agents of Innovation podcast. He is the lead singer of Green River Ordinance (GRO), a band that formed in Fort Worth, Texas when Josh was just 15 years old. “It’s been like 16 years since we were 15,” he told us.

Nine years ago, Josh moved to Nashville, Tennessee. His other four band mates are split between Fort Worth, Dallas, and Nashville. In the past few years, as Josh and two of his bandmates have gotten married and had kids (his two kids are now ages four and two years old) and have each gone into their own entrepreneurial ventures and projects, Josh has remained invested in his music career full-time. He still plays with his bandmates from GRO on about 15 tour dates per year, but he also has a new solo album, writes music for other artists, and plays his own gigs.

We caught up with Josh when he was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida playing the Rock By The Sea “Down South” charity music festival in September.

When Josh joined GRO at the age of 15, the other members of the band (two of them brothers, Jamey and Geoff Ice) were mostly playing blues rock. Josh brought in more of a pop rock sound, with a little bit of a traditional country background, and the blend was magnetic. They played in high school and college, and “dropped out of college together” and toured the country, including playing gigs on The Rock Boat in 2009 and 2010.

“We were making so little money, enough to survive on, it was this great adventure,” he said.

GRO got a record deal with Capitol Records for their album “Out of My Hands,” which lifted them up even more. They had a top 15 song on the radio, and when they came up with an option for their second record, they passed and went independent. A few of them had met their wives by that time and they needed a break “to go be human and not live in a 15-passenger van.”

For Josh and the band members of GRO, their Christian faith has also always been a vitally important element to their lives and comes through in their music and in how they express themselves on stage.

“That is our lifeblood – our faith,” said Jenkins. “The reality of who Jesus is and his impact on our life is so vitally important and it has only become more important as we’ve grown as people and learn and gone through a lot of stuff, a lot of life. We grew up in the church, but you really find your faith through the struggle and realizing who God is. That’s just kind of always been a part of our music, it’s been vitally important to us.”

While they are not Christian music artists, they don’t shy away from who they are and what the foundation of their life is.

“We’ve always viewed ourselves as people that don’t want to just write songs to the church,” said Jenkins. “We always felt called to be in the bars and go be around people that may not know Jesus, and hopefully bring some of that message to places that don’t get to hear it, or people that won’t darken the door of a church.”

“We’ve never set out to … write a Christian song… those songs are inspired … they are personal, they are not contrived,” said Jenkins. “We’ve never wanted the faith element of who we are to be something we are trying to cash in on. We’re Christians. We always want to be delicate with that element of who we are because it’s something that’s a reverent place within our life that we always want to come natural.”

“If you look at Jesus, a lot of the people who knew him or followed him were not your likely characters. The beautiful thing about that is the Gospel goes everywhere,” said Jenkins. “Representing Jesus is to ‘re-present’ him. For us, we want to present not some church religion Jesus, or some rule-following Jesus, or some strike-you-down-from-the-sky God that creates fear, and so you have to approach him meekly. We wanted to represent the Jesus of the Bible, that would go eat with whoever, the tax collectors, the broken people, the messy, marginalized people; and he really favored them over the religious. For us, going to these places, we get to be around people who do not have a lot of anger or hostility, and we get to gracefully step in there, and, hopefully out of humility, we get to speak about the love that’s greater and the love that meets you where you are, the love that picks you up.”

“We were messy people and so we love grace and love singing about grace and for us going into the bars … we love to have those conversations with people, and even if they don’t believe what you believe, there’s such a beautiful exchange that happens in those places that feels like the Gospel is alive in those places because it’s not in a box. It’s fluid. The Gospel is not contained by some wall and that it can’t exit that wall. Sometimes we separate holy and our life and the Gospel and God’s love goes everywhere. And so, the darkest places, the darkest bars, where the people may have the craziest history … I want to be in those places. I want to be able to reach out and extend that love of the Father to someone and see the Gospel connect with them in a way that would change their destiny, change their life, change the way they view themselves, change the way they view their spouse or their relationships.”

Jenkins also emphasized that purpose and success for him and his bandmates has never been about how many records they could sell. “Success is living out our values and that’s what we value,” said Jenkins.  

GRO has also always been the kind of band that encourages its members to do their own projects, whether that be solo music projects or entrepreneurial activities – like the real estate and restaurant ventures that his bandmate Jamey Ice is involved with in Fort Worth.

As Jenkins was getting married and having kids, touring full-time was not a fit and the band had to “find the sweet spot” of touring. That also allowed Jenkins to invest some of his time in doing other things in Nashville, including songwriting commercially. Josh and all of his bandmates seem to have a deep faith and a strong entrepreneurial spirit about them and they’ve learned that you always have to be growing and trying new things.  

“You’re going to encounter areas of being uncomfortable that are going to stretch you, that you’re going to have to stay hanging there; and you either check out or you can hang in there, and you can see it through,” said Jenkins. “You just realize the importance of hanging in there. Define your goal and be willing to see it through and be willing to be uncomfortable.”

Jenkins said that one of the biggest things he’s learned in life and in his career is “always maintaining the element of teachability… In our business, everything is evolving; and everything is evolving,” said Jenkins. “You kind of get comfortable with the environment and then things change and then you have to reorient yourself to what the new stage is … a level of humility comes with that. You can be successful one day, think you got it all figured out and then the next day, you’re like this isn’t working like it used to, and so you kind of have to stay humble.” His advice to other musicians and entrepreneurs: “Maintain that humility and be teachable.”

At the conclusion of Episode 66 of the Agents of Innovation podcast, we feature Josh Jenkins’ solo song, “A Perfect Mess.” We think that’s fitting since Josh and his bandmates from GRO always seem to bring grace to whatever mess they find.

To listen to the full interview with Josh Jenkins, tune into Episode 66 of the Agents of Innovation podcast, which can be heard on Apple podcastsStitcher, Google podcasts, SoundCloud, or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also follow the podcast on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter. We welcome your comments below and encourage you to write a review on Apple podcasts!

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