Spring 1998


Volume 17, Issue 1

Rocky Anthony: A Heart for Families

by Becky Hobbs


Rocky Anthony (RTS '89) looked through the haze of marijuana smoke in his college apartment and headed across the room to answer the doorbell. Before him stood a man and a woman asking him, "Do you know that Jesus Christ loves you very much?" Curtly, Rocky answered, "Sure, I know that" and shut the door on them. Suddenly, as he gazed at his stoned friends, it was as if the shackles fell from his eyes and he could really see for the first time. "Rocky," he said to himself, "you're living a lie."

And he had been in a big way. By his sophomore year in 1981 at Southwest Missouri State in Springfield his apartment was known as the Sin Den, and every Friday was party time. A heavy drug dealer, he smoked dope every day and abused speed and acid. He had to sell a lot of drugs to support his $100 a week habit.

A DOUBLE LIFESTYLE

Rocky's childhood was about as far away from the drug scene as one could get. Born outside Chicago and raised in St. Louis, he was brought up in a Christian family and "walked the aisle" in his Baptist church at the age of thirteen. He remembers growing up in a neighborhood where everyone knew each other, and he walked safely to and from school with his friends.

In junior high school Rocky began associating with a rough crowd of friends. "I was looking for people who were as different from the people at church as I could possibly find," explains Rocky. "I thought church folks were nerds. Being where the action was and running with popular people meant a great deal to me."

Gradually, a double life style began to grow. Wanting to be respected and well-known in the community, Rocky was continually balancing his secret, wild life with the public persona of a pleasant, polite boy.

He was a very good wrestler throughout junior high school and won numerous honors. However, in the ninth grade he nearly broke his neck in a wrestling accident and could not compete any longer. Besides, he enjoyed the free time to party, something which meant much more to him than excelling at sports.

"I wanted to have fun and be liked," recalls Rocky. "When I give my testimony, I describe my life in terms of the shoes I was wearing. When I had my wrestling shoes on, I was a wrestler. When I had my church shoes on, I was a church boy. When I had my party shoes on, I was a partier."

After graduating from high school, he entered Southwest Missouri State. Four hours away from his parents influence, Rocky was free to do anything he chose; he decided he didn't need to watch his reputation any longer. His life became an endless round of drugs, parties, and hangovers. And that's where he was that Friday when he opened the door to two Christians sharing the Gospel.

"I closed the door and called my mother, telling her two angels had just showed up on my doorstep. I asked her to send me a Bible."

The last two weeks of his sophomore year Rocky moved in with his brother, who was a strong Christian. As he saw the depth and authenticity of his brother's friendships, he was further convinced that his life had been spiritually bankrupt. On May 13, he said, "God, if you will have me I want to give you everything I have. Make me the person you want me to be."

Rocky's old friends began to notice a difference in him. A week later he was with his friends and began smoking dope with them out of habit. He took one hit and said, "Guys, I'm through with this." And he's never touched it again.

That summer he went home to St. Louis, determined to get involved in his church. At first they didn't know what to do with him; he had the reputation of a heavy drug dealer. Slowly church members began to see that the change was real; Rocky grew in faith greatly and God began to rebuild him.

Back on campus the next fall he became very involved with Campus Crusade. The director, David Robinson, began to disciple him, teaching him how to share his faith and study the Bible. In those very fraternities where he had once sold drugs he now did team meetings in which people gave testimonies and shared the Gospel. He even saw some of the guys come to Christ.

His junior year he met his wife, Tracy, at a Crusade conference. He was attracted by her heart for missions, a passion which he shared. The summer after their junior year Tracy went with Crusade to Hungary, while Rocky went with Crusade to Newport Beach, California.

His senior year he became even more involved with Crusade and began to discover that his special spiritual gift was working one-on-one with people. That year he and Tracy became engaged and they married in 1985. They were planning on getting a certificate of studies in missions and become missionaries, but Dr. Andrew Jumper, Tracy's pastor at Central Presbyterian in St. Louis, talked them out of it. Instead, he put them on a plane to visit RTS. They fell in love with the seminary, whose goals in ministry matched theirs exactly.

"I didn't know anything about Reformed theology," remembers Rocky, laughing. "The only book I had read on Reformed theology was J.I. Packer's book, God's Words. But we jumped right in and started to work and God blessed mightily."

HEARTS TURNED TOWARD FAMILIES

While at RTS, Rocky and Tracy were both very involved in missions. He was president of Student Missionary Inquiry and a teaching assistant for missions professor Dr. Paul Long. After their middler year, he and Tracy went on a short term missions trip to Tunisia, North Africa, and France. It seemed they were headed for the mission field, but God changed their hearts.

The more they prayed about what they should do, the more God began to give them a passion for college ministry, stemming mainly from Rocky's dramatic conversion and his experience as a new Christian in college.

In 1989, during the latter part of their senior year, Second Presbyterian in Memphis offered him a job overseeing their college ministry, and he and Tracy have been there ever since. For four and a half years Rocky built up a highly successful college ministry. Then he began to develop a young singles ministry, moving on later to a ministry to young career professionals. Today his role has evolved into Minister to Men and Minister to Families. As such he oversees children, youth, college, young career, and families.

"Up until a few years ago," says Rocky, "everyone was going in a different direction --children, youth, college, careers. Now we are all pulling in the same direction from children to marriage and family. The ministry has truly become unified in the areas of curriculum, courses, Sunday School, Wednesday electives, and special events such as marriage enrichment weekends."

Rocky's main focus is on young couples, for which he has a three-pronged approach to teaching. First, he wants couples to know who they are in Christ. Second, he wants them to understand the uniqueness of their spouses and how to have a Christian marriage. Third, he wants them to develop their gifts in ministry.

He fleshes this approach out in several different ways. A successful Sunday School program anchors the outreach. A few years ago, Rocky and Tracy began a class with fifteen young couples. In a year's time the number had grown to about 100. They then divided the class, leaving the older married couples in the existing class and forming a new Honeymooners class for those who had been married for less than three years. From fifteen couples a year ago, the class has grown to a stunning eighty couples! In addition thirty young couples are being mentored by older couples and their lives are being changed. In fact, there is a waiting list of people who want to be mentored.

"Ministering to young couples is very important to us," says Rocky. "In the last four years, the median age of Second Presbyterian has dropped ten years. We are really growing in young couples. Our goal first is to help folks who are engaged, to get to know them in premarital counseling. Second, I want to be a pastor to any couple married less than three years. I want to spend time with them and minister to them until they are networked into the church."

Rocky and his staff have learned from experience that the lessons a couple learns relationally concerning the issues of roles and patterns of communicating will be established in the first two years. They try to help couples learn healthy modes of communicating in order to build strong families from the beginning.

"I want to understand what it means to build strong families," says Rocky. "How do we encourage husbands and wives in their relationship to one another and how do we equip parents to disciple and worship with their families in their homes? Worship happens in the home first. We have a class right now in family worship and how to have a family altar. "

"One of Rocky's most dynamic attributes is his love for young couples," says Bryan Nearn, an elder who serves as Rocky's mentor. "His mission is to work with men and bring families closer together. He and Tracy try to serve as role models for couples to point out practically how they can bring Scriptural truth to bear in their lives.

Rocky has also been given freedom to begin a new, less formal worship service on Sunday evening. He leads the worship and preaches. From a small group of thirty senior members, the service now averages about 300. People love the praise songs, testimonies, practical biblical teaching, occasional dramas, and healing service. All ages are represented; they regularly involve the youth every month and the seniors still come--in fact Rocky's biggest fan is an 87-year-old lady who sits on the second row each Sunday. The service continues to grow, and the plan is to involve more and more people, along with more corporate prayer.

Rocky is extremely happy to be where God wants him, working on a team with fellow Christian brothers and sisters. "I am extremely practical and highly relational," he confesses. "People often sideline my study time because I like to deal with them so much. But I’m striving to be more diligent as a student of God’s Word. "

"When I think of my past, those dark days during college, and then put on my black robe to preach in a church like Second Presbyterian, I can't help but ask, "Isn't God overwhelmingly good?"


Does Your Church Want to Build A Family Ministry?

Over the years, the staff at Second Presbyterian have discovered several methods for building a strong family ministry. Below are a few tips they have learned.

  1. Family Ministry is not defined by new programs or more family activities. It is a philosophy that building strong families is a top priority for your church.
  2. Survey families in your congregation. How many traditional nuclear families are touched by the ministry of your church? What are their needs and are we helping to meet them?
  3. Develop a shared philosophy of ministry. From children, youth, college and young adults, to young and mature married couples be sure there is a unified vision for building the family.
  4. Offer regular teaching in the areas of family worship, marriage enrichment, child rearing, and communication.
  5. Develop a mentoring ministry. As older men commit to younger men, as older women pour their lives into younger women, and as mature couples work with newlyweds, real life change occurs. Mentoring provides a level of accountability and equipping that is unmatched in any large group setting.
  6. Focus your best energy on newly married couples. We call it our "Divorce Prevention Ministry." Utilize effective premarital counseling, attractive Sunday School classes, and couple mentoring. This contributes to building strong patterns for spiritual growth and communication within the first years of married life.

Rocky and his staff would be glad to help any church desiring to expand their family ministry. For more information, contact Rocky at 901-452-6377 or write him at Second Presbyterian Church, 4055 Poplar Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee 38111.



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