There was so much going on at The Gathering conference last week that it was hard to catch up with everyone. While attending one of Matt Barnes coaching sessions on Friday, he mentioned the incredible back story of Tru. Intrigued, I asked Matt to tell me more and he was kind enough to call and give me the full scoop yesterday. Buckle your seat belt, it’s going to be a fun ride!
Looking For Something
It was 2008 and Matt had just come on staff at ROCKHARBOR. He was brought on to assist Michelle Anthony and his first major task was to find a new curriculum that centered more on the things ROCKHARBOR wanted to focus on, such as Spiritual Formation, experiencing God, the meta-narrative of the Bible, and making parents the primary spiritual leaders. Matt looked high and low and even though there were great elements to a lot of different curricula, there didn’t seem to be any one program that really fit the bill. Finally, after about three months of searching, he walked into Michelle’s office, ready to throw in the towel. He says, “I remember it very clearly. It was a Monday or Tuesday and I was standing in Michelle’s office explaining how I couldn’t find anything quite right.” She suggested writing our own, and I strongly counter-suggested that “No, that was definitely not a good idea.”
“It was probably our first disagreement,” he recalls. “Michelle and I see pretty eye-to-eye on things, so this was a major thing.” He told her the staff would rebel. People weren’t hired for this. They would quit. It was asking too much. It was too much work. It seemed, perhaps, that ROCKHARBOR was at a standstill.
A Meeting Arranged by God
Meanwhile, a woman named Marlene at David C. Cook had been talking with Michelle’s husband, Michael. They were friends and she had caught a bit of what Michelle was focusing on at ROCKHARBOR. Earlier that week, Marlene asked Michelle to to fly out to Colorado and share with the David C. Cook staff about her work and vision. Michelle told Matt about Marlene and David C. Cook during their meeting and even though Michelle was still a little blurry on what the whole trip was about, they agreed to postpone any curriculum decisions until she returned.
Over in Colorado, Michelle was planning on speaking during a 30 minute chapel service. She wasn’t entirely clear on what she was to talk about, so she just starting sharing her heart and vision and what she felt like the Holy Spirit was stirring up at ROCKHARBOR. She wasn’t prepared for the strong reaction she got. People started getting up and leaving — in order to get others from offices, saying things like “You’ve got to hear this!” Attendees were asking questions and getting very excited about the things Michelle was sharing. By the time the chapel service finally ended, Michelle had been talking for two and half hours. She was immediately whisked away to a meeting with 12 Cook executives who explained they had been feeling led in a new direction when it came to curriculum. Previously, they had creating curriculum in a vacuum. They want to find a church that was truly listening to the call of God so they could follow along in the journey.
They had been looking and praying for two and half years.
When Michelle started speaking in chapel that day, they knew, “This is it. This is what we’ve been praying for.”
They talked to Michelle about planting a team in ROCKHARBOR. They talked about creating resources alongside the ROCKHARBOR staff. They started asking Michelle about costs, projections, plans, ideas. She answered, but then quickly added, “Don’t write any of that stuff down! I don’t know what I’m talking about!”
That summer, it was meeting after meeting after meeting. Then some more meetings. Forget the beach. It’s time for another round table discussion!
Can We Really Do This?
The ROCKHARBOR team tried to think of every possible obstacle. Anything that could go wrong. They wanted to really think this thing through before diving into the deep end. After all, it’s one thing to write your own curriculum as a church. It’s quite another to go corporate and start writing curriculum that is going to other churches around the country (and as we saw at The Gathering 2012, eventually around the world!). Every roadblock the team put up, God knocked down. By the end of summer, everyone was saying, “Well, I guess we’re doing this!”
Matt was hired by David C. Cook as a liaison between ROCKHARBOR and themselves (he still works part-time for both). The new partnership team took a full nine months hammering out details and then solidifying the philosophy behind this new curriculum. They knew what they wanted for their own church, but what would it look like to replicate, duplicate, and transfer that same curriculum to other churches? What details would they need to include? What things would they have to consider?
What IS Family Ministry Anyway?
The staff at ROCKHARBOR held a meeting with 45-50 people who were already interested or involved in Family Ministry and Kids Ministry. ROCKHARBOR wanted to know what the average church needed. What they were looking for. It was shocking to find that a clear definition of family ministry was missing. One church said, “We knew that family ministry was becoming the new buzz word. We wanted to help families, so we changed our Children’s Pastor’s title to “Children and Family Pastor”, but beyond that, we didn’t really know what to do!” I can attest that this was a problem across the country. Many churches started to feel an urgency to include families more — to do more “family ministry”, but we weren’t really sure what that meant — how it fleshed out in every day circumstances.
ROCKHARBOR nailed down a few details with their definition of family ministry:
- Parents are the primary spiritual leaders (the church is secondary)
- The Holy Spirit does all the work
- We (the church) are here to create an environment where the Holy Spirit can move and parents are empowered
People immediately got it. Matt humbly remarked, “For some reason, God let us be on the forefront of this family ministry wave. It was really cool to see things coming together”.
I remember hearing all the buzz around family ministry. I remember when Shiftand Collaborate hit the shelves (in fact, Collaborate was the first kidmin book I ever pre-ordered!). My first posts on this blog when I launched it two years ago were about the Think Orange book by Reggie Joiner. Even still, we’re just beginning the process of making parents primary. At our church, we’re taking the first steps at creating a system to turn spiritual formation back over to the parents. And letting the Holy Spirit lead? Well, we’ve got a lot of work to do on that one!
We’re not the only church that is searching though. Matt explained, “We were TRYING to find someone else who was already doing this. We weren’t looking to start something new with this curriculum. We would have loved to find something that fit the bill, someone that was further down the road, but we kept coming up empty.”
God wanted Tru to happen. Matt laughs as he recalls, “I think initially the Tru curriculum was called New. We used that for about a month or two, but then we realized we wanted to be true to the context and content of Scripture, so Tru seemed like much more fitting title.”
“It’s shocking,” he continued, “how many of us have been taught incorrect details about Scripture. Like the story of Nebuchadnezzar and the giant statue. Once we were brainstorming as a team about writing this lesson, and all 15 of us realized that we had been taught incorrectly about this account. We were told that Nebuchadnezzar created a giant statue of himself, but if you check Daniel 3, that detail simply isn’t in there. We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen with Tru.”
The Seven Pillars and the Editing Process
ROCKHARBOR started developing the Seven Pillars of their ministry philosophy. Once those were in place, they started hashing out the lessons. “David C. Cook was amazing,” Matt explained. “They worked right with us, asking us what we would need to make the lesson works. We weren’t trying to be geniuses. We wanted to be creative, but we also wanted something that everyone could use.”
I, for one, was so impressed when I heard about the whole process of Tru. ROCKHARBOR is the Alpha-test church. They write the lessons and then test them out in their own classrooms. If something doesn’t work, they throw it out. The lesson goes through an editing process and gets sent to the 25 Beta churches. The Beta churches range in size from 15 kids in the program to 1500 kids (what a range!) They give feedback and then the lesson goes through an editing process again.
“We wanted any church to be able to use this curriculum,” Matt explains. “We want it to be production supported, but not production driven. If you’ve got an empty room with no props, we want you to still be able to use Tru.”
The Tru curriculum was truly developed in the midst of community. In addition to the feedback gained from the Beta churches, the comments left on the Tru forums get sent straight to the inbox of the developers of the curriculum.
“Of course,” Matt says, “we don’t want ministry in a box. We want Tru to be a tool. We want ministry leaders to get to know their own people — their kidmin volunteers and their parents — in order to use Tru most effectively.”
Matt explains that the partnership with David C. Cook has been amazing. If the leaders at ROCKHARBOR feel strongly about something — something they want to try or something they want to incorporate into the curriculum — the head honchos at David C. Cook give them the green light, even if it’s not always the best thing for “the bottom line”.
From my personal experience at The Gathering, the team at David C. Cook was nothing but personable, down-to-earth, and helpful. I was completely impressed and I was only with them for a few days!
“It’s been really amazing”, Matt concludes, “Tru has really changed all of us. The things that we’re learning about God as we work through “The Big God Story” have been so eye-opening and inspiring.”
Based on the stories I heard at The Gathering, it sounds like Tru is changing a lot of people. I know I’m excited to see what more the Lord has in store!