How did a church staff of 160 that today serves a congregation of 18,000 weekend attendees, move their culture from the lowland swamp of tension and toxicity to the high plateau where trusting colleagues are now laser-focused on transforming their city for Christ?
As you’ll see, the answer starts with the head pastor.
From 1982-1985, Miles McPherson played pro football with the NFL San Diego Chargers. During this time, he developed a cocaine addiction that reduced him to regularly visiting the seedy neighborhoods of San Diego to feed his habit.
After his second season, following a weekend-long drug binge, he called out to Jesus Christ, accepted Him, and stopped doing drugs in one day.
In 1986, Miles became a youth pastor and in 1991 he earned a Master of Divinity degree from Azusa Pacific University’s School of Theology.
In 2000, he felt called by God to start the Rock Church in San Diego. According to Outreach Magazine, the Rock has consistently been one of the nation’s fastest growing and largest churches, with over 20,000 people attending one of the Rock’s 21 Sunday services across 5 campuses and online.
In our recent one-to-one interview, Miles freely admitted the culture turnaround at the Rock Church has been anything but a cakewalk. His honest stories reveal how their flourishing culture makeover has better equipped and inspired the congregation to put God’s imprint of hope on their city. Listen to our conversation.
First, comes the hard stuff. “It was heartbreaking for me to read the survey responses of how some of our people really felt about their jobs at the church,” said Miles after church employees completed the BCWI Staff Engagement Survey in 2014:
- Culture strengths of diversity and leadership were accompanied by culture deficiencies of high turnover, outstanding talent, low trust, and overall lack of organizational momentum.
“Coming from a pro sports career of high accountability, where you as a player are constantly motivated to improve because your job depends upon it, it took some effort on my part to value and adapt to creating a workplace where people would be committed. I realized we were too goal focused and not focused enough on relationships. My experience in the NFL was all about winning and there was no investment in relationships and culture.”
If our church was going to reach our city for Christ, I realized my first job was to pastor our people in their work.”
Active listening led the culture transformation.
“If our church was going to reach our city for Christ,” said Miles, “I realized my first job was to pastor our people and what they needed in their work.
“I came around to believe that people need certain conditions to be productive.”
To that end, Miles and his senior leadership began to create a strategy that would prove foundational to their culture rebuild. Some of those key action steps include:
- Forming “CAT,” a Culture Action Team to feel the pulse of their staff culture and to address important issues.
- Doing away with a weekly staff meeting—which had turned into “an ugly reminder of dealing with bad news.” This paved the way for a new monthly all-staff format that has successfully engaged staff in worship, better equipped them through break-out training workshops and helped unify their people with compelling messages from city leaders.
Example: Miles recently interviewed the San Diego County Coroner who made the grim realities of suicide drug addiction more relevant for a church committed to better understanding the perilous underbelly of its city—in order to better serve the true needs of the marginalized with Christ’s love.
- Miles admits, his own transformation has set the tone for The Rock Church’s culture makeover.
“God called me to be a pastor. To achieve the ultimate goal to reach the people of your city, you first have to reach and pastor your own people. To be a light to your city, I first have to be a light to our staff.”
Four years after Miles and the senior leadership team first came to grips with a toxic culture, the Rock Church is now a flourishing workplace.
- Greater relational strength. Says Miles, “Mark Stevens, Executive Pastor of Operations at our Point Loma campus, has formed a close-knit team, which has brought a lot of peace, calm and unity that’s trickled down through the whole organization. The result is a culture of more clarity and more synergy without siloes.”
- Greater alignment. When you, as culture, align your behavior and thinking with God’s purpose, the health of your relationship with God and each other improves. It’s like going to a chiropractor who realigns your back. With less pinching of nerves, blood can flow more freely. In our re-aligned culture, there’s less disruption, so the Spirit of God flows more freely. When the message we send to each other flows more freely, the message we, as a church, send to our city flows freely.”
- Greater diversity and ministry impact. The Rock Church has a distinct cultural advantage of being the most ethnically diverse congregation among the 300 churches we have surveyed in our 16 years. Miles McPherson believes this fact can be a touchstone for racial reconciliation and unity, especially in light of his new book, The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation (see excerpt below).
“Honor is the one word that can bring hope to our racially divided nation, says Miles. Whatever the color of our skin is, the scientific research confirms we are 99.5 percent genetically identical. Even more importantly, we are 100% identical, because we are all made in the image of God.
“Because God values us, instead of being forced to oppose each other across political lines, we can honor the fact that God values each of us. And we can do this in our culture, our conversations, our neighborhoods, and our country, by honoring each other.”
Amen to that, pastor. Those words can preach.
It’s Your Turn!
What word or phrase, conviction or challenge from Miles, struck a positive chord in you that made you say, “Yes!” With whom would you like to share what you just read?
“You may despise racism, but it affects us all, whether we know it or not. It is a corruptor of the soul that degrades and devalues those who look different from us. When we allow racism into our hearts and society, we minimize the priceless value of God’s image in others, which limits our ability to honor, love, and serve them the way God calls us to.
Culture places a big role in perpetuating racism by wrongly insisting that there are only two options you can choose from: us or them. Culture pits one groups of people against another by promoting a zero-sum-game that says, ‘You must lose in order for me to win.’
God, however, offers us a Third Option that stands in stark contrast to the two offered by culture. God’s Third Option invites us to honor that which we have in common, the presence of His image in every person we meet. When we honor the presence of His image in others, we acknowledge their priceless value as precious and beloved of God. The Third Option empowers us to see people through God’s eyes, which enables us to treat them in a manner that honors the potential of His image in us.”
The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation
By Miles McPherson
Click here to learn more!