On the final evening of the HTB Leadership Conference in London last night, US pastor and author of 'The Purpose Driven Life' Rick Warren addressed the 6,000 strong-crowd gathered with a stirring call to build "purpose driven, not personality driven" churches.
Interviewed by HTB vicar Nicky Gumbel, Warren began by declaring that the growth of the global Church gives us "every reason for hope".
"God created the universe because he wanted a family, and we will be so forever," he said. "1,000 years from today there won't be a Microsoft, an Apple, or many of the nations in existence today. But no matter what happens – as long as Jesus hasn't come back – there'll still be a Church."
Prompted by Gumbel, he then offered some advice on marriage, sharing that he and his wife Kay – who co-founded Saddleback Church in Orange County, California – were engaged just eight days after their first date.
"For a strong marriage, you have to be friends with God. A lot of people want to be known as a warrior for God, a soldier for God or a leader for God, but I want to be a friend of God! Moses, Abraham and David were all friends of God; and it's the starting point of any good marriage.
"It takes three to make a marriage. Friendship with God must precede friendship with your spouse."
Perhaps the most impassioned segment of discussion, however, came as Gumbel asked Warren to share what mistakes he would like the next generation to avoid.
"Don't marry after the first date," Rick immediately responded, which resulted in much laughter from the crowd.
"No, my prayer is: don't fall in love with the para-church, fall in love with the Church.
"There are around 48,000 para-churches in the US, and anyone who gets an idea to start a ministry doesn't start it in church; they start it on their own. Often the best brains and the best money go outside the Church, and some amazing ministries have been started, but 'Rick Warren Ministries' won't last – the Church will last.
"Not that there is a Rick Warren ministries," he hastened to add.
Warren then shared the importance of loving the Church, and committing to the community that it offers through generosity, hospitality and service.
"There are so many problems and weaknesses in the Church, but we've still got to love it, like we would a spouse; the Church is the bride of Christ.
"The biggest mistake I see today is serial dating rather than getting married to the bride of Christ. A lot of people want to date the Church, or live with the Church and use the Church, but don't love it. You cannot be like Jesus until you love the Church," he declared.
"It's like if someone said 'I like you but I just can't stand your body' – you'd be offended. Jesus is offended when you say I don't need the Church.
"What use is a hand that is disconnected from the body? Or an eye? Or an ear? It's no use. You cannot be used by God until you get connected to the Church the way he wants you to be."
Rick concluded the evening by sharing the five purposes of the Church as modelled in Acts chapter 2; a useful tool for those gathered in the Royal Albert Hall and HTB Brompton Road – most of whom were involved in leadership within a church, business or ministry context.
"Worship is the first purpose of your life; loving God with all your mind, soul and spirit," he said. "God is a lover, and he wants you to love him back."
Ministry, evangelism, discipleship and incorporation were then identified as the final four purposes. "If we're not going into the world and meeting those with sores, who are in pain and hurting, and taking up our crosses then I doubt our Christianity," he said.
"We are to celebrate God's presence and demonstrate his love."
Warren added that many churches struggle to give equal weight to all five of these, noting that those that the pastor is particularly gifted in tend to be given greater priority.
"That's the difference between being purpose driven and personality driven," he said.
"Last year [following the death of his son, Matthew] was the worst year of my life. I was in agony, and I didn't preach, read or do anything in our Church for a third of the year. And it was Saddleback's best year in terms of growth; we grew by 4,000 people.
"That's because it's not a personality driven church, but a purpose driven church. We bring people in, build them up, teach them how and send them out – it's not a ministry built on me. If I die the church will keep going!
"You judge a church's health not on its seating capacity, but on its sending capacity. Not by how many people sit in the auditorium, but how many are sent on to the mission field. You don't judge an army by how many eat in the mess hall, but on how many are out there on the front line."
Warren's final words were inspired by the story of the burning bush found in Exodus 4, where God asks Moses: "What is in your hand?"
"That's the most important question you'll ever be asked," Warren asserted. "When God asks you a question it's not for his benefit, he already knows the answer! He wanted Moses to know what was in his hand."
The preceding miracle, which sees Moses throw his shepherd's staff on the ground and it become a snake, before picking it up and it turning back into a stick, offers us the opportunity to learn the vitality of giving all we have over to God, Warren concluded.
"The staff represents three things: Moses' identify (his vocation, his calling, who he is as a shepherd), his influence (he would uses the staff to move his sheep around) and his income (in those days wealth was all tied up in animals)," he noted.
"The lesson we learn here is that we have to surrender all three of these. God was saying 'If you do, I will make it come alive and do miracles you never imagined. But Moses, every time you pick it back up, it'll turn into just a stick again'.
"And from that point on, it's never again referred to as Moses' staff. It's called the rod of God – it doesn't belong to Moses anymore. It's the rod of God that Moses puts in the river which turns to blood, it's the rod of God which splits the red sea and it's the rod of God which splits the rock at Massah.
"What's in your hand?" Warren asked his captive audience. "What is your identity, your income, your influence? If you hold onto it, it's just a stick. But surrender it to God and he'll do miracles you never even imagined."
The conference concluded with prayer ministry and upbeat sung worship, as well as the announcement that next year's conference will feature Joyce Meyer and Franciscan Capuchin Catholic Priest Father Raniero Cantalamessa.
As those gathered dispersed to their various churches and nations, worship leader Ben Cantelon tweeted: "What an inspiring couple of days at @LeadConf I always go away knowing the church is alive, vibrant and beautiful. So encouraging! #LC14".
"Thank you so much @RickWarren @KayWarren1 & everyone involved for an amazing 2 days at #LC14," added Nicky Gumbel.
Watch highlights of the conference here. Talks will be available online from May 20.