ORLANDO — World-renowned worship leader turned pastor William McDowell hosted his second annual Deeper Worship Intensive last week where he encouraged leaders to refrain from getting sucked into the "epidemic" of imitating others and should instead "stay hidden" in God in order to move in divine power.
“I have been sharing a weight and a burden for this gathering for months. DWI is one of the things that I know I was born for. So because of that, I carry the weight of this assignment,” McDowell told the hundreds gathered from several nations at the conference.
The Billboard-topping singer told the pastors and worship leaders gathered that he believes Christians are “either growing or dying, there's no in-between.” He said many people in leadership are emulating what other leaders are doing and they are not receiving from God on their own.
"What I see is that we have a lot of people imitating things that they see. I want to say imitation is not necessarily, inherently bad. It was Paul that wrote in 1st Corinthians twice, 1st Corinthians chapter four and in 1st Corinthians chapter 11, he said, 'Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.' There was a sentiment that there is an OK nature to imitation when it's done right,” McDowell stressed.
He added, “The problem is that there is a lifestyle that accompanies this call and the expectation of Heaven and the world as a result of this call. I'm going to endeavor to talk to us about Heaven’s expectation because I want you to know that there is a divine expectation for the gift you've been given.”
“There is something that we are required to do as a result of this gift that we've been given. So many of us do our best to imitate what we see. But I want to share something with you, the issue with imitation without a relationship with God is that it can lead to trouble and confusion. The greater problem with that, is that you won't discover what's in you or what's not in you until you are actually in the moment where you need it,” McDowell maintained.
“Here lies the problem with imitation, because if you’re imitating something that's not actually in you and you find yourself in a circumstance where you need it, you're going to have trouble,” he continued.
The Ohio native, who has five critically acclaimed albums, including his latest Billboard-topping album, The Cry, then quoted a story told by the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts chapter 19 in the Bible.
In this account, Paul shared how he was used mightily by God which even allowed him to transfer healing and deliverance to others by sending handkerchiefs as a point of contact. Then the story introduces seven others, named the sons of Sceva, who were just imitating followers of God and were overpowered by a demon because they had no authority in God for themselves.
"The issue with imitation without Christ's proximity or relationship is you can actually enter into a circumstance, or a situation, or a moment, or a service, or a time in which there is a requirement for what's supposed to be in you. But it's not actually in you because you've been imitating without relationship,” McDowell warned.
The 43-year-old minister said social media has heightened people’s ability to copy others only for the sake of showing one’s mountain top experience.
"We are the generation that loves to watch YouTube videos, and loves to watch live streams, and loves to buy videos and listen to music. We get up there and we close our eyes, but instead of worshiping, we're actually trying to imitate or pretend like we're the person we watched. … Completely not present to the moment, all trying to recreate that moment that's not even here. [That's] imitation,” McDowell maintained.
He looked out in the crowd and said, "Many of us are attempting to do this without genuine relationship and I want you to know, that the issue with that, is that you won't know that it's not in you until you need it,” he exhorted.
“Scripture says to us that the genuineness of faith is proven in trial. The genuineness of faith is not proven on the mountaintop. The genuineness of faith is proven in trials, which is to say to us that we won't actually know until we're in it.”
McDowell said "one of the major pitfalls of the social media age” is that it can potentially remove one of the most important and vital aspects of God's process, which, he said, is “preparation” developed by “hiddenness.”
"Hiddenness is a critical part of purification," he continued. "I understand that we're in a time now that we want everybody to see that we can do something, but our character is developed in the crucible of hiddenness."
Since McDowell launched his church five years ago, he testified that hundreds of people have had documented healing.
And in the interest of full disclosure, on Sundays this CP reporter attends McDowell’s Deeper Fellowship Church in Orlando, Florida.
On Sundays, lines wrap around the church building ahead of service and oftentimes people stay behind afterward to bask in the presence of God. McDowell credits that move of God to the personal devotion he and his leaders have to God, which, in turn, ushers in His presence and power.
"Experience in navigating uncertain and difficult waters its gained during the season of hiddenness. Social media gives us a window into the giftedness of a person but not the readiness of the gift. We are enamored by watching and imitating people that we see,” he reiterated.
"We have an epidemic in the body of Christ right now of people who are gifted but powerless. It's vitally important that we understand this because we are raising up, inviting, buying, we are streaming, doing a number of things to give to people [a platform] who are not ready.
"This is part of the paradox of worship. Self-denial and self-exaltation cannot coexist. It's either about Him or about you, but it's not about both. So it's important that many of us do not deny or refuse a critical part of God's process called hiddenness,” McDowell emphasized.
He encouraged leaders not to miss the critical part of God's process, which is to stay “hidden until you're ready.”
McDowell said hiddenness is essential for one’s preparation because it’s Heaven’s expectation of every believer. He referenced the confidence David had when facing Goliath in the Bible and said he was ready because he had stayed hidden with God while tending sheep and had previously defeated a lion and bear.
"Growth happens in private, you don't grow on stages. Experience can happen on stages, but not growth. The divine expectation on your life is that you grow, particularly, to those who have been given gifts. When you have been given a gift from God or by God, Heaven’s expectation is that you grow.
Giftedness does not mean maturity," he continued. "We can be very gifted and very immature. Your ability to prophesy does not mean maturity. Your ability to flow in word of knowledge does not mean maturity. It doesn't even mean you have a prayer life. It means that God loves His people so much that He will not allow you to stop Him from speaking. He's not using you because of you, He's using you despite of you."
He called growth by public encounter a “snare” and “hidden trap for a generation.”
"Trying to grow from a public encounter will lull you into a place of complacency, causing you to believe that you have a level of relationship with God that you don't actually have,” McDowell stressed.
"Corporate encounters are wonderful, but they alone can't sustain your walk with God. ... Having divine encounters should produce a greater commitment to the things of God, a deeper prayer life and a desire for the things of God and a devotional life.”
The leader ended his first session of the Deeper Worship Intensive by teaching from the book of Matthew where Jesus gave His disciples the authority to do miraculous things that they didn’t earn.
"Even though they were having encounters with Jesus, even though we're walking with Jesus, their faith had not grown, because somewhere between Matthew 10 and 17, their faith was dying. While gifted, while walking with Him, with no personal development of their faith at a level that caused them to grow,” McDowell said of the disciples.
“This is an epidemic that we have in the body of Christ right now. This is an epidemic that we have among worship leaders right now — leading worship and songs to a God they don't know,” he added, urging believers to self-evaluate their standing with God and commit to having one-on-one time with the Creator.
The Deeper Worship Intensive host asked attendees to recite Matthew 10:8, which states: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure the lepers, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!”
"Most of us resist Heaven’s process of growth because we live in an age by which we define growth by our mountaintop experiences. The way that you grow is counter-intuitive to Instagram,” he said, encouraging attendees to never trade their seasons of hiddenness for public recognition.
Deeper Worship Intensive was a four-day intensive for worship leaders worldwide that took place in partnership with North Central University. Each session began and ended with worship led by various artists including McDowell, his protegee Trinity Anderson, Travis Greene, David and Nicole Binion, and Steffany Gretzinger, among others.
Attendees who hailed from North America, the Caribbean, Europe and Africa were awarded a Professional Education Certificate in Worship Leadership signed by the president of the North Central University after completing the course.