I was having a conversation yesterday about the concept of spiritual covering and I realized, I really don’t know much about it.
Yes, I’d grown up in a home where Bill Gothard’s teachings
about spiritual covering placed me under an umbrella that my dad apparently held over my mom, sister and I. But that didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense and hadn’t worked out well insofar as it discouraged any kind of dialogue about questionable issues. I was a curious boy and it shut me down.
So I looked up spiritual covering in the Bible and, lo and behold, found nothing. Technically that means the term is not “biblical” insofar as it is not found in the Bible.
In fact, the only time I found covering
mentioned in the New Testament was in 1 Corinthians 11
: “if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.” So that wasn’t helpful.
But the rest of the chapter did talk about the related concept of “headship” when it says “I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:3
So Jesus is our “head” and we know the Holy Spirit is our counselor. The issue seems to hinge on the Bible’s teaching about authority. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls” says Hebrews 13:7
. How do you do that and allow Jesus to be your head and the Holy Spirit to be your counselor?
It turns out there was a group of people back in the ’70’s who tried to answer this question by starting something that later became known as the Shepherding Movement
. Their idea was that we need to be in accountability relationships and therefore should find a shepherd to look out for us and give us spiritual protection. When we find the right shepherd, he becomes our covering.
The Shepherding Movement blew up when its leaders became controlling. And therein lies the rub. We need accountability structures, but we have to ask the Holy Spirit to lead us.
Without accountability, I may become a law unto myself, running amok spiritually and leading my followers down crazy paths. But all human beings ultimately are going to disappoint, so Jesus is our ultimate covering. We go to him for protection, not men.
It can be confusing. Can someone in authority spiritually protect you, and if so how? Certainly if someone is praying for my protection, I appreciate it. But anyone can do that for me. I have a number of intercessors who “cover” me that way. That leads to another question: Are certain prayers more powerful because of a person’s authority over me?
I also have guys that I check with about key decisions. Andrew Shearman, for example, is a man I consistently look to for wisdom. He has been through the fire – tested so many times and yet still standing. I trust his decision making. If I have blind spots, he often will see them. And in that sense, he covers me.
But there are times when Andrew and I disagree. And there are others who I look to for wisdom. Ultimately I have to stand before God and account to him and him alone for my actions. I’m pretty sure the debrief we have of my life will hinge on the way I tried to love people.
I don’t know that there’s a black and white answer. As with so many spiritual questions, God seems to want for us to live in the mystery – the tension between accountability to those in authority over us and accountability to the Spirit.
Who are you accountable to – who gets to ask you the tough questions that keep you in check? When do you submit and when do you not submit to them?