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Spiritual covering

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…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
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?

Comments (35)

  • I have been struggling with this topic as of late. Jesus has opening my spiritual eyes up in a way that is new, overwhelming and exciting….. Anywho, this blog helped me in this area and I thank you Seth.
    Heather- So I know a boy named Devon Smith. He needs this spiritual covering and I have prayed that God would bring a male role model around to pray for him and disciple him…

  • Great post Seth! I have appreciated the spiritual covering of many men over the years. I have searched as well as to how this spiritual covering plays itself out in my life and the life of the Kingdom.

    I see that it has much to do with our growth from immature children to becoming spiritual parents .

    As children in our new found faith we are in great need to learn how to walk in the Kingdom, and have those that represent Jesus our true spiritual head to guide us in this. We just don’t have the knowledge of how to use our spiritual tools as infants in christ, these need to be modeled and taught by those that have walked with Jesus and proven faithful.

    But there has to be a time where Jesus alone of acts as our spiritual covering (head) and we become spiritual parents ourselves. Spiritual covering and authority is always abused when those in authority have as a goal to hinder spiritual children from growing to be independently dependent on Jesus.

  • My spouse is a founding pastor of a small ministry. He decided to receive a Covering. When he (and I in tow) went to them, the Covering said that they received prophecy that this was going to take place and that they believed that this was from God. When difficult situations arose within our church (some admittedly things mishandled by my pastor/spouse out of ignorance AND sin); at first the Covering said that they were in it for the long haul and that they believed that it was just the enemy trying to bring division. Afterward, we felt the burden to be perfect placed on us. The Covering and I spoke concerning this. The Covering’s answer was that they didn’t want their presence to be pressure, however their standards are high and they expect more of out us. Although I understood, I still found that this created distance among us. It was unsettling to me. So once night, I asked to speak with them to ask if everything was okay among us, but I was met with frustration and annoyance. While at first they claimed that we were okay, when I tried to explain the reasoning for my asking, I was constantly interrupted and told that we were not following instructions. Their last words: “It will always be this way. I’m not doing this. This is my last day.” Then they hung up the phone and have not verbally spoken to us since.
    I was sadden and confused by the whole thing. I even attempted to reach out to restore the relationship so that the enemy doesn’t win in causing division. No response.
    I began to blame my spouse for not doing what he was instructed to do and causing the trouble from the start. Then I began to blame myself for even making the call and stirring up the frustration. He replied that if people are saying that this is of God, then that is not how they are supposed to respond. So, here I am playing alternate advocate on both sides because I feel like I’m caught in the middle and trying to see things from every angle. It is sad that it had to end this way. I am concerned for our reputation (since of course now we are branded with “Disobedient” “Rejected”). I am also concerned for what this could do to our church. Most of all, I am concerned for how this has shattered my heart.
    Thanks for the article! It has opened my eyes. I solicit your prayers that God will restore and bring us the COUNSEL and FELLOWSHIP with other Christians that we need.

  • Are certain prayers more powerful because of a person’s authority over me? – Isn’t it the person’s heart alignment with the Fathers that matters, not who they are? I’m confident God doesn’t care whether it’s Mother Teresa or Devon Smith (whoever that is?) praying for someone, so long as they are hearing from the Lord and speaking out His heart.

    Thought provoking…

  • Heather- for what it is worth, I agree. In no small part from a later bit from Seth’s blog, “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.”

    Thanks, Seth.

  • Paul had Barnabas, Timothy had Paul; I think what we mean, (Our Christianize) by “Spiritual Covering” is someone that pulls us up, sharpens us, makes us look more like Jesus…

    We have put WAY to much on our “Spiritual Fathers” “Mentors” “Covering” we look to them for answers, not the HS!

    Remember, Paul and Barnabas parted ways for a decade because of John Mark… people, covering, mentors, fathers, mothers in the spirit are in our lives for a season, and as iron sharpens iron – no question we need MORE of this, but, we need to look like Jesus, not Seth!!! Ha… love you…

  • …thanks so much for this blog, Seth. I often hear people use the word “covering” around here and while I can make assumptions of what they mean, I was never quite sure where they got the idea. So. Now I’m a little closer to understanding.

  • I was a casualty of the “Shepherding Movement” in the late 70’s. We were told that our group leader was our spiritual covering and that what he said (it was never a she) was what we were to obey, even of we felt something different in our spirits. It caused my first marriage to dissolve and for me to become a “prodigal” for about 10 years. Praise God, that prodigals get second chances!

    We need to be careful not to pigeonhole a belief system into absolutes. It’s not always cut and dry. Things change as you grow up in Christ. There have been seasons of my life where I cannot imagine surviving without spiritual mentors. I think this is the case with anyone who is spiritually immature. Once you learn to hear Him, anyone and anything can speak into your life with authority. Jesus IS the head of his church. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. I think Paul said it well here:

    “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

    Ephesians 4:15-16

  • **mArC** The Schifano Tribe

    I agree with Glenn. I have a sort of Band of Brothers that speak into each others lives etc, but none of us would ever try to pull rank. There is no rank/hierarchy in The Body. I know without my Brothers In Arms, I’d be in trouble. The whole “Who Are You Accountable To/ Who Is Your Covering?” question, I believe we all just answered that above, Jesus.
    Thanks Seth.

  • Seth I am so glad you brought up this topic… and looked up its biblical relevance.
    For years I have heard Christians mention and bring up this topic, and they usually say it with such great authority that I, and probably everyone else around, just assumes it is true. Another thing I have noticed is that they bring it up when someone feels the Lord leading them to step out and serve in some way. Its like they are basically saying, “uh… YOU can’t do that.. you don’t have the authority to”… The resulting effect is the person who was passionate about stepping out radically begins to question that they even DID hear from God themselves… and can feel “rebellious” or like a naughty child for even having thought of such actions. And usually the desire to step out is quenched…. and the work they were perhaps called by the Spirit to do never gets done.
    I know because it happened to me a few times…. times when I stepped away from mission, feeling silly that I thought God had put something on my heart….. and a time when I didn’t.
    The time when I didn’t led to a two year ministry in my home where the Word of God got out to various youth from various churches…. who then learned to worship passionately, and most everyone’s faith came alive and personal relationship with their God grew in leaps and bounds.
    Not because what I did, but because He met us there every time ….
    All I did was not believe the church leaders and others who told me it was inappropriate to meet without a “covering”….. I followed thru with what God put on my heart to do…and He blessed richly.
    I am now more confident than ever that He desires to speak to, lead, and use each of us in His great commission.

  • I think Christians assume this idea of an “umbrella of authority” or covering is biblical, but it’s actually very unbiblical. We can’t take confusing Scriptures like the Hebrews passage and try to use them to undermine the main narrative of Scripture which shows us a kinship of all people, Jew, Greek, male, female, slave and free. The true gospel is that none of those things define us, and while there might be opportunity for someone to be in a place of influence in a church (what most people would call “authority”) their influence is clearly, from the example of Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve, meant to be used to empower the saints and not lord it over them.

    We need to learn to be a family, brothers and sisters in Christ, with Jesus as our head. And no one has special access to Jesus. Authority and power is how the world works. Subversion and insurrection is how the kingdom works.

  • This subject is often on my mind and still leaves me with questions and/or longings. Paul spoke about his authority as an apostle. A lot of Christendom reject apostles today, I believe, in a way God designed. Those who do go by the name of apostles today don’t live or look remotely like Paul or the other apostles. Then they were the “scum of the earth”, lovers of their fellow believers in ways I have not seen or experienced, persecuted and laying down their lives in order to see Christ formed in others. It’s difficult to respond to “spiritual authorities” who don’t know or care much for your spiritual well-being or journey. So, with our present system, what do we do? There are so many deficits of close, loving relationships and resulting trust.

    Yet, on the other hand, what does “obey your leaders” mean? I hear some say that you only have the authority that one gives to you. So is it only subjective and not objective reality? Do I only receive from you until I disagree with you or not like what you say? Even when you have proven your love?

    Seth, you brought up one tough subject for our American church culture! As Americans, we do like our independence and “freedom.” There is so much mix in this bag, on both sides, ….I’m still having to study and ponder this one!


  • i struggled with this concept on the race at times. definitely good to submit to authority no question about that, but what happens when authority makes a decision that goes against what the Lord is saying in my Spirit or in the Spirit of those around me. Covering – good. Power struggle using spiritual covering – no bueno.

  • Shepherding is still active in the area I live in.So much so that we do not go to church locally. We see it everyplace here-people just move in fear if they don’t have a covering-my family have pulled away from this teaching and are very careful about where we go to church at and who we have in our lives. It is a good feeling to be free from the control and manipulation involved in the spiritual abuse cycle. Anyone pulling away from it actually goes through withdrawals and it does take about a year to really get the mind cleared from the thinking that goes along with the teaching.Sad thing is most of the teaching is not upfront so it is hard to figure out what you are in until you get out and begin to be able to see. We thought we were going crazy but it was the manipulation and when we got away from it could begin to see what it was. healing takes time and to trust someone again takes time .Thanks for the info here-it is right on.

  • I also was ignorant of this “Covering” concept and can say suffered greatly under leadership which caused me to question it. I had to approach the LORD with an open spirit wanting to learn with many question’s etc.. The LORD led me to not so much focus on the terminology but to focus on spiritual truth. The LORD had to really deal with me cause my natural responce was to run and not except even though I wanted to know what the truth was. I feared it being true and not being able to go under leadership to trust if they are processed thruly to be in that position. The LORD had me focus on the word “FATHER” which I doubt many will debate. Even though the word covering is mentioned in the word as being under someone, group as to be protected from something. And good to note God as using the word.

    ISA 30:1

    Woe to the rebellious children, says the LORD, that take counsel, but not from me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin:

    They chose to be protected or covered by another people being Egypt. But the emphasis in scripture is FATHERING.

    For some reason covering equates control in the mindset of these leaders and is very sad. Anyway’s I have learned through that experience of being under a covering. I am interested in not so much a covering (controler) but a Father to be connected to which bring’s much benefits. I currently am not under leadership but am accountable to other minister’s. I trust many will get peace from the LORD concerning this concept in time. May the LORD bless you.

  • I agree. A reason and a season. Our ultimate gaol is for Jesus to be our covering. When I was a child i spake as a child.

  • Enjoyed the information. If you remove your membership from a church, but still visit that church and other churches to. Are you from out under the covering of the church since you choose to not belong to any particular one.

    • Again, we don’t see the concept of “covering” in the Bible. Just like we don’t see the idea of “church membership” as we see it in a lot of denominational churches.

      What we do see is covenantal relationships that comprise a church.

  • Exactly, JoAnn. I think as soon as someone mentions covering our thoughts automatically go to leadership accountability and authority of those over us. Although there is a place for that and rightly so, covering comes for God, and the concept is both deep and wide. There is an element of our understanding that he been stunted, but good is taking us being the veil. The answer is coming.

  • I left my church of 26 years about 18 months ago. I felt controlled and manipulated for most of my time there. Because my husband and daughter seemed content there, I didn’t quit. As soon as my sons became teenagers, they both quit going.
    Since I left I can’t seem to connect with or even find a church with the freedom in the Spirit that I now seek. The Father awakened my spirit 5 years ago and now I hear His voice and have a hunger for freedom in worship and moving in the gifts of the Spirit and learning about the Father and moving in the supernatural. I felt the Lord leading me into a prophetic intercessory calling which feels so right. It has been confirmed by several people who don’t even know me.
    I can’t find a church, so I haven’t gone for 3 months. My friend said that she was fearful for me because I am not ‘submitting’ to my husband and don’t have a church; ie I don’t ‘have a covering’. I mulled this over and asked Holy Spirit and kept hearing that He is my covering. I understand accountability, but I won’t join a church I can’t connect with just to be ‘accountable and covered’.

  • That’s good, Alita. Yes, you need a church. And yes, you need connection. But you don’t need someone who will manipulate or hurt you.

  • This comment blessed me. I went through the same thing. How are things coming along after all these years sister? Is it also possible to get in touch with you. Bless you

  • I accidentally hit the delete button.
    You can reach me at christine owens-huck on facebook, if you like.
    God Bless.

  • I enjoyed the article and comments on “Covering” immensely. This is an area/ subject that has to be revealed. The Holy Spirit is our covering. Man can’t cover us. We have to get in the secret place of the most High God, then we are covered and can go in and out safely and peacefully rest because we are in his arms. In 1982, I was attending a service on Memorial Day when I heard the Lord speak to me in the mist of all that was going on there, to say I had been without a covering, but that night I had received my covering and that I was protected from the wolf. He could not snatch me out. Had I not been covered, I was open to being snatched out by the wolf. You can’t protect yourself. You have to be under the protection of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who leads and guides and is the Spirit of Jesus, the Christ who died for us. I was in a traditional church listening to preaching that was so scriptural but the Holy Spirit opened my ears to hear. Jesus in John said my sheep hear my voice. I clearly heard the voice of the Lord that night telling me how I had always protected my self and that when you protect yourself you are open to being snatched out by the wolf. But if you have a covering (protection) the wolf can’t pull you out. Even the use of the words ( the wolf, was scriptural). When we are looking for men, leaders, pastors, etc., or them searching for us, don’t look on them, look on their heart so you can see what is in them. Looking on the heart means look for the Fruit of the Spirit operating in them or not. God will show you their spirit.

  • There are spiritual coverings in the bible. If looking for “covering” that is what you will find “covering”
    It’s given for those He put in place. Its not written for non-Christians. We are so we look for what the spirit tell us. Now..
    Please explain the role of Moses and even before him,Abraham and After that Elijah and Elisha. The meaning that God does not reveal anything but first through his prophets. Why would He,in Genesis, confer if He should tell Abraham their plan to destroy Sodom.Why does He say that if Abraham prays for them God will listen. Don’t you think Lot was praying? God heard but He didn’t move on that prayer. But Abraham’s prayer, God moved on! Yes, some prayers move God and others don’t. Not all intercessors “pray for you”.

    Back to Moses- all the people under Moses, could definitely go directly to God. Aaron and Miriam said they could do it themselves.and bam! leprous on her for talking out of turn. ONLY Moses prayer saved her. The people asked to hear from God Himself, but didn’t like it when He did speak. He gave them Moses to intercede for them, to lead them. He spoke to Moses and Moses in turn, spoke to them. Yes God answers our prayers when we speak directly to Him, YES. and He is our ultimate head and covering, but He put these leaders in place. (Eph 5) to be our ‘covering’. And He put them there for a purpose. He gives us a place to worship (Deut 12). Not we find it ourselves. The Holy Spirit guides us to find it. and He speaks through His servants- He anoints and ordains for that purpose so we can hear and gain Faith.
    Faith comes by hearing the Word of God and how can we hear if not from a preacher, and how can we hear if he was not sent? (by God- not just decided to go to school and preach) not to manipulate and HOARD over, but lead in God’s love, With true Word from the bible and hearing from God.
    They are human so we depend on God for wisdom, but we listen and obey and check their character. follow them as they follow Christ. They are our spiritual covering on the earth and Jesus is in Heaven.
    Jesus is all powerful so go to Him and Trust in Him- sure. But some prayers move Him and others are answered differently through other people..People- Men will disappoint that means you will disappoint yourself and others, but Grace and the Blood cleanses us and Jesus will never forsake us.
    In heb 13-17, it says that leaders He put over us, have to give an account for us- they watch over our souls. They have to tell the Lord how they shepherd us, how were they as spiritual coverings. so if we look for the word “covering” you will find “covering” That is not all they are. its the word we gave them and words mislead. So covering is not biblical. But who they are in our lives is. and their prayers move God when ours don’t move Him to act when we want. He answers all though! But again what Elijah said God honored. but not the other prophets. When Moses spoke God acted right away.God trusted Abraham’s word and heart. There!
    Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and He will tell you all things, then ask your Apostle or Pastor (spiritual leader or cover) and he will confirm what the Spirit tells you. i.e., if you are one of his sheep. God will tell him in his spirit.

    I like your blog. Thanks for the enlightenment. Lets read the word and it will come alive in our hearts. He will lead us to all Truth.

  • what a word your blog hit it and didn’t miss it, i was in prayer for my leader today a strong woman of god, and google a concern issue on covering , and well it direct me to this page… not only did it enlighten me it lead me to make a even more powerful prayer sat aside my needs prayer schedule for her, and on top of that, we or studying on Faith use it or lose it… meaning faith of gift.. then on top of that your internals or as of my leader,, just wow,, please stay writing and blogging on reference of demand,, need more true to word peeps like yourself.. God Bless…THXS!

  • Hi Seth thx for this info as it has given us insight of this topic which is sensitive to many Ps where I come frm. I agree with u that its more manipulation in some cases than anything which is a form of witchcraft. Its abt keeping membership that ties in with finance. Not saying we must not bring tithes & offerings etc but it seems to revolve around that too. I was blocked frm a chat group for saying that people need to stop running to Ps for prayer every time & depend on the Holy Spirit to lead them. We need to grow & stop acting like babies. I am an evangelist.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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