Why Pastors, Elders, & Husbands Are Not Your “Spiritual Covering”


When I first began blogging and doing ministry online, I wrote something controversial on Facebook (imagine that).  What I wrote offended one of my friends, and she asked me who my “spiritual covering” was.

In some recent movements in the Christian world, a “spiritual covering” is a person who supposedly has more spiritual authority than other Christians – normally a pastor, elder, or priest of some sort. I was taken aback by the question and at that point I did not know the biblical answer, so I wrote back and said,

“My dad is my spiritual covering. He has been a pastor and mentor my whole life.”

My answer makes me cringe now, because it’s not true.

The truth is that the Bible never mentions the need for any sort of “spiritual covering” to do ministry or to make life decisions. The idea of Christians needing a “spiritual covering” originated in the 1970s, out of the charismatic movement.

Many pastors, elders, and husbands have used the idea to manipulate, control, and spiritually abuse less knowledgeable and more vulnerable Christians.

Often, 1 Peter 5 is used to support the need for Christians to submit to their pastors, elders, and husbands as their “spiritual covering.” In the text, Peter is encouraging church leaders to care for their congregation, but there is no indication that leaders have more “spiritual authority” than other Christians.

Rather, there is indication that church leaders have been given a sort of “earthly authority” to do their job and Peter clearly writes, “Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3).” A godly leader leads by example and never seeks to control others.

“Spiritual authority” comes from the Holy Spirit who lives within every Christian (1 Corinthians 3:16). The Holy Spirit that lives inside of one’s pastor or elder is the same Holy Spirit that lives inside of all Christians.

Therefore, every Christian has an equal amount of “spiritual authority” to minister to the world and to make their own life decisions, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

Jesus commissioned and empowered all of us when He said,

“Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages. They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed (Mark 16:15-18).”

God calls and equips certain Christians to be pastors, elders, evangelists, prophets, apostles, teachers, deacons, etc., but these are earthly roles, and the type of authority these leaders hold are no different than the authority a political leader holds or a manager at McDonald’s holds.

God certainly calls Christians to respect earthly authorities (Romans 13:1) and to seek out their godly guidance and wisdom (Proverbs 11:14; Proverbs 5:11-14); but ultimately, we are accountable to God alone (Romans 3:19), and we need only God’s approval to move forward in whatever we sense God calling us to do (2 Timothy 2:15).

Jesus Himself speaks against over-the-top earthly authority in Matthew 20:25-28. The Scriptures always point believers towards mutual submission and to Jesus alone as our “spiritual authority.”

In the Old Testament, only priests were permitted to enter God’s presence, which was called the “Holy of Holies.” The “Holy of Holies” was the core chamber of the inside of the sanctuary of the Jewish Temple. This small room was separated from the outer chamber by a heavy and thick curtain.

Only those who were considered “high priests” could enter the “Holy of Holies” on the Day of Atonement. These high priests went through a rigorous purification process before they entered, continuously sacrificing animals for their sin and being sure to obey the Torah (Old Testament Law) to the letter. If a high priest went behind the curtain, without being completely pure before God, it was thought he would die.

This tells us that God cannot stand to be in the presence of sin. Yet, it is evident throughout the Bible that God desires to have a relationship with humans.

This presented a problem, since all humans are sinful to some degree. So, as we know, God became flesh (John 1:14), so God Himself could die for all of humanity’s transgressions. Jesus became the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and made it so anyone (John 3:16-18) who accepts Him as their Savior, is seen as pure in the eyes of God.

In other words, when God looks at Christians, He does not see sin anymore. No, friends, we are covered with the blood of Christ from head to toe, and we have been made spotless and blameless as children of God (1 John 3:5; Romans 8:1).

You see, something extraordinary happened the moment Jesus took His last breath on the Cross – the curtain that stood between humans and God was ripped down the middle.

“At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart (Matthew 27:51).”

Now, this was no ordinary curtain. It is likely that this curtain was about 60 feet in height and about 30 feet in width, and four inches thick. So, it is obvious that no human ripped the curtain in half. God ripped the curtain in half, and exposed the “Holy of Holies.” We no longer need a “high priest” to enter God’s presence for us.

The author of Hebrews says,

“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most (4:16).”

We don’t have to be afraid any more. We can enter God’s presence boldly, with all of our dirty sin, and the grace of Jesus Christ will cover us and show us mercy. We need no “spiritual covering” to enter God’s presence, to teach the Bible, to minister to others, or to make life decisions.

In fact, the Bible calls all Christians “a priesthood of believers.”

“And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God (1 Peter 2:5).” 

Therefore, no priest, pastor, elder, deacon, or any minister has any more “spiritual authority” than lay Christians. We all have equal and direct access to God and the only “spiritual covering” we need is Jesus Christ.


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  • My husband and I have grown up Southern Baptist and were never aware that there was another side to the complimentarian argument. We’ve been studying it recently and have received some backlash in our church for it. What originally caused us to look into it more was the realization that our relationship was more egalitarian, after 7 years of marriage we have never once come to the ultimatum where my husband had to make the final decision which we were always told was the pinnacle of the complimentarian marriage. We were just reading yesterday 1 Peter 5 where it speaks about women wearing head coverings to show their husband to be the covering. It’s made very clear in that passage that before Christ, a women’s covering was indeed her husband but now that we’re “in the Lord” (post Christs return) our covering is now Christ.

  • Bless you…beautifully written and well argued. We are His children and we do not need an intermediary!

  • Spiritual Covering talk was spread through Women’s Aglow and also the Sheperding movement of the 60s and 70s. Women’s Aglow opened up leadership to women in many new ways back then but they really emphasized the whole ‘covering’ thing.

      • Your piece is well written and you made some great points. I my self am a Pastor, and believe there is a line I should not cross, I am to manage the ministries of the church but not their lives; and yes their are those that abuse their place in leadership. But I do have some concerns about the article. My dad was a pastor as, well and believed in the spiritual covering strongly and taught me what it is really about. It is not about dogma or control it is about accountability, you see today I would not want anyone ministering behind the pulpit that came without the backing of their pastor and church, if they did not allow their Pastor and church to hold them accountable. The key word is allow not forced into it.
        As you pointed out God’s word tells us to be submissive to one another. To be submissive is to be accountable. This is the true meaning of spiritual covering. See God gave Pastors which means God has a plan which includes submission or accountability. in Acts 5 we see that God’s holy Spirit Killed Tow people a Husband and Wife for Lying to Him (Holy Spirit). But here is the kicker God used a Man to hold them accountable. It was Peter that asked why have you lied to the Holy Ghost for this the feet of these men will carry you out, and he died. Wow that’s crazy God killed them for sinning. Note this is after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God still cant stand sin in his presences.
        So no Control is not the spiritual covering: but a Covering is needed nonetheless. God Bless and I hope you don’t hold this against me: But if you are offended, please Know I prayerfully consider my response.

        • I am not offended, but the idea of a “spiritual covering” is simply not biblical and the fruit of the idea has been mostly toxic. I hope you will study further. God bless your church! 🙂

        • Pastor I tend to agree with, I understand that with every position of authority there will always be abuse of authority however that does not mean that it is not the design of God. Authority established in the earth is for accountability. I do believe that as you said a spiritual covering is one of accountability. Lucifer did not want to submit himself to God’s authority. There must be an authority figure, of course Christ is our High Priest, however, that does not mean we are not required to submit to the appointed authority figure in our life. How do we know who has earthly authority over us. Father-son, John 12:49, Teacher-Student, Matthew 4:24-25, Master-disciple, Luke 6:40, Eli-Samuel 1 Samuel 3: 5-9, Husband-Wife, Ephesians 5:22-33, Government-People, Rom 13:1-2. Consequences of lack of accountability to a higher earthly authority, because this is God appointed when we stray away from this level of accountability there are consequences. We go back to Lucifer when he thought that he no longer needed to submit to God’s authority and thought himself equal to or greater than his creator he was cast out of heaven, the prodigal son, who thought that he deserved his inheritance before time and went out on his own was considered dead until you returned back to his father who was still alive and declared that he sinned against him, he suffered as a result of his pride and was only restored when he returned to his father’s house, husband and wife, when Eve thought it right to take it upon herself to break a command that was given, under her own authority she was cursed that she must submit to her husband’s rule, when Ananias and wife Sapphiras according to Acts 5:1-11 decided to go against what the authority they served under and do their own thing they died. Even Christ said He came to do the will of His Father. Every word is for our edification and there is a reason why God shows us why we must submit to some form of earthly authority. Romans 10:13-15. As believers we submit to the Word, John 1:1, we cannot separate the word from Christ. Remember we know which authority to submit to based on the word of God, but when you refuse to be led by that authority because you believe God is speaking to you, check the spirit, God does not go against His word. We must be careful not to use the Word to cause people to stumble. You will see the result of your disobedience. We must submit ourselves one to another. Two is better than one. The witness of two is better than one, for every level of authority, the Father witness for the son, teacher for their student, husband for their wife. I do believe that this article is telling in the struggles that comes about because of abuse of authority which leave people feeling some kind of way but despite that we submit ourselves to the word of God and bring our petition before the father and use the word to hold each other accountable. Blessings

  • My husband and I came out of the Shepherding movement, but it was not until years after that we began to see the depth of the error and how truly oppressive it is. In addition to the damage it has done to lives and marriages, I find it very sad that it has wormed its way into so many other churches. Those teachings are insidious, and churches that once warned believers against the movement now embrace many of those very teachings — and have, in fact, taken some of it even further. The “need” for a “spiritual covering” is only one of the detestable teachings that have stolen life and freedom from many in the body of Christ and brought sincere believers into bondage.

    • Raised as a child in that movement, I’m glad my parents taught me to celebrate what was good, and somehow managed to steer us clear of the bad, eventually leaving as a family. So sad to learn of so many hurt lives.

  • I agree. I would say the real question is a matter of accountability. That sounds like I’m referencing control or domination or authority. I’m not. Accountability means as Christians are we open to receive truth? Many people have gotten into serious error because they exclude themselves from fellowshipping with anyone and hide themselves away with their special “revelation”. Paul the Apostle of Grace sought out counsel early on in his ministry (Gal 1). Being open to council from mature believers is healthy. As far having to check for approval to do something the Lord is instructing you to do is weird. That sounds like control.

    • Yes, accountability is needed, for sure. But, it must be someone who has earned the right to speak into another’s life through a loving and trusting relationship. Thanks for reading, John! 🙂

      • Yes it is relationship-based and has to be invited, not imposed upon. I happily ask someone I love, respect and trust for input or advice when having to make a large decision, and that person may be a friend or someone younger. It doesn’t mean I have to do what they say, but I see Gods wisdom in them and take them seriously. But as for this ‘ covering ‘ stuff, it can be dangerous. I’ve been under it before, never again.

  • I’ve heard people talk of this as if their “spiritual covering” provides them some additional protection. It never feels right when I hear that. I suspect that somewhere along the way it was language used to speak of the benefits of receiving counsel, gentle correction and practical guidance from a wise mentor but seems to have drifted off into something not found in the Bible. Enjoyed this post so much! Thank you for sharing!

      • Great read. It brings to mind a verse I believe is for today. “The Lord gives the command; The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host: “Kings of armies flee, they flee, And she who remains at home will divide the spoil!””
        ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭68:11-12‬ ‭NASB‬‬
        Women you are to be an amazing army of highly effective preachers. Rise up, for your time is now.
        God bless.
        Rev. Mike

  • The idea of “spiritual covering” may also have some roots in the “umbrella of authority” teaching that Bill Gothard began preaching some years ago in his basic seminars.

  • In a healthy growing spiritual household, there will emerge from within its members, individuals who will carry the qualification of an elder based on the criteria as set out in the Scriptures [Titus 1:5 and onwards]. Jesus rebuked the “Compromising Church” in Pergamos who literally killed His faithful martyr Antipas [Antipas = “like the father”] and put Satan himself in Antipas’s seat of “spiritual covering”. There is only One Father of all the families in heaven and on earth, and the Scriptures maintain that the senior elder functions as a representative father of the heavenly Father. Further the senior elder should LOVINGLY, SELFLESSLY, and UNAMBITIOUSLY lead the flock. In this respect, the senior elder plays the role of spiritual father over the household or households of God.

  • Thank you for posting. In a church for 5 years now and this is the term used. We cannot go to another’sbible study or the pastor ask others to find out what people are doing in the congregation and report back to him. I was even told when to stop nursing my baby and put her in a schedule so they can have a cell group in our home. The worship is great, just like when I worship along with a cd. But the preaching seems odd:/ it’s the same thing over and over. The pastor is always gone on political issues. And they treat everyone as if they (the leaders) are filled with demons and lower than them. We tried leaving but they kept calling us back but another place would have awesome bible studies but no worship>I know there is no perfect Church But how do I keep in one accord? Been praying and quite honestly I would like to be in TN near OCI- Perry Stone’s church. Help.

    • You need to get out of the church. That’s not covering, it’s manipulation.

      Spiritual covering is for the purpose of empowerment, not control.

    • May I take moment to encourage you to leave that controlling church, it is not a healthy place, God will lead you

  • Well said!, Truth does set you free! Be bold be brave be free in Christ!
    I once had a pastor tell me “I needed him to be my accountability partner”, I asked isn’t my accountability to God, to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and to the Word isn’t that what God said in his Word on the last day I will have to give an account Him for every word and deed ? wow now I needed a sinful human as well.

  • This is very simple, God is our covering and only God. God did NOT create a covering. The only reference in the bible to covering is an actual cloth covering. Accountability is NOT the same as covering. God did not create religion, MAN did that and now we have hundreds of religions that believe they are the one true religion and all their rules and regulations. Jesus came out of love and compassion for us and died on the cross for it. Man is the one who created all church red tape thus we now can’t pray freely as the Holy Spirit leads because the PASTOR says we don’t have badge. COVERING is not biblical plain and simple.

    • Cynthia, Why can’t you get the badge. We oversee a prayer ministry and the only reason we want the prayers qualified is so we all speak and do the same Biblical things. If someone walks in off the street and wants to get someone in a corner and counsel or prophesy to them they would be stopped. That is rebellion to authority and that’s what got satan kicked out of Heaven. If someone wants to go to the streets and pray they can do that. It’s those who come in and want to put on the showy stuff that gets them in trouble. They want to be seen as super spiritual by praying loudly over someone so everyone will see how spiritual they are….

  • Your point about the priesthood of every believer is well made. And I’m sure there are situations where there the term ‘spiritual covering’ has been used to perpetrate a cultish abuse of authority. But in my experience the term is primarily used as a way of figuring out where someone is coming from spiritually. For example, inviting a guest minister into your church/life poses a number of potential risks. Just because someone calls themselves a minister is no proof that they aren’t in fact a wolf in sheep’s clothing: a self-serving opportunist or a carrier of toxically twisted doctrines. Inquiring as to their ‘spiritual covering’ is a way of asking where they are coming from doctrinally or who endorses them. If the church or pastoral leader they consider their ‘covering’ is a known quantity, it tells me a lot about what I can expect from the individual in question. If they have no such connection, or refuse to divulge it, or bristle at the question – it also tells me a lot about them! People with pure motives and nothing to hide have no trouble submitting themselves to other spiritual leaders and making themselves and their ministry accountable. Those who avoid or reject such ‘covering’ relationships all too often betray a rebellious attitude that eventually trips them up and, sadly, brings others down with them.

    • Totally with comment, I am pastor who has relationships of accountability with my bishop, and other pastors, cause I just don’t I know everything, wisdom, I am lone rider

      Pastor/ Evangelist Jonathan ( Jono)

  • “Covering” is just a term somebody used. The true biblical concept is to stay in submission to other believers, as this is what keeps you out of trouble. As for authority, this has been misunderstood & mistaught by many. God never gave humans authority over other humans; the authority taught in the Bible is meant for spiritual dominion, & to be used against the enemy (& nature, too, sometimes). This problem has arisen because the main sin humans commit against other humans is CONTROL. All humans have a tendency to want to control other people, & it is manifested in numerous ways. This is where you start hearing about the Jezebel spirit & witchcraft, etc. The danger here is when you get rebellious yourself & try to run ‘solo’ (which means you’re no longer a ‘member’ of one body). This attitude of independence is a serious problem in the church today, & is going to prove to be an expensive trait for those who refuse to repent from it. You can’t have a glorious church w/o unity, & you can’t have unity w/o submission to other Christians. The people building the tower of Babel walked in unity better than most Christians do today; that is NOT a good thing.

    • Thank you for this post. Make sense. I feel that if my heart is after God He will direct my steps. If there is any weired stuff outside who God is and teaches us to be I know He will show me. Thank you for your post!

    • I agree. The authoritarianism in the church is not the spiritual authority given by God to all believers. You are right, we are called to serve all, sometimes in a leadership role (and it’s only a role) or in a practical way, but never to be their Lord and/ or saviour.

  • Hi Jory,

    a couple genuine questions, comments and a little push back in one or two areas. (Just in case you were wondering whether this is coming from a cranky complementarian, it is not, it is from someone that is largely Egalitarian though I hold slightly grey area thoughts)

    Firstly, a little push back… 🙂

    I have no doubt the term ‘spiritual authority’ has been misused but in my experience it has largely been used to simply mean God has given some people (Leaders/Elders) a level of authority, responsibility and accountability that needs submission at times.

    “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” Heb 13:17

    Heb 13:17 seems to make it clear there will be times when Church leaders will make choices (presumably in team and submission themselves as we see in Acts 15) that individuals may not like but are encourage to submit to. Most translations and the Greek itself seem to indicate this being active obedience as well. Obviously such cannot be contrary to the word of God but the opposite to ‘Spiritual hierachial domination’ (DO WHAT I TELL YOU!!!) is not ‘ Isolated determinism’ (modern consumer Christianity – YOU CAN’T TELL ME ANYTHING!!!)

    Heb 13 also indicates this is because these leaders have to actual give account for others under their care (James indicates similar for Teachers)

    The writer of Hebrews seems to be speaking to those who might also ‘kick up a stink’ and “so that their work will be a joy, not a burden” (Heb 13:17b)

    Sorry the Caps are for effect and show immaturity and ironic control on both sides.

    Additionally, the problem with using the ‘Priesthood of all Believers’ is that though it absolutely indicates access to the father through the son, that no one has greater access than another. The Priesthood was not synonymous with the Leadership of Israel or with authority. Saying “I have equal access to the father” is not the same as having “equal authority” in the Church. I don’t see any evidence for “equal authority” in the Church at all in scripture. There are Elders who are called to ‘rule’ and make decisions prayerfully, with transparency and in submission themselves.

    I know it is a common position to argue from but saying that “Spiritual Authority”…”originated in the 1970’s…” is no more credible then saying something to the effect of “Egalitarian and Feminist Theology is absent from history until relatively recently”. I feel it is a weak argument, new language is constantly being created to described ancient truths in general to a new generation and audience.

    If by ‘Spiritual Authority” one means, I have greater access to the Father, the things of the Spirit and thus uses such manipulatively or oppressively that is rubbish and needs be labelled as such. However if one is using the term to mean “Authority given by the Spirit” (ie. some are graced for teaching/leadership etc) then I am comfortable with that and at times will need to submit to/obey those entrusted with that authority.

    So… those questions…

    1. Do you believe no Leader has authority to correct, discipline or tell someone they are out of line?
    2. Do you believe all believers have ‘equal authority IN the Church’? (not Spiritual Authority over the Devil etc)

  • Hi Jory,

    You are very well intentioned, and that will be taken into account.

    First I would like to clarify a statement you have made, that God died on the cross for mankind. I understand why you say this. Jesus being one of 3 in the trinity, and he dying on the cross, you think it can be said that because “I and my Father are one”, it can be said that God died on the cross. The distinction must be made. Water must not be muddied at this point of doctrine. Jesus died on the cross. God did not die on the cross. In taking our sins on himself, Jesus atoned for the sin of every man and woman who confesses his name as Savior and Lord. At that brief moment in time when Jesus took our sins on Himself, God turned his back on Jesus. He had to. Jesus, the Son of Man was abandoned on the cross by God the Father. Jesus the perfect Son of God who was sinless Himself, took our sin on Himself and died in our place. God accepted that atoning sacrifice. And because God accepted that sacrifice, we who believe, are blessed by our belief and faith in the power of God through Jesus who bore our sins on the cross, who died and was buried and then was raised from the dead by the power of God through Jesus who had the power to lay down His life and to take it up again! God did not die on the cross. Jesus the Son of Man died on the cross and was raised from the dead. And so Satan was defeated.

    Now as to the covering. Paul in his epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor 11: 2-12) outlines an order of things that must not be taken out of it’s context for within it are a multitude of truths. One of those truths is the truth as to the assembly, or the church, and its relationship to Christ. In this relationship, it is male and female, it is groom and bride, it is husband and wife. And it is not so much an earthly relationship as it is a heavenly relationship between Jesus the groom and the church the bride. It is very much a masculine role that the messiah has and very much a feminine role the church has. It is not necessarily a role to be understood by just anybody, but should be understood by the believer in a mature way as a very holy relationship with no dividing thought as to any supposed secondary role of what is feminine. For one would not be whole without the other. The assembly, or church, as set up by God at Pentecost has come down out of heaven.

  • Thank you Jory for this post. It has encouraged me and I know I am not alone. I have been controlled and manipulated too long under leadership. I was not free and could not be myself. There is too much abuse these days under certain leadership and I refuse to allow myself to stay in such a position. The Holy Spirit layed it on my heart that JESUS CHRIST is my covering and I am so at peace with that!!!! I have experienced so much freedom and my gifts flow freely to help others.

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