If you know someone involved in a “covering” church but aren’t part of one you may wonder what is the real world impact of Covering Theology.  How does it harm people?  What are the things to look out for?

Inevitable Spiritual Abuse

Covering Theology wielded in the hands of a secure, caring person will only have a moderately negative impact on people.  If the authority in question has issues  like dependency, anger, insecurity, desire for control then the abuse can be acute and devastating.

What is spiritual abuse?  “Spiritual abuse can occur when a leader uses his or her spiritual position to control or dominate another person.  It often involves overriding the feelings and opinions of another, without regard to what will result in the other person’s state of living, emotions or spiritual well-being (Johnson 20).”

Ken Blue defines it this way in “Healing Spiritual Abuse”:

“Abuse happens when someone has power over another and uses that power to hurt.  Physical abuse means that someone exercises physical power over another causing physical wounds.  Sexual abuse means that someone exercises sexual power over another resulting in sexual wounds.  And spiritual abuse happens when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds (Blue 13).”

Consider the following story found in “The Subtle Power Of Spiritual Abuse”:

Jeri stepped in the office of a Christian counsellor, explaining that she felt desperate, and felt like she was going crazy. “either that,” she said dryly,” or I’m on the verge of a major breakthrough in my spiritual growth.

“Well,” she began, choking out, “I went two my pastor a few months ago because I was feeling depressed a lot. He pegged the root problem right away, but I can’t seem to do anything about it.”

“Root problem…” the counsellor repeated. “what was that?”

Jeri looked down at her shoe tops. “I guess I would have to say the problem is, well me. My pastor says I’m in rebellion against God.”

What unfolded and was an unfortunate, and all too common, case history: Jeri’s church teaches that scripture is God’s word, the standard by which we must live. But they use it as a measure by which we gain acceptance with God rather than as a guide for living. Therefore, when she asked her pastor for help with her depression, she was given a “prescription” of praise scriptures to memorize and repeat over and over. This, she was told, would get her mind off her self and onto God. The depression would left when she got over her sinful self-centeredness.

Jeri had tried what the pastor suggested, but her depression did not lift, and this raised some questions. She noted that there was a history of depression among the women in her family, and that she was presently experiencing some physical problems. Moreover, she confided to her pastor that she was struggling in her relationship with her husband, because he shrugged off responsibilities with their two teenagers who were beginning to get into trouble.

“How did he respond when you said his suggestion didn’t help?”

“That’s when he dropped the bomb on me,” Jeri said.

The counsellor did not fail to notice her choice of metaphor – -the devastation Jeri was trying to portray–and asked, “what sort of bomb?

“The pastor had told her, ‘the fact that you won’t accept my counsel without to raising all these objections and other possibilities was the major indication to me, Jeri, that your root problem is spiritual, not physical or emotional. When you talked about arguing with your husband, rather than submitting to him and trusting God, that confirmed it.’ He concluded that the other problems – -emotional depression, physical illness, a troubled marriage and teenagers in turmoil – – were the result of her inability to submit fully to God and his word.

Jeri had tried to object. “I told him I felt condemned. That I felt I needed some other kind of help.”

“What happened? ” the counsellor are prompted.

“That made it worse. By pastor just smiled and said I wasn’t willing to accept his counsel – -so that proved he was right. That’s when he used the ‘R’ word on me. He said, ‘Jeri, you’ll need to repent of your rebellion against God. Then all these minor problems will be taken care of’”.

“That’s a strong judgment against you,” the councillor noted. “What you think about it?”

Tears welled up, and Jeri dabbed at them with that issue. Then she sat ringing that issue in knots as she replied. “I feel like a bug pinned down to a piece of cardboard. I try to praise God – -I do praise him. But the problem with my husband and kids goes on and on and when I’m honest with myself I get mad, because just repeating the scriptures, when a family and our health is falling apart, seems so shallow.

“But then I wake up in the middle of the night, hearing my pastors words. And I think I must be a terrible Christian – -in rebellion, like he said – -or my life wouldn’t be such a mass. He’s right, isn’t he? Rebellion is a sin we all deal with.

“But the turmoil in me has gone on for four months, and I find myself thinking I should stick my head in our gas oven. Another times I think I must be on the verge of a breakthrough to more ‘holiness’ – -if only I could pray easy enough, or submits enough. But I don’t think I can stick it out long enough. I just feel exhausted, and like I’m losing my mind.”

“I can’t carry all this wait anymore, close double quote she ended, pleadingly. “ Help me…”

(Johnson 17-18)

Spiritual abuse can also occur when spirituality is used to make others live up to a “spiritual standard”  This promotes external ‘spiritual performance,’ and also without regard to an individual’s actual well being (Johnson 20).”

Here is another example from the same book:

“My Bible study leader tells me that i haven’t taken on the ‘mantle’ as spiritual head of my home.  I should be praying more, taking authority in the Spirit—then spiritual forces wouldn’t be able to attack my family.  Then my wife would be having menstrual problems and the oldest son wouldn’t be suffering from asthma.  I guess their sickness is my fault (Johnson 21).”

Unaccountable leadership

In the leadership structure of these churches there are no effective internal mechanisms to challenge the leadership.  People are afraid that if they resist the pastor they are resisting God.  The fear of spiritual retribution causes people to censor themselves.

People get twisted up inside

We all have some capacity to define our values internally based on rational thought and the interpretation of truth.  We make value judgments based on our experience and use them to formulate opinions and principles to live by.  In “Covering” churches this process is allowed as long as it is in line with church leadership.  Almost all value systems are defined externally based on the instruction of church leadership.  Those who resist the values espoused by leadership are seen and independent, outside God’s will and even rebellious.   People with strong internal value systems that conflict with church leadeship are stuck in a difficult spot.  If they have accepted covering theology they might conclude that the conflict between their values and the church’s values is an act of rebellion or the fruit of demonic deception.  This results in a death spiral of internal conflict and insecurity.

Excessive use of fear

In the teaching the fear of God’s personal and immediate retribution for sin (defined as lack of submission to God’s authority) is much more present in people’s decision making.  It is understood that wilful disobedience to authority could result in a tragic downturn in one’s health, family, job, or ministry.  The increased presence of fear will eventually have an impact on people’s mental health.

Extremely dependent people

Because people are instructed to trust authority over their own reasoning their reasoning skills atrophy.    People become less mature in Christ rather than more.


Blue, Ken. Healing Spiritual Abuse.  Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, 1993.

Johnson, David, and Jeff VanVonderen. The Subtle Power Of Spiritual Abuse. Bethany House: Minneapolis, 1991.

8 comments on “The Impact

  1. This is a much bigger problem than people may be aware of. Even if a church doesn’t actually teach about the covering doctrine, it can still be “understood” by the actions of the others in the church that they follow the idea.
    Another problem is when most of the leaders are in the inner circle with the pastor. Not just the pastor is doing the influencing, but he can be influenced by his friends. His friendship with other leaders blinds him to their accountability (or lack of it), and they in turn protect him.
    Congregation members may question the actions of the leaders, but the whole inner circle will quietly “shun” you and you find yourself having the welcome mat pulled out from under you, even if only by way of being avoided.
    Others in the congregation, who wholeheartedly and blindly accept the teachings, will also treat you in the same manner, rather than discern for themselves what all this behavior really is.
    I have seen this in a variety of charismatic churches and sad to say, it’s very widespread.

  2. I have recently had my pastor get on my teenage daughter’s FB and post a “rebuke” to her status. I think that is a bit abusive. I called him up and had an hour conversation with him that he was out of line doing what he did. I told him I saw her status and saw nothing wrong at all but he was really ‘surprised” by my response to him. He has said from the pulpit, that 99% of the time when a woman comes to him and has an issue on something he said/did, then she is in rebellion with the authority in her life be it her husband and/or pastor. You talk about manipulation of the women in our church and a shutting down of sisters that have a real concern about our pastor’s ’emerging church’ theology, following and attending EY Ministries and incorporating EY theology into our AOG church. I basically told my pastor we will just have to disagree on how we viewed my daughter’s status. He now tells me that I am in rebellion to his authority as pastor in our lives. That he has the authority to speak into her life, correct, etc. I told him I thought he overstepped his authority and totally overstepped my authority in my daughter’s life. Now I am praying on how to tell him, face-to-face, that I will not be continuing at that church and it is really upsetting to me and my daughter. We have lots of friends we have both grown up with and now because I view him as going overboard in his authority we are leaving. This is a one-man pastor/lead AOG church…no real accountability to that body of believers. He also ‘invited’ us into the office for a meeting …. “discpline”…. meeting. I am not blind to this scheme and I will not take my 14 year old in for more of his abuse. I am open to going in for that meeting to tell him “Good riddance…I’m not in rebellion to authority and give him scriptural reasons for us leaving that church body. Also, to tell him that this ‘Covering Theology” he espouses is not biblical and give him a print out of some of your excellent information (which I’m sure he knows but ignores). Open to suggestions.

  3. There is no freedom in bondage. And to be honest it really makes me angry at false teachers.

  4. Sherrie- I would recommend taking someone who is aware of the situation with you before you go into a bad situation and get further abuse. Take a mature Christian guy or another pastor if necessary, but don’t take your daughter into that; it could be devastating. Speaking from experience. Much love and God bless.

  5. Sherrie– Personally I would recommend not communicating in a form that would allow this pastor to reply. I realize I am a few months behind on this one but maybe someone else is having this issue.

    This is going to sound harsh but you have already suffered enough abuse at the hand of this tyrant and this course of action will minimize contact with him as well as minimizing the influence he has over your emotions.

    If I were in this position, and I have been and wish, looking back, I had handled it this way. I would send a notarized, registered, return receipt requested letter outlining your concerns, giving biblical reasons for them. I would then close the letter by saying that due to the abuse you have endured by his position of unbiblical self induced authority he is not allowed to contact you, your daughter, or any other member of your family and that any further contact made either directly or indirectly through other people will constitute harassment and be met with legal action. All three of you sign it, husband, self, and daughter.

    Yes, this may lead to being avoided by the “friends” you have made within this body of people but your true friends should come to you and allow you to present your side of the story…hopefully they will understand…and, if enough people within the church hear your story this may actually bring about a change in pastors for this congregation that would allow you to return.

    THIS COURSE OF ACTION IS ONLY FOR EXTREME CASES, many times the problem can be solved by simply never setting foot inside the abusive “pastor’s”(term used loosely) church again and not answering requests for meetings with said pastors. Although even with this course of action you may experience shunning by some of your supposed “friends” within the congregation as he uses you for an example, from the pulpit in some cases.

    I will caution all who read this, be VERY cautious what and who you receive teaching and instruction from, this theology comes in many forms and is not always easily recognizable as the belief of the pastor-ship. The pastors who believe in this have become aware of the fact that people are beginning to understand this theology and have begun to try to disguise it. Listen very carefully not only to what the pastor says from the pulpit but also in other forms of communication. This belief can also be spotted by looking at the other ministries he aligns himself with, models his ministry after, or books he recommend you read. If he is using books and resources from, or models what he is doing with ministries that teach and use this theology you can be assured that this is his thinking and it WILL become church policy eventually.

    God’s blessings to all!

  6. I am glad I ran across this website. I am currently at a church that is under this covering theology, and it is disheartening. The main focus is on submitting to leadership, vision of the house, and accountability. I am realizing that something is really wrong, and it’s grieving my spirit. One of the things they focus on reporting to every service and fellowship, and if you miss you need to let them know. It seems like individuality is being slowing taking away.

    This is their definition of submission: humble surrender of power, gifts, callings, intentions, agendas, and actions to God and then his representatives in a committed ethical relationship. That sounds like a bunch of foolishness. It’s almost like giving your life away to another person and you are completely under their control. I am surely asking God how to deal with this because it is leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

  7. Oh my gosh..The church i was just in so follows all this stuff with covering theology..The Pastor said he is the shepherd and we are his flock and that he is accountable to God for us.And those two couples in his leadership are so close with him & his family.And if you don’t do as they do or say or you question things..they say don’t touch Gods anointed.You can’t change things in the bible and God’s wrath you got to fear God, be very careful. And the pastor said to me that Jesus came to teach authority, i laughed when he said that..I’m a seer and hear & see from Jesus daily..I knew that was so wrong..and he said that apostles, pastors, the five fold ministry is a heircy thing..so there is people over us and we are to submitt to there authority. and i said arn’t they to raise up the saints and release us.I had never heard of a covering till I came to this church and it all felt so wrong and Jesus waas showing me things are so wrong here. This sight is the best.Thank you all very much..The whole time i was there they make ya feel something is wrong with you, that you arn’t performing enough and you always feel as though you are doing something wrong.Spiritual abuse to the fullest..

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