During the past several decades I have seen or read about more and more executive-level leaders and pastors falling into scandal or leaving the ministry because of personal challenges. Sometimes it seems like I hear about a leadership fall every week!
The Need for Personal Covering
One thing many of these leaders have in common is their lack of (functional) personal covering for their personal lives and/or ministries. By “personal covering” I am referring to having either an individual spiritual mentor and/or guide who serves as your overseer who also has the authority to remove you or advocate for you in a time of moral failure or crisis. (I don’t usually use the term “covering” but rather “oversight” or “overseer” because that is the more biblical term. But for the sake of common language with my audience I am using the term “covering” in this particular article.)
Many leaders (including myself) have one primary person who serves as their covering but who is also part of a group of leaders that serve as their presbytery, who hold the leader accountable and can serve as mediators in case their standing as senior leader is in question, or if there is a need for mediation between them and their board of directors and leadership team.
A personal covering has to be relational. This means it will only work if the senior leader is in regular dialogue with their overseer, and is honest regarding their personal challenges. One major minister who fell into scandal a couple of years ago actually had a lot of close relationships and even prayed every morning with a close friend of mine. But, the problem was he never fully opened up regarding his dark side and sexual proclivities. Hence, having a close personal relationship with your overseer is never enough if you are not open and transparent with them. This is why I am using the modifier “functional” with “personal covering.”
When a senior leader doesn’t have an honest, open, transparent relationship with a person who serves as their primary covering, it can be a disaster waiting to happen! All leaders go through challenging times and need a person who can correct, encourage, rebuke or exhort them to continue to pursue God’s calling in their life. Even if a leader never falls into sin, they may be accused of a sinful act and their church or organization may need to have an outside overseer or presbytery they can rely upon to investigate and/or mediate between both parties, to help them sort out what is true from what is false, and what strategic steps they should take for the good of the organization. Woe to the leader who has no one to confide in, turn to for advice, remove him/her or advocate for them in a time of crisis! In this context, you can almost view covering as fire insurance: you never know if and when you will ever need it, but if a serious situation arises that can threaten your place as the senior leader of an organization you will be thankful you had the prescience to purchase it!
Senior pastors’ pressing need for covering is one of the primary reasons I started Christ Covenant Coalition in 1999 (www.christcovenantcoalition.org). We are able to provide personal presbyteries for senior pastors in crisis as well as provide invaluable vertical and horizontal mentoring and covering.
The Need for Organizational Covering
Related to this, I believe every senior leader needs to have organizational covering, which is usually provided by the elders or trustees of an organization. Whenever any major decision is made related to vision and/or finances, every senior leader should first process it through with these highly trusted leaders. I know many leaders who failed to do this and made major strategic or financial mistakes that in some cases cost them their ministries, all because they didn’t enable their board of directors to be an intricate part of major decisions they were making. Several senior pastors I know went out on a limb in purchasing properties because “the Lord told them” and made these decisions on their own without consulting their elders or trustees. Unfortunately, in most cases like this, the leader made a huge blunder and even risked losing their whole ministry by plunging their work into huge debt, because they didn’t receive counsel from their trusted team of leaders. Even though I believe in one senior leader serving as the first among equals who can have the final say in important matters, I also believe in leading from consensus with your primary team as much as possible to protect the organization and the leader from making foolish mistakes that occur when functioning in isolation, not in cooperation, with your primary leaders.
(Also when it comes to purchasing a building in which the whole congregation will be called upon to finance the vision, I believe it would also be wise for a senior pastor to hold a congregational meeting and receive the blessing of the whole church before proceeding forward with a large-scale building program.)
The Need for a Prayer Covering
Another kind of covering that is essential for every senior leader is a prayer covering. I have a regular team of people in our local church who are committed to praying daily for myself, my wife and family. This has been essential the past two decades regarding our ability to persevere in the midst of life’s challenges! Scripturally, we also find that one of the primary parts of the armor of God is having the saints persevering in prayer for one another, even as Paul the apostle solicited prayers from the saints for his ministry (Ephesians 6:18-20).
Recently, the Lord spoke to me about the need to ramp up my prayer support because of a new sphere of influence and ministry I am walking into. With every new level there comes with it a higher devil. Thus, we need to pray and have intercession commensurate with the call of God upon our lives. Even though I usually spend a lot of private time seeking God every morning, I know I need outside help, even those functioning at a very high level in intercession on a national scale, to protect me and my family, and enable me to press into every area of opportunity God opens up for me and my team.
For example, I remember reading 19th century evangelist Charles Finney’s autobiography and being impressed that he had personal intercessors (Father Nash and Abel Clary) who would go ahead of him into every town and lock themselves up in a room for days at a time, interceding and groaning in the Spirit with words that cannot be uttered in articulate speech, birthing in travail for revival. This was done even though Finney himself would usually spend hours every day seeking God and interceding for his ministry. This little-known fact is one of the primary reasons why Finney became the greatest revivalist the United States (and perhaps the world) has ever seen!
In summary I posit that, in order for every senior leader to be effective, we need to have at least three levels of covering: personal oversight, organizational oversight, and a prayer covering that goes beyond our own prayer lives. If a leader functions with this level of accountability then their chances of failing and/or falling will be greatly diminished!
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