You can’t cover up and soar with faith

My wife and I got married on an important day in American political infamy. June 17, 1972. Oh, you do not know what this celebrates? Perhaps it is because the event — the Watergate break-in — is not nearly as well-known as is the two years of cover up that led to the resignation on August 9, 1974 of US President Richard Nixon.

Having graduated from high school near Philadelphia, I moved into adulthood with one eye on Joe Paterno and Penn State football. While not an avid fan, I was always conscious of what appeared to be a great college sports program. Admittedly my other eye was on Bobby Bowden at Florida State, who I ultimately hoped would have more college football wins than Joe Paterno. But I did not want it to happen because of a cover up.

Richard Nixon did not break into the Watergate office building. Joe Paterno did not sexually abuse boys. Yet to the best of our knowledge both were involved in a cover up. Often it is the cover up of bad things — can we still use the actual word “sin”? — that gets everyone in the tar pit dirty and stuck.

Congregations are often involved in cover ups that inhibit their ability to soar with faith towards a fruitful future whereby they might be considered a FaithSoaring Church. While the cover ups within congregations can be about illegal and immoral activities, they can also be about less dramatic but equally as debilitating activities.

Here are a few things congregations tend to cover up. First, they cover up mediocrity. Increasingly younger generations want high quality programs, ministries, and activities that address their real needs in real time. Congregations, on the other hand, often say that their programs, ministries, and activities were good enough for them and should be for the next generation.

Second, they cover up a lack of spiritual maturity. Congregations equate regular participation with spiritual growth. Classes, courses, seminars, and small groups attended equate with discipleship progress.

Third, they cover up the absence of a clear, passionate vision for the future. They do so by coming up with a motto or theme for the programmatic emphases of their congregation that seeks to push the congregation into the future rather than allowing God to pull the congregation into the future.

Fourth, they cover up a lack of organizational processes and skills. It is frequently said that congregations would go bankrupt if they had to make a profit because they are run so poorly. While that is a little harsh, it may not be too far from the truth.

Fifth, they cover up a lack of expertise in leading and managing transition and change. Too few lay and clergy leaders actually know how to lead a congregation — a voluntary, member-based association — through transition and change. To cover up their lack of expertise they either “bulldoze” the process or they spiritualize it.

And yes, unfortunately as some congregations and denominations have taught us, they also cover up illegal and immoral acts, and even perpetuate the culture that breeds them.

The true measure of a pastor, staff minister, or lay leader is what happens in the congregation when they are no longer there. What was covered up during a certain period? What will we realize five years after you are gone? What are you doing to create a positive, sustainable future?

What are you covering up in your congregation? You can’t cover it up and soar with faith. FaithSoaring Churches, at, are real, self-disclosing, and averse to covering up their barnacles.

George Bullard

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About the Author
George is President of The Columbia Partnership at, This is a Christian ministry organization that seeks to transform the North American Church for vital and vibrant ministry. It primarily does this through the FaithSoaring Churches Learning Community. See George is the author of three books: Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation, Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict, and FaithSoaring Churches. George is also General Secretary [executive coordinator] of the North American Baptist Fellowship at This is one of the six regions of the Baptist World Alliance. George holds is Senior Editor of TCP Books at More than 30 books have been published on congregational leadership issues.

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  • MarkKubiske

    I realize you only used Joe Paterno’s sad fate as an analogy, but I am nonetheless compelled to point out to you the fallacies that have so inundated the media and denied a good man the benefit of due process and equal protection under the law.

    You wrote: “” … Bobby
    Bowden at Florida State, who I ultimately hoped would have more college
    football wins than Joe Paterno. But I did not want it to happen because
    of a cover up.

    In fact, any alleged “coverup” is said to have taken place after 2001. Jerry Sandusky retired in 1999. Any alleged “cover up” of Mr. Sandusky’s crimes would have had no effect on outcomes of games.

    You wrote: “”Richard Nixon did not break into the Watergate office building. Joe
    Paterno did not sexually abuse boys. Yet to the best of our knowledge
    both were involved in a cover up.””

    I’m very pleased you used the phrase, “to the best of our knowledge” with respect to Paterno. Most (ALL) commentators on the subject state “cover up” as if its fact, and its not. The word “alleged” is never-ever applied to Paterno’s case, despite the
    fact that a cover up has not yet been proven or even adjudicated. Curious, isn’t it? Its called trial-by-media, and its a travesty. Remember Richard Jewell and Wen Ho Lee? They were also prosecuted in the media by one Louis Freeh, then director of the FBI. Interesting pattern.

    In fact, the only piece of evidence that Joe knowingly covered up information in 2001 and “allowed” Sandusky to operate freely is Freeh Report, Exhibit 2F (the same email is presented in Exhibit 5G) email from Tim Curley presumably to Schultz and/or Spanier dated 2/27/01 at 8:10 PM: Tim Curley wrote “I had scheduled a meeting with you this afternoon about the subject we discussed on Sunday. After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday– I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps. I’m having trouble with going to everyone, but the person involved. … ” Freeh assumes, and everyone is willing to accept, that Joe told Curley to not report the McQueary information. This is an assumption, and nothing more than an assumption, that has now been morphed into fact by the failure of so-called journalists to pay due diligence to getting the story straight. In fact, Freeh’s assumption is is just one possibility out of an infinite number of possibilities as to what Joe might have said to Curley. In fact, Freeh’s assumption defies logic. If Joe didn’t want Curley to act on it, why would he have relayed the information in the first place? How does anyone know Joe did not say, “Tim, I told you I don’t want him bringing those kids around here. Now Mike told you what he saw, and you and Gary have to investigate it. And you need to be prepared for backlash from the media and the NCAA and don’t expect me to cover your back side.” And upon hearing that, Curley got cold feet about reporting it. — — That’s just one scenario and I totally made it up, but its every bit as plausible as the one contrived by Freeh that is now accepted as “absolute proof”. Again, regardless of what you chose to think Joe said to Curley, this, once again, falls far short of being real evidence. The only one who knows what Joe said to Curley is Curley. And we won’t hear from him until his trial some time next year, if even then.

    Just thought you’d like to know. Seems like a good lesson in prematurely judging others, and the dire consequences that can result. The judging all began last November, the moment Paterno was fired. It has continued to this day. It not only cost him every thing he worked for, it cost him his life. He died of a broken heart.