You need the added protection that a solid spiritual covering can bring to your life. Here are a few benchmarks to look for whenever you consider connecting with a local church, denomination or ministerial fellowship.

1. THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST ­ Look for morality, integrity and the fruit of the Spirit in the life of any leader you connect with. Though no one is perfect, the quality of a corporate covering is linked with solid character, not sensational gifts that can mask an unyielded and ungracious heart.

2. PURE TEACHING ­ Connecting with those who peddle flaky doctrines, push spiritual fads or tout pet truths is always risky. Look for fellowship where the message is balanced and scriptural. Be wary when you sense an overemphasis on giving money. Church leaders with genuine character never exploit their flocks.

3. THE WITNESS OF THE BODY ­ Reputations are usually earned. When ministries are approved by the wider body of Christ, it's an indication you can connect with confidence.

4. MATURITY AND A GOOD TRACK RECORD ­ Spiritual authority becomes more credible with time and experience. Value the tested maturity and proven longevity of a corporate covering above any self-certifying claims of special anointing or truth.

5. THE WITNESS OF THE SPIRIT ­ Since God sets us into our place in the body (see 1 Cor. 12:8), we should seek the coverings He's assigned to us by the Spirit. Let the anointing in you guide you in the discovery of true protection and fellowship.

David Cannistraci is the senior pastor of GateWay City Church in San Jose, California. He travels internationally as a speaker and is the author of Apostles and the Emerging Apostolic Movement as well as God's Vision for Your Church (each from Regal). For more information about his ministry, log on to www.davidcannistraci.org.

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