I hate to wait.
Nothing tests my submission to the Holy Spirit like being stuck in a traffic jam on the Schuylkill Expressway, or waiting on a slow cashier in a long line at the supermarket.
Many faithful United Methodists are having a hard time waiting these days. In the wake of the special General Conference in St. Louis earlier this year, lots of people – progressive and traditionalist alike – have concluded that the United Methodist Church as an institution is irretrievably broken. Far from embarking on a way forward we can all live with, the crisis of our connection has only intensified since February. Defiance of the Discipline persists and grows, the Council of Bishops is unable to lead, and schism seems increasingly likely.
Against this backdrop, biblically faithful pastors and churches are asking why they should continue to pay apportionments, or submit to their bishop, or even remain in the denomination at all. Why not just march down the street and start a new body at the local high school? Why wait any longer?
Perhaps the example of David can offer us wisdom. You may recall how David was anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel, while still a boy. Problem was, there was already a king in place at the time, named Saul. Years would pass, perhaps fifteen or more, before David actually assumed the throne. During that long wait, David knew he was the rightful king, and that God was going to inaugurate a new era. He knew that God had rejected Saul for the latter’s unfaithfulness. And David knew that he had the support of the majority of God’s people.
Despite all that, David waited. Years went by, as he experienced Saul’s jealous rage, braved threats on his life, and endured exile. Yet David did not push the issue. He served Saul faithfully. He never asserted his claim on the throne, or led a revolt. On two occasions, David even had the life of Saul within his reach to take – and was urged to do so.
David, however, refused to raise his hand against the king. Though Saul was fundamentally illegitimate, he was still God’s anointed. Saul occupied an office that David felt bound to respect, even as he awaited God’s perfect timing. When that time came, the path forward for David was clear.
Many faithful United Methodists feel they are in the position of David. We have endured the unfaithfulness and incompetence of some of our leaders. We have been marginalized and slandered by some colleagues. We have seen valued members of our local churches walk away – not due to dissatisfaction with our local ministry, but out of disgust with the denomination. We yearn for the “next Methodism” to emerge, for faithful leaders to be raised up, and a new era to begin. Why wait any longer? After all, we are the majority!
Because God’s timing is not ours.
Many of us have been in this struggle to call the UMC back to its first love for decades. We have cried out “How long, O Lord? When will we again see the name of Jesus honored by our leadership, by fidelity to the Scriptures, and faithfulness to the covenant promises we have made to each other?”
Yet it seems we are being called to wait a little longer.
I believe we are being called not to compromise our integrity by practicing deceitful means to get our way, or by demonizing those with whom we disagree. We will prepare for any and every eventuality, to be sure. But we must respect the offices of those in authority, even if we question their fitness. We must respect the processes that are in place to address our concerns until the last remedy has been exhausted. And we must tend to our congregations and our local ministries with those in our care.
In a word, we are being called to be faithful, even as we await God’s timing.
Events are accelerating. Soon, perhaps as soon as next summer, the way forward will be clear. The unfolding of events will, under the providence of God, disclose his plan. God will soon, I am convinced, provide his own “way forward” – in God’s good time, and in God’s perfect way.
In the meantime, let us take to heart the words of David, that long-suffering leader whom God had chosen and anointed, yet who had to wait long years to see the dawn of a new day:
“Wait for the Lord;be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 24:14).
By Joseph F. DiPaolo
The Rev. Joseph F. DiPaolo is an elder in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church and a delegate to the 2019 special General Conference. He is also a member of the Wesleyan Covenant Association Council.