This week I celebrate the fourth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood: the liturgical anniversary was the First Sunday of Advent and the civil anniversary is coming up on December 2. Jesus’ command, “Follow me,” from the appointed Gospel for St. Andrew’s Day (Matt. 4:18-22; Nov. 30) has caused me to reflect once again on true Christian discipleship, about what following Jesus really means. The obedience of Andrew and his fellow apostles reminds me of what Jesus prays in Gethsemane on the eve of his crucifixion: “Not what I want but what you want” (Matt. 26:39; cf. Luke 22:42). The ordained vocation is a gift from God that, paradoxically, comes with a cost: complete submission to his will. “Do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Prov. 3:5b-6).
In Matthew 4, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, upon seeing Jesus for the first time, leave behind their nets, boats, and families, and follow him. No questions, no resistance, just complete and immediate obedience. Although Matthew’s account does not explain their motivation for doing so, perhaps the reason for these ordinary fishermen’s immediate trust in Jesus is because they intuit from him more-than-human power. Nevertheless, to see such obedience this early on in the Gospel story is quite extraordinary, prompting the reader, along with these four future apostles, to “come see” and follow Jesus.
Five years ago, by my own admission, my obedience to Christ was not at the level it should have been. I was making it all about me instead of Jesus. What I wanted was to be a scholar-priest. The lecture room and the halls of academia were great loves of mine, and it was there that I wanted to make my mark. I wanted to make scholarly contributions to the fields of African-American, American religious, and Anglo-Catholic history. I wanted to be a theologian and scholar on the same level as the Chadwick Brothers and John Hope Franklin and one of the leading priest-scholars of my generation.
It wasn’t until one October evening those five years ago while walking with my mentor, Fr. Andrew Mead, to the St. Thomas Church rectory for a chili dinner that my focus turned. After conveying to him my vocational hopes and dreams, he said,
Brandt, that’s all well and good, but keep in mind that many great scholar-priests also serve in parishes. Parish ministry is important. It keeps you grounded and in touch with reality, with what’s going on with the people in the pews. It’s important that you be on the front lines with your fellow clergy. Never forget the front lines!
In a nutshell, what Fr. Mead was telling me was, “It’s not about you!” Although he did not dismiss the contributions of ordained academics to the Church’s life and witness, what he was making me realize was that many of them, like the Chadwick Brothers, Charles Gore, Austin Farrer, and Michael Ramsey, in addition to their academic vocations, were also deeply involved in pastoral ministry. They did not hide behind the comforts and safety of a lecture stand; they were on the front lines preaching about Jesus — died, risen, and coming again. Everything they wrote, taught, and published came from a deep love for Jesus, lived out in active ministry for and among God’s people. Without that, all that they did would not have been as impactful as it was.
Thanks to Fr. Mead, I realized that had I entered into ordination making it about me instead of Jesus, not willing to engage in the real work of ministry, then I would have set myself up for sure and immediate failure. “Whatever you do … do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). “All to Jesus I surrender; all to him I freely give.”
Jesus’ command, “Follow me,” and the immediate obedience of Andrew and his fellow fishermen remind me of that important lesson I learned from Fr. Mead five years ago. Ordained ministry is not for the purpose of gaining a platform, but for revealing God’s glory in Jesus Christ, being on the front lines for him and proclaiming his gospel. All that the Church’s clergy do should aim “to make Christ and His redemptive love known, by … word and example, to those among whom [they] live, and work, and worship.”
Ordained ministry works best when those in it are all in, totally committed to Jesus. As Andrew and his fellow apostles show in the later pages of Scripture, when you are all in for Jesus, people will take notice. When people take notice, their hearts will become more open to the gospel, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead them to Jesus. But the only way that any of this can happen is for the Church’s ordained leadership to remember this crucial point: “It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus!” This was a lesson that I needed to learn five years ago, and thanks be to God I did.
As I celebrate four years as a pastor and priest of Christ’s people, I find my life and the work of ministry to be full of joy, more than I could have ever imagined. To use the words of my mentor, “The ministry of Jesus Christ and the priesthood are the air I breathe,” and my desire is to preach nothing else except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).
“Follow me,” Jesus says, “and I will make you fish for people.”
I’m all in, Jesus. I’m all in.
 Note on Luke 5:1-11, The New Oxford Annotated Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
 William Owen (May 20, 1916-July 17, 2015) and Henry Chadwick (June 23, 1920-June 17, 2008), both highly distinguished Church of England clergymen and ecclesiastical history scholars.
 (Jan. 2, 1915-March 25, 2009), author of From Slavery to Freedom, first published in 1947 and regularly updated, considered an authoritative scholarly text on African-American history.
 (Jan. 22, 1853-Jan. 17, 1932), Church of England bishop and leading theologian on the Doctrine of the Incarnation.
 (Oct. 1, 1904-Dec. 29, 1968), Church of England priest and theologian credited with bringing to Christian theology the notion of “double agency,” the idea that one’s actions are one’s own, but are also the work of God, though perfectly hidden.
 (Nov. 14, 1904-April 23, 1988), Church of England bishop who served as the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury from 1961 to 1974 and was a leading Anglo-Catholic theologian.
 J.W. Van Deventer, “I Surrender All.”
 Ordination of a Deacon, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, p. 543.
 Andrew C. Mead, Letter to the People of Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, June 26, 2013.
I’ll be interested to see what other ordained academics say to this, but I am afraid non-ordained academics might be misled. “Five years ago, by my own admission, my obedience to Christ was not at the level it should have been. I was making it all about me instead of Jesus.” This is great self knowledge, and something that every academic Christian I have ever worked with could say (sometimes with different time scales). The question then becomes, what to do when you find your discipleship lacking. What is the relationship of an academic vocation and Christian discipleship? While I… Read more »