Cultivating a Life of Ministry and Service

Jun 25, 2024
A Personal Reflection from NCCL's Executive Director, John Roberto

In May I was asked to offer a short reflection at a graduate school of ministry commencement. I shared eight beliefs about cultivating and sustaining a life of ministry and service that have guided me over my five decades in ministry. I offer these reflections in the hope that they may support you in your ministry and guide you in developing your own beliefs for cultivating a life of ministry and service.


Cultivate your calling and vocation.

I believe our vocation is who we are called to be and what we are called to do – it’s the core of our identity. The root meaning in Latin of vocation is “voice.” Vocation is not a call we pursue. It is a calling that we hear and act on. 

In his book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer writes,

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths to embody, what values you represent.

We should try every day to let our lives speak – in the good times and hard times – and to listen to the voice of God in our lives and respond.

A deep sense of calling can sustain us throughout our lives, even as the expressions of that calling may change throughout our lives. Commitment to our vocation can sustain us through the highs and lows of a life in ministry and service.

Listen to the call. Sustain it through prayer and reflection. Share your journey with a few trusted colleagues who will walk with you. Live it every day so your life will speak to others.


Cultivate perseverance.

One of my favorite parables of Jesus is the widow and the judge in Luke 18. It is a testimony to the virtue of perseverance in life.

 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.

Develop an attitude of perseverance – to your personal mission and to the ministry that God has entrusted to you. Perseverance keeps us moving forward. A life of ministry and service is a marathon not a sprint.


Cultivate a passion for your ministry.

 Passion is essential for our ministry. It is zeal and enthusiasm and energy. Passion is the driving force behind our actions. It motivates us to invest the time, energy, and resources necessary for our ministry.

Passion fuels our creativity, innovation, and perseverance, shaping our experiences and ultimately contributing to a sense of purpose and satisfaction in life.

Be passionate! Passion animates and gives life to everyone around us. It’s contagious.


Cultivate the value of uncertainty and ambiguity.

In times like ours it is so important make uncertainty a friend. Uncertainty is not for the faint of heart. Maggie Jackson in her book Uncertain writes,

Most of thought and life itself is the pursuit of resolution. Yet along the way, it is uncertainty that equips us to envision the unimaginable, adjust to the unexpected, value a question as deeply as an answer, and find strength in difference and in difficulty. We need not fear the indefinite. For that is where we find the better solution and the path of hope. This is uncertainty’s edge.

Embrace the uncertainty. Begin to discern new possibilities and solutions. Uncertainty focuses us on the deep sense of calling and mission that is the bedrock of our ministry and service.


Cultivate a spirit of entrepreneurship.

These are times that call us to be entrepreneurs – leaders who are willing to innovate, to experiment, to try new things.

Many of our inherited forms of ministry, church life, education, and faith formation no longer effectively address the lives of people today.

Become a spiritual entrepreneur who balances faithfulness to a religious heritage with adaptation to the fast-changing cultural and societal contexts.

Be a leader who recognizes the need for flexibility and creativity in ministry, and who creates and utilizes innovative approaches, methods, and/or technologies to bring the mission alive today.


Cultivate curiosity.

Curiosity is the gateway to learning and learning is the pathway to transformation.

Be curious about a lot in life. Listen, read, watch, and experience more widely. Bring these new insights into your ministry. Never stop being curious. Never stop learning. Be the model of a lifelong learner.


Cultivate humility.

Our life of ministry and service is not about us and our accomplishments. It is about faithfulness to our calling, to our mission, and to the people we serve. Humility keeps us grounded through the highs of our ministry, and lifts us up during the lows.

Pray the prayer of Ignatius of Loyola each day – to keep us humble and grateful.

You have given all to me 
To you, Lord, I return it 
Everything is Yours 
Do with it what You will 
Give me only Your love and Your grace 
That is enough for me 

Cultivate your power to act.

Seth Godin wrote these words the day after Nelson Mandela died.

Others can better write about Nelson Mandela's impact on the world stage, on how he stood up for the dignity of all people and on how he changed our world.

 For those that seek to make a change in the world, whether global or local, one lesson of his life is this:

You can.

You can make a difference.

You can stand up to insurmountable forces.

You can put up with far more than you think you can.

Your lever is far longer than you imagine it is, if you choose to use it.

If you don't require the journey to be easy or comfortable or safe, you can change the world.


Cultivate your power to act on behalf of God’s kingdom wherever you minister and serve. 


John Roberto
NCCL Executive Director
[email protected]


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