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Over the last month, my photo memories have been punctuated with pictures of past graduations. There’s the white gown from Holland Christian High School then the black gown from Kuyper College where my newlywed husband and I graduated.

There I am with my husband again, both of us still dressed in black gowns, this time each of us holding a little kid on a hip the day we graduated from Calvin Seminary.

Four years later there’s the picture where the kid on a hip at the last graduation is draping a red hood over the most expensive hat I own when I graduated from Emmanuel College during the pandemic. We watched the pre-recorded commencement address from our living room where I sat in my full regalia. Talk about anti-climactic.

I can’t shake the feeling that if those graduates could see me now, they’d be a little confused.

Every graduation is preceded by folks asking, “What’s next?” “What are your plans?” With the persistence of these questions comes the pressure – both internal and external – to learn to tell a certain story about ourselves. This is probably true for people entering any profession, but it is especially pronounced for those entering ministry. We learn to tell the story of how God has been molding us and shaping us with unique experiences and gifts and passions in order to do something particular and very useful in the world. We learn to tell a story about our calling.

If you asked me at high school graduation, I would have said that I felt called to use my musical gifts, so I was going to study music in college. I must have heard that call wrong because I was miserable studying music. Maybe God was calling me to serve the church instead. If you asked me at college graduation, that’s what I would have said, though the exact contours of that call to serve the church were still fuzzy.

Once my husband and I got to seminary, the question of calling came to dominate many conversations. Our peer mentoring groups took turns telling our stories about how God had called us to ministry. I learned to tell a certain story where I had discerned that God’s call on my life was becoming more and more clear. I was called to full-time pastoral ministry in the Christian Reformed Church. I left out the parts of the story that didn’t fit the narrative. I was too far into the narrative arc of the plot to turn back or complicate things too much.

Richard Lischer comments on the limits of plot when he says that plot is “a broom which sweeps everything in the same direction” and that direction is resolution. For seminary students, there is pressure to learn to tell your call story as a broom which sweeps everything in the same direction – and that direction is toward a call to self-sacrificial, long-term service of the Church. Oh, and if you want Classis financial aid from your CRC Classis then the broom better sweep everything toward service in the Christian Reformed Church.

After the graduation gowns have been returned, the seminary grads must go live and figure out if the story they’ve been telling about their “call to ministry” is right. Maybe the new grad gets a call to a church quickly, maybe they never get a call. Was their call story wrong? Maybe that first church is a great fit, or maybe it tests the credibility of their call story to its limits. And if the church doesn’t cause the new pastor to question that call, the denomination — or a hundred other variables — might. Did they misunderstand God’s call?

At each graduation, I learned to tell a slightly different story about God’s call on my life, but I am not living any of those stories – at least, not exactly. I am a part-time pastor whose attention to and service of her congregation is always in competition with a dozen other things. My ministry fails to measure up to whatever picture of the ideal full-time pastoral ministry I had internalized.

I am also a very part-time adjunct professor, which makes me feel like a perpetual imposter in the world of academia. Most recently I am a small business owner who knows next to nothing about running a small business. I just like to bake pastries and cakes.

I have a hard time focusing on any of these three things. My mind and affection are always bouncing around between them, but I can’t quite imagine quitting any of them. They all are part of who I am now.

Did I get my call story wrong for all those years? Or was my ministry call story right and I just got distracted? Maybe this all strikes you as some intense navel-gazing, but the number of pastors who have left ministry or are reconsidering their ministry leads me to believe that I am not the only one asking questions about what we were doing when we were learning to tell our call stories.

I don’t think I got my call story wrong. It’s just been too narrow. I want to learn to tell a bigger story. A wise friend is helping me to do that. She suggested that maybe all along God has been calling me to creativity, or to joy, or to love. That’s a big story I can grow into. It’s possible I’ll grow into that story as a pastor/professor/baker, but I don’t have to worry if the plot has a few more unexpected turns here and there. Nothing is wasted. God is holding it all together and calling me — calling all of us — toward God’s own self.

Betsy DeVries

Betsy DeVries co-pastors with her husband, Daniel, the Bethany Christian Reformed Church in Gallup, New Mexico. She earned her M.Div. from Calvin Seminary and her Ph.D. from Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto where she studied homiletics. Betsy and Daniel have two children.


  • Heidi De Jonge says:

    I love this, Betsy. You ministered to me this morning!

  • Amy Schenkel says:

    Love this, Betsy! I should note that your peer mentoring group leaders are still working out their call to this day. 🙂 It seems like a life-long endeavor.

    • Betsy says:

      I think you and Henry were my first models for bivocational copastoring. At the time I didn’t the bivocational pastoring was for me, but I think back to our conversations a lot these days 😆

  • Don Tamminga says:

    I would like to affirm your call to joy and intimacy with God through Her people. (Also your call to ministry and baking and family, etc in which you help us, calling us closer to the heart of God 🙂 Thanks, also for the bread, yum. T

    • Betsy says:

      I’m glad to be in a place/congregation where I have the breathing room and where people have the grace to work through these ideas together. I know that wouldn’t be the case everywhere.

  • Pat Cavanaugh says:

    As a visitor to Gallup, I know your church family and community is loving your family. So something about that calling must be a good fit!

  • Yvonne says:

    Thanks for this wisdom today. We had the honing of our ‘call story’ down pat! But my husband left ministry last year, after 15 years as his 2nd ‘career’. He’s now completing a chaplain residency at age 56, & we’ve struggled with our ‘call’ amidst leaving the pastorate & denominational stances & Covid & death & missing the beautifully familiar of past church life. It’s sometimes hard to be honest about the wrestlings & doubts & humannesses in ‘the call’ when honesty isn’t always desired by listeners. Now we try to focus on our daily call to faithful & contented living where we’re at today, celebrating where we’ve been & trusting God’s love & grace in our future.

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about call lately. I’ve been wrestling with the notion that “call” isn’t really helpful. It often feels like the Church’s unholy marriage to economy. If we’re “called” to our job, then we’re defined by our job and there is no limit to how much we can or should give for our job because it’s not a job, it’s us. It’s me. I know this is a twisting of what true “calling” is but somehow it feels like what I was taught. What If God just wants me to be the best Rodney I can be in whatever I do? I’m a husband, father, minister, community organizer, and more. I’m not called to any of them. I’m me in each of them and do them the best I can. Each of them are part of me but none are all of me. I wonder if ministers burn out because they feel called or are told they must be. I don’t know. I don’t feel less a minister or Christian in thinking about dropping the “call” language. Frankly it just makes me feel free.

    • Betsy says:

      Oh, this resonates with me. I share some of these same discomforts with how the word is thrown around and even weaponized. I wouldn’t mind dropping it – at least in the ways that it’s typically been used as an individual being “called” to a particular job.

  • Marie says:

    I like the thought of being called to something bigger than a job, such as a life of hope (which can be more difficult than a job, actually). I also wonder if this “call story” narrative in seminary is assuming one person, probably male, is the person being called to ministry, and the rest of the family will fall into place around this calling. That situation would make it easier for the calling to be a particular job instead of a way of life. What if we change the pronouns to “our calling” instead of “my calling”? Communal calling, whether for a family or a church, can be much harder to work out. Like sweeping with 4 brooms, or a church full of brooms…imagine the tangles! In this situation, the larger picture of living a life called to love/joy/creativity/hope matters even more.

    • Betsy says:

      “…the rest of the family will fall into place around this calling.” YUP. Communal calling sounds like a much more life-giving idea.

    • Rodney Haveman says:

      I really like the idea of communal call for the church. I’m not so keen on the idea of families. My family was always expected to bend their life to my “call” or participate in it as if it were their “call.” I’m grateful that for the most part they didn’t and the church didn’t hold that against them. But a church calling? That sounds right. We are called to be the best community we can be, loving God, neighbor and each other to the best of our ability. I’d need to think more about it, because generally I’m trying to move away from “call” language as much as possible, but when it’s communal at least it moves us away from all the personal traps.

      • Marie says:

        I agree. A family calling shouldn’t mean the kids have to acquiesce to their parents. It can be the other way around, too, and the kids’ needs are prioritized. But more, I was thinking that “calling” isn’t just an adult pursuit. If we also talk with our kids about living in joy, kindness, creativity, that is one way we can teach them to follow Jesus.

  • Debra K Rienstra says:

    Betsy, I’ve been complaining about call language for decades and I’ve written about it many times. Send me an email and I’ll send you a bunch of essays and links. You’re not alone.

  • /svm says:

    It would be interesting to hear from some overseas missionaries — and their families — weighing in on this question.

  • Ronald Mulder says:

    I would have been blessed to have heard this 50 years ago when I was an uncertain “pre-sem’. Thanks for shedding light on this.

  • Amanda W. Benckhuysen says:

    Thank you, Betsy! This resonates so deeply with me. Like you, I feel like my calling has both expanded and shifted from something concrete to something less tangible – joy, delight, loving and investing in others, being a force for healing and shalom. The how of this seems far less important than the what. Grateful for your words!

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