Reflections From An Ex-Pastor

Eric Hoke
August 19, 2023
5 min read
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I lost my identity and my 4 year helped me find it.

At the age of 36, I am no longer a pastor.

That might sound a bit strange, but I became a pastor at 23.

I was commissioned into a local church as an Associate Pastor barely out of Bible College, shortly thereafter licensed and ordained. At 30, I was assessed and approved by a major denomination to start my own congregation, shortly thereafter becoming a lead pastor with no idea on what I was doing or how I was supposed to step into this new role but with excitement and glee in my spirit to make a difference for the Kingdom.

And now at the age of 36, 13 years removed from that young man, uncertain of what he was signing up for, who stood at an altar while a church’s leadership team laid hands and affirmed me as their new pastor, I am no longer a pastor of a local church.

The reason for that is that the congregation that I started merged with another congregation and I made the decision to step down from church ministry.

Two weeks ago, was my final Sunday.

It has been incredibly underwhelming.

Apart from a few friends checking in on me to make sure I am OK (I am) and a few members who I still need to call and make amends because of their hurt and frustration about the merge (which I get) the transition has been… unexciting. The most difficult part is my own inner pain and hurt about no longer being a pastor, something that my identity was so wrapped up in.

Within the last few months, the deep void that I feel knowing that I am no longer a pastor has shocked me. This shocked me because I did not think I was one of “those guys” who was so impressed with himself and his titles. After all, I never led a large church and was always bivocational, working in corporate America in addition to leading a church.

But here I am exposed, naked, bare and without the security blanket of being able to say, “I am a pastor” when inevitably asked because it seems to be most people’s favorite question in New York City.

I realize now that I need to find my identity again, my identity outside of being a pastor, which has proven to be more difficult than I had imagined, and I don’t know what that looks like as its all I have known for so many years.

Sunday sermons, counseling sessions, weddings, funerals, preparing worship services, ordering coffee creamers, filling out permits and checking out the website’s SEO. All in a day’s work as a minister.

I had a moment a few weeks back at the dinner table with my wife and 3 young children. In between messy plates, broccoli protests, spilled milk, and sheer exhaustion from life with toddlers, my eldest Lydia did something that triggered me.

Unsure what it even was now: threw food, dropped something, hit her sister, who knows? My wife, always more comforting and patient than I, asked Lydia why she did that. Before Lydia could answer I replied, “She is just a brat.”

Not my proudest fatherhood moment.

Lydia heard my comment, scoffed, and protested, standing atop her chair with a loud voice, shouted “I AM NOT A BRAT, I AM LYDIA.”

I can’t say I have many moments where God speaks audibly to me, maybe a handful over 20 years of walking with Him but I had one in that moment around my dining room table with my children where I sensed God say:

“You are not a pastor, you are Eric”

My child possesses confidence that her actions did not create her person, but the other way around. She may be acting bratty, but she is not that chiefly. I must learn how to be more like her, confident in who I am in a person, way before any utility I may or may not bring into the lives of others. I am a person outside of being a pastor.

Because here I am, at the age of 36, looking in the mirror and having to say, “I am no longer a pastor.”

I wrote this short reflection while at a monastery in Western New York where I’ve spent the last 24 hours in mostly silent prayer and meditation and the word that the Lord graciously gave me at that noisy and messy dining room table in The Bronx is the same word that He is giving me in this quiet, secluded sanctuary amongst the monks.

I want you just to be OK with just being you.

Uncertainty is probably the best word I can use to describe what the next 13 years of my life and ministry will hold and perhaps it will result in returning to pastoral ministry in some capacity, but time will tell. I am ok with not knowing, maybe for the first time ever what the long-term play is for my vocation and career.

But I do know one thing for certain: when those feelings of being exposed, naked, and bare rear their heads and I know they will.

My new line can be: “I am Eric, a child of God.”

Lord may it be so.

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