LONGWOOD, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - Dr. Joel C. Hunter, a spiritual adviser to President Barack Obama and longtime pastor at Longwood, Florida's Northland Church, is stepping down. The church announced on Wednesday evening that Rev. Hunter will "transition from his role as senior pastor."
"Pastor Joel made it clear to us that he is not finished serving God and this community, however, he has completed his pastoral call," wrote Northland's Lead Pastor Vernon Rainwater in a statement posted on the church's website.
Since Hunter's arrival to Northland in 1985, the church has grown from a congregation of just a few hundred people to over 20,000.
Hunter, who was born in Ohio and began his ministry as a Methodist preacher, has been an advocate for the homeless and victims of human trafficking. He has also been a vocal activist for racial equality and reconciliation and has been instrumental in creating dialog between Christians and those of other faiths.
Rev. Hunter was on the receiving end of a prayer request from a Belle Isle Police officer on the morning of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. After witnessing the horror of the massacre, Officer Justin Lemieux emailed his pastor, saying "Now, more than ever, we need God. Please pray for all of those involved.”
In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Hunter said, “When someone asks for prayer, that’s all I need to know,” and he began to pray immediately, he told the paper. Hunter subsequently led community forums as part of the church's outreach to the LGBT community, stating that conservative churches needed to be more inclusive and supportive, while still adhering to biblical teachings.
During his time at Northland, Rev. Hunter has had his share of personal tragedy, having lost one of his sons, Isaac, in 2013.
"So what’s next for Northland? Our governing elders are praying and seeking God for direction," Rainwater wrote. "What we do know is we will continue to be a community that includes the unincluded, the marginalized and gathers to worship God for who He is and what He has done,"
On behalf of Northland’s leadership, I want to let you know that Pastor Joel has expressed his intention to transition from his role as senior pastor of Northland Church. Our governing elders received this information today after he returned from his annual sabbatical. They have asked me to communicate this to you, the congregation.
It’s been my great pleasure to serve alongside Pastor Joel and Becky for 32 years, 27 of those years as a pastor. Having worked closely with him, I know him to be a man of integrity, full of compassion for others, and infectious love for Jesus Christ. No doubt you join me in gratitude for all that he has taught us about who God is and what He has done. His life and ministry have been a catalyst for worship and service throughout this city and around the world.
Pastor Joel made it clear to us that he is not finished serving God and this community, however, he has completed his pastoral call. Our elder board affirms him in this, and we look forward to hearing more from him in the coming weeks.
So what’s next for Northland? Our governing elders are praying and seeking God for direction. What we do know is we will continue to be a community that includes the unincluded, the marginalized and gathers to worship God for who He is and what He has done. From its inception in 1972, Northland has been unwavering in its purpose: To bring people to maturity in Christ.
Here are some questions you may have:
When will this transition take place?
Our board of elders is working with Pastor Joel to identify the best timing for him and the congregation.
Why is Pastor Joel transitioning from his role as senior pastor?
This morning, Pastor Joel told the board of elders and executive staff that “my call to the pastoral role in the church is fulfilled.” We look forward to hearing from him over the next several weeks.
Who is going to be Pastor Joel’s successor?
Clearly, there is no one like Pastor Joel. The governing elders are working through this process now and expect it to take some time. Pastor Vernon will continue to serve as our lead pastor and we are blessed with a number of excellent preachers and leaders who will serve our congregation.
How can we show our appreciation?
We are working on a plan to honor Pastor Joel & Becky and their faithful ministry at Northland — you will have the opportunity to participate in that.