Joel Hunter

Joel Hunter

Joel Carl Hunter (born April 18, 1948 in Shelby, Ohio), is the senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed in Central Florida. He is the author of numerous books, including "A New Kind of Conservative" (Regal 2008) and "Church Distributed" (Distributed Press 2008). A leading evangelical voice for compassion issues, Dr. Hunter, who accepted the presidency of the Christian Coalition in 2006, but resigned before taking the post because he believed that the CC board felt that a broadening of agenda beyond gay and abortion to topics like sustainability, and poverty would alienate the base, which subsequently brought his name into national recognition. He delivered the closing benediction on the final day of the 2008 Democratic National Convention.


Joel Carl Hunter was born April 18, 1948 about 75 miles north of Columbus, Ohio in the town of Shelby, Ohio. His parents were Wilbur Hunter, a decorated World War II veteran, and Jean Hunter, a homemaker. When his father died in 1952 from bronchogenic carcinoma of the lungs, Jean went to school to become a beautician and then opened a salon in a room built onto the back of the house. From there she was able to work and keep a close eye on her two children, Joel and older sister Michele. For the next several years as his mother developed an alcoholism that would later claim her life, Joel spent much of his time with his maternal grandparents, Lena and Carl Bashore. It was from his grandmother that he was introduced to Christian life as she made him attend church each Sunday where he first heard from pastor, Dr. Stanley Shoemaker, "Nothing in your life will ever come right until you give it to Jesus." In 1957, Jean married Herb Ovens, a factory worker in a carbon paper mill. For the remainder of his youth, Joel had a stable home life, doing well in school and excelling in sports. He graduated from Shelby High School in 1966 the president of his class and captain of the football team.

After high school, he attended Ohio University and majored in history and government. While there, he became involved in many of the movements on campus, later saying "if the mashed potatoes in the cafeteria were lumpy, we found a reason to protest." More substantially, he put much of his energy into the civil rights movement after he was impassioned for the cause by the words and actions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. In fact, it was in April 1968, after the assassination of Dr. King, that he had a crisis of faith and one night, wandered into Galbraith Chapel on campus. It was there that knelt at the altar and dedicated his life to Jesus, remembering the words of his childhood pastor. From that point onward, he felt called into ministry. He graduated from Ohio University with a Bachelor of Science degree in education.

From college, he pursued his calling in the ministry by going to Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1970. He chose the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) seminary because his childhood friend Mike Armstrong was accepted there. He received his Master of Divinity in 1973. After starting towards his Doctor of Ministry degree, he took his first church appointment as a youth minister at Bradley United Methodist Church in Greenfield, Indiana. It was there that he met his wife, Becky. He stayed at Bradley for one year, but was let go after the church board could find room in the budget only for new carpet or a youth minister and opted for the former. Hunter then became a minister at Southport United Methodist and remained there until obtaining his Doctor of Ministry degree in 1974. His thesis, in the field of culture and personality, was about equipping people for ministry. After graduation he moved to Princeton, Indiana to take a post at Faith United Methodist. In 1978, he became the senior Indiana [what?] .

Dr. Hunter and Northland Church

In 1985, Dr. Hunter awoke from sleep several nights in a row feeling as he described it, "that my heart was disturbed." In concert with this feeling was the notion that God was calling him to move into a new phase of ministry. Not knowing what action he was supposed to take with new idea, he sought the counsel of a venerable nearby church pastor, saying that he was aware God wanted him to move forward, but he had never taken a job in a church that was not appointed for him by a bishop. It was there that he found out, through a letter sent to several church overseers across the United States, that there was a church called Northland Community Church in Orlando, Florida that was looking for a senior pastor. With that he flew to Orlando and underwent an exhaustive interview process at Northland.

Several weeks after he accepted the role of Northland's senior pastor, his wife Becky had a conversation with a wife of one of the church elders and told her about the incidents of Hunter waking up with the feeling of a disturbed heart. The elder's wife was taken aback and explained to Becky that months before, during the time period of the night time awakenings, the elders' wives had been consistently praying that God would "disturb the heart of the man that was supposed to be their pastor."

At the time, Northland Community Church had been in existence for 13 years, started in 1972 by 11 people in the "north land" of Orlando. As it grew through its infancy, Northland began to meet in local elementary schools. It bought a dilapidated roller skating rink in Longwood, Florida the year before Dr. Hunter became the senior pastor. By 1985, the church had a weekly attendance of 200 people. Over the next two decades the church grew to an average weekly attendance of more than 10,000 people. It was recently named one of “America’s 50 Most Influential Churches” by Church Growth Today and the March/April 2008 issue of Ministry Today magazine listed it as one of "The Seven Most Innovative Church Buildings in America."

The Distributed Church

In 1996, Dr. Hunter began to pursue the idea of a church that could reach a much larger audience than just that which met inside its walls. He started discussing the idea with the elders of the church and soon Neighborhood Networks of the church began to meet. These were intended to be groups of 30 to 300 Northland churchgoers that would meet during the week in their own neighborhoods to study together, encourage each other, and serve the neighborhoods' needs in practical ways. The idea seemed promising at first, but ultimately failed. Dr. Hunter later attributed the failure to a disconnectedness of these groups resulting from a lack of a concurrent worship service with the larger church body.

Dr. Hunter felt that to allow local manifestations of the church to flourish, it would require a weekly concurrent worship service. This requirement was serendipitously met years later by an overcrowding at the increasingly cramped renovated roller skating rink in which Northland met. It was the increasing numbers of worshippers shortly after September 11, 2001 that forced Northland to create its first fully interactive multisite location at Lyman High School down the road. Through broadband web-streaming, Northland was able to have a worship service at both the main site and at the high school. Duets were sung between singers half a mile apart and Scripture read by either congregation was able to be heard in real time at both sites.

Northland replicated the multisite worship service in several different locations to meet the needs of different locations across Central Florida and now holds concurrent worship services with more than a thousand congregants in Mount Dora, West Oaks, and Oviedo, Florida. The same technology has allowed the church to hold concurrent interactive services with partner churches in Windhoek, Namibia; Kiev, Ukraine; and Cairo, Egypt.

In order to more fully realize the potential of a truly distributed church, Northland opened its new facility in August 2007. The multimillion dollar, 3,100 seat building used much of its budget on technology that enables it to be a hub capable of transmitting enormous amounts of data each weekend to multisites around the world. With this new capability, [ Northland's InSite Webstream] has become the first fully interactive, online worship service in the world. The 8,000-plus attendees that come to the site in Longwood, Florida each weekend no longer worship alone. Every weekend, along with over 1,000 plus worshipers in Central Florida at several multisite locations, thousands more join in the service from over 1,500 locations across the world for interactive, concurrent worship.

Creation Care

Dr. Hunter was asked in February 2006 to sign the Evangelical Climate Initiative, a document recognizing global warming based on the findings of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Fellow signatories included Rick Warren, the presidents of 39 Christian colleges, and the president of the Salvation Army. In the spring of 2006, he was asked to host a TV advertisement by the group saying, "with God's help, we can stop global warming, for our kids, for our world, and for our Lord." The advertisement was condemned, on the basis that global warming is a falsehood, by several prominent evangelicals including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Shortly thereafter, in the summer of 2006, Dr. Hunter was invited to a symposium on creation care at Windsor Castle where he heard from, among others, theologian N. T. Wright; former chairman of the IPCC, Sir John Houghton; and Prince Charles. He has since been named by Grist Magazine to be one of the top 15 religious leaders in creation care, along with Pope Benedict XVI and the Dalai Lama.

Dr. Hunter and the Christian Coalition

Dr. Hunter was asked in July 2006 to become the next president of the Christian Coalition. The group was started in 1988 by Pat Robertson and grew in influence throughout the early 1990's to a base of 1.2 million members and a revenue of 26.5 million dollars in 1996. Throughout the late 1990s the group's influence declined rapidly and by 2004 it was bankrupt, with debts owed greater than assets. In 2006, the Christian Coalition was two million dollars in debt and looking to new leadership to inspire the base and lead the group back into a position of status. Dr. Hunter accepted the position of president-elect and set to work seeking to broaden the agenda of the group beyond gay marriage and abortion into creation care and the alleviation of poverty. While he made it clear that he would continue to fight for the original principles of the Christian Coalition, he felt it essential that the concerns of the group be expanded to include "compassion issues." The board felt that a broadening of agenda would be alienating to the base, and Dr. Hunter stepped down from the position of president-elect November 23, 2006. The media gave the resignation wide-spread attention and he was featured in several national publications including Newsweek and The New York Times, as well as programs such as The Early Show, Nightline and Anderson Cooper 360.

Democratic National Convention 2008-Closing Benediction

Dr. Hunter provided the closing Benediction to the Democratic National Convention in 2008. The transcription of this prayer is as follows:

"Please stand. We are all here to devote ourselves to the improvement of this country we love. In one of the best traditions of our country, would those of you who are people of faith join me in asking for God’s help?

Almighty God, let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us a reverence for all life. Give us a compassion for the most vulnerable among us: the babies, the children, the poor, the sick, the enslaved, the persecuted … for all of those who have been left out of the advantaged world. Give us a zeal to clean the environment we have polluted while we create an economy where everyone who can work can have a job.

Help us to honor those who defend our country by working harder and smarter for peace. Help us to counter those who incite fear and hatred by becoming people who are informed and respectful, and are known for principles and projects that aim higher than our own group’s benefit.

Guide Barack Obama and all of our leaders to be agents of Your will and recipients of Your wisdom. And grant that all of us citizens will continually do our part to contribute to the common good by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Now, I interrupt this prayer for a closing instruction: Because we are gathered in a country that continues to welcome people of all faiths, let us personalize this prayer by closing according to our own tradition. On the count of three, end your prayer as you would usually do … one, two, three __________ (”in Jesus’ name”) AMEN!

Let’s go out and change the world for good!"

Dr. Hunter was widely criticized by many in the Pro-Life movement for his decision to attend and lend his credibility to the Pro-Choice Democratic Party. Additionally, many Christians were offended by his offering prayer in the name of other than Jesus Christ.

Family Life

Joel Hunter met his wife, Becky, at his first church appointment in seminary, Bradley United Methodist Church in Greenfield, Indiana. They were married July 2, 1972. Becky, a former biology teacher, is the president of the [ Global Pastors' Wives Network] and author of "Being Good to Your Husband on Purpose" (Strang). The Hunters have three sons: Josh (1975), Isaac (1977), and Joel (1981). Their eldest, Josh, is married to Lisa and they have two children, Noah and Ava. He is the director of operations at [ Summit Church] , founded by his brother Isaac. Isaac and his wife, Rhonda started Summit Church in Orlando, Florida in 2002 and it has since grown to 2,000 members. They have three children: Jada, Ella and Lincoln. Dr. Hunter's youngest son, Joel, is a doctor currently in his ophthalmology residency. He is planning to open Hunter Vision, a LASIK and cataract center, in Orlando in 2010. Joel married his wife Elizabeth in 2007.

Boards of Directors

* [ World Evangelical Alliance]
* [ National Association of Evangelicals]
* [ The Global Pastors’ Network]
* [ Children's Environmental Health Network]
* Christian Peacemaking Resources, Inc.

International Forums

* Participant in the Alliance of Civilizations (United Nations) (2008)
* Participant in the U.S./Islamic World Forum (2007, 2008)

Advisory Boards

* Belhaven College
* Man in the Mirror Ministries
* Vision Orlando
* Christian HELP
* New Man magazine

Guest lecturer in practical theology

* Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando


* [ A New Kind of Conservative] (Regal Publishers)
* [ Church Distributed] (Distributed Press)
* Right Wing, Wrong Bird (Distributed Press)
* Journey to Spiritual Maturity - 10 book series (Distributed Press)
* Prayer, Politics, and Power (Tyndale Publishing)


* Bachelor of Science in History, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, 1970
* Master of Divinity, Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1973
* Doctor of Ministry, Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1974
* Doctor of Humanities (Honorary), Belhaven College, Orlando, Florida 2006

External links

* [ Creation, I Care]
* [ Home page]
* [ “The New Evangelicals”] , June 2008 issue of "The New Yorker"

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