Joel Hunter Stepping Down as Senior Pastor of Orlando Megachurch, Says Call Is 'Fulfilled'

(PHOTO: FACEBOOK/NORTHLAND, A CHURCH DISTRIBUTED)Pastor Joel Hunter of the Northland Church in Florida during one of his sermons.

An influential minister who has counseled American presidents is leaving his senior pastor position at a Florida megachurch, saying his call in this role is "fulfilled."

Joel Hunter, senior pastor of the 20,000-member Northland, A Church Distributed, which is located in Longwood, just outside of Orlando, told the church executive staff Wednesday that his "call to the pastoral role in the church is fulfilled," according to a statement posted on the church's website.

Lead Pastor Vernon Rainwater, who authored the statement and has served alongside Hunter for 32 years, said Hunter informed the governing elders after returning from his annual sabbatical.

Though he will be stepping down from his pastoral role, Hunter will continue to serve the Northland community, according to Rainwater. The church elder board has affirmed Hunter in the completion of his call and expects to hear more from him in the weeks to come.

"Our governing elders are praying and seeking God for direction," Rainwater said, regarding the future of the congregation.

"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."

When Hunter started pastoring at Northland in 1985, the church had a membership of approximately 200 people.

Hunter is known for working across political party lines and served as a spiritual adviser to President Barack Obama.

"Joel defies stereotypes and labels," said the Rev. James Coffin, executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, as Religion News Service noted Wednesday.

"He's conservative, yes. But principled is a better description. He's committed to following truth wherever it leads. If study and prayer and life experience yield new convictions, he follows his conscience—even when it might be personally or politically disadvantageous. He's compassionate, caring about real people who live complicated, messy lives. Joel is so effective as a preacher because he's forever the student."

Hunter, 69, describes himself in his biography on the church's website as "not partisan, nor am I politically oriented."

"But as God has ordained three institutions—the family, the church, and the government—I work as a pastor in all three of these arenas to promote love and caring and service, especially to those who need it most."

"All of the issues in which I advocate that we take a moral responsibility are biblical admonitions," Hunter explains in his bio. "As believers involved in compassion issues, we have our motivation from God via His holy scriptures."

He is a board member of both the National Association of Evangelicals and the World Evangelical Alliance.

In 2010, Hunter formally left the Republican Party and registered as an independent, expressing discomfort with identifying with one party and the "hyper-partisanship" and "outside voices hijacking legitimate political debate."

When the shooting of 49 people at the Pulse gay nightclub occurred in his city last year, he was asked what responsibility American evangelicals have in LGBT persons being labeled as "others." He replied that though it was not likely that Christians would change the way they interpret Scripture he said would still "go back and examine my own heart."

"I've got to confess to my congregation that if there's anything I've said that could have ever led to anything — the dismissal or denigration of any other population — God, I am so sorry for that," Hunter said.

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