“The ultimate answer to healing and redeeming the world will not come from any government policy change—it will only come from a personal heart change,” says Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed.
Dr. Hunter’s passion is for the distributed church, the philosophy of which is taken from the very nature of God who exists in perfect relationship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit ... and came down to redeem us. This is summarized in scripture and demonstrated by the life of Christ, “I AM = Us for them, there.”
“The distributed church is a vision that calls us to form the church in the relationships we already have instead of confining our spiritual life to a building or a particular religious institution.” Dr. Hunter explains, “As believers, we are called to distribute the church into every realm and relationship of society as we follow Christ, who is Lord over all the earth and who promised, ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’”
During Dr. Hunter’s tenure, which began in 1985, Northland has grown from 200 faithful souls to a Florida-based congregation of 20,000 that worships worldwide via the Web. Before accepting the pastorate at Northland, he served as a United Methodist minister for 15 years in Indiana. He and his wife, Becky, have been partners in the ministry since their marriage in 1972. Becky is the former president of the Global Pastors Wives Network and is the author of Being Good to Your Husband On Purpose (Creation House) and Why Her? You, Your Daughter-in-Law and the Big Picture. The Hunters are parents to three sons: Joshua, CEO of Hunter Vision; Joel, an ophthalmic surgeon who specializes in 3D LASIK and cataract laser surgery; and Isaac, a former pastor (1977-2013). The Hunters have seven grandchildren: Noah, Jada, Ella, Lincoln, Luke, Lena and Ava (2004-2010).
Dr. Hunter was born and raised in the small Midwestern town of Shelby, Ohio, by a mother who “taught me to always love people who were different than I was.” As a result, he became heavily involved as a young adult in the civil rights movement at Ohio University.
He came to a crisis of faith after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and remembered the admonishment of his childhood pastor who said, “Nothing will ever come right in the world unless you take care of the sin in your own heart.” It was then, in the middle of the campus at Galbraith Chapel, that he knelt down and gave his life completely to Christ.
A short time later he felt called into ministry, mainly to address the sin of disconnected relationships, with God and one another. As a pastor, he is helping the church be active outside its walls in various kinds of “pro-life” issues—not only protection of the vulnerable within the womb but continuing the protection of the vulnerable outside the womb.
He has become an internationally known advocate for peace, for the poor, for victims of human trafficking, for protecting God’s creation for the sake of victims of pollution-caused climate change, for the inclusion in church and society of families/persons dealing with disabilities, and for racial equality and reconciliation. He has been featured in national publications including Time, Newsweek, The New York Times and The Washington Post. A three-time consecutive recipient of Central Florida’s “50 Most Powerful” citizens by Orlando magazine, he has been interviewed on NPR and featured on programs such as “The Early Show,” CNN’s “American Morning,” PBS’ “Religion and Ethics,” and “Anderson Cooper 360.”
“All of the issues in which I advocate that we take a moral responsibility are biblical admonitions,” Dr. Hunter says. “As believers involved in compassion issues, we have our motivation from God via His holy scriptures.”
Dr. Hunter’s involvement in the public policy part of his ministry often takes the form of being a pastor relating to public officials. In one of those relationships, he has been a spiritual advisor to President Obama, writing devotions for him weekly and praying with him periodically. “I am not partisan, nor am I politically oriented,” Dr. Hunter explains. “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.”
A longtime bridge-builder who seeks common ground for the common good, Dr. Hunter approaches today’s issues in a biblical and balanced manner. Cooperation and partnership are hallmarks of his ministry. Together, he believes, we can accomplish more because of our differences than we would on our own—without giving up our unique identities. A respected leader in the Evangelical community, he serves on leadership boards of the World Evangelical Alliance (600 million constituents) and the National Association of Evangelicals (30 million members).
Dr. Hunter is partnering with diverse groups to accomplish common goals. He is working with respected members of the scientific community to call attention to human-caused threats to the environment. Grist magazine named him among the top 15 religious environmental leaders in the world, along with the Pope and the Dalai Lama. Additionally, he has been a delegate to the U.S.-Islamic World Forum held in Doha, Qatar, he continues to build a dialogue between Muslim and Christian communities. He is also co-convener of the annual Jewish-Evangelical Leader Dialogue in the U.S. He also served in the inaugural year on the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which advised President Obama on substantive policy issues.
Dr. Hunter is the author of several books, including A New Kind of Conservative (Regal Books), which outlines a non-partisan approach to political involvement, and Church Distributed, an explanation of how the church can thrive in an era of connection.
The church at large is missing a way to benefit from differences without compromising our beliefs, Dr. Hunter concludes. “Fear and suspicion of differences limit the church’s spiritual maturity. Both spiritual and intellectual maturity grow from differences. A distributed church uses contrasts to accomplish kingdom purposes.”
White House Appointments:
• President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (2009-2010)
Appointments and Awards:
• Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations, Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) (2011- )
• Medal of Merit, Ohio University (2015)
• Better Man Award, Better Man Ministries (2015)
• National Honorary Chairman, National Weekend of Prayer to End Slavery and Trafficking (2014)
• Peace and Dialogue Award, Nile Foundation (2013)
• Florida’s Faith-Based and Community-Based Advisory Council (2008–2012)
• White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (2009–2010)
Boards of directors:
• World Evangelical Alliance (North American Council)
• National Association of Evangelicals
• Central Florida Commission on Homelessness
• First Green Bank
• Participant in the Alliance of Civilizations (United Nations)
• Participant in the Global Christian Forum
• Participant in the U.S./Islamic World Forum
• Participant in the Parliament of the World’s Religions
• Belhaven College
• The Biologos Foundation
• Children’s Environmental Health Network
• Christian HELP
• The John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics
• Florida’s Faith-based and Community-based Advisory Council (2008-2012)
• Interfaith Council of Central Florida
• Man in the Mirror Ministries
• National Latino Evangelical Coalition
• The Telos Group
• U.S. Center for Citizens Diplomacy
• Vernon C Grounds Institute of Public Ethics (Denver Seminary)
• Vision Orlando
• Bachelor of Science in History and Government, 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, Belhaven University, Jackson, Mississippi, 2006
• Doctor of Divinity, Nyack College and Alliance Theological Seminary, Nyack, New York, 2011
• I Don’t Do Crazy Anymore (Northland Church)
• Inner State 80: Your Journey on the High Way (Higher Life)
• A New Kind of Conservative (Regal)
• Church Distributed (Distributed Church Press)