Joel Hunter, the pastor of Northland Church in Orlando, is stepping down from his role as senior pastor after nearly three decades.
“There is no one like Pastor Joel,” the church wrote in a statement announcing Hunter’s plans.
“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,” stated Northland Church Lead Pastor, Vernon Rainwater.
Hunter is credited with being one of the first churches to start building multi-site congregations with streaming services. Under his leadership, Northland grew from hundreds of people in the early 80’s to 20,000 weekly attendees across three locations, according to Christianity Today.
“Planting churches in the Western mentality is tremendously expensive and has a high failure rate,” Hunter told CT in 2009. “Since we thought physical church plants would be an ineffective approach to church multiplication, we went with online resources that are much more efficient and less costly.”
Northland Church was in the spotlight earlier this summer for a controversial decision in helping its members learn to bridge the divide between the Church and the gay community.
Back in June Northland invited the Reformation Project, which calls itself a gay Christian ministry, to lead an LGBT workshop at the church. Church leaders said that while they disagreed with the Reformation Project’s Biblical interpretation, they wanted to connect with the group.
“We may disagree with how others interpret scripture, but that doesn’t mean we can’t treat them with respect,” the church said in a statement.
When CBN News asked if the controversy had anything to do with Hunter’s decision to step aside, a representative of the church did not answer the question, but directed us to an online statement.
Pastor Hunter was also a religious adviser to President Barack Obama and made a similar statement when Obama publicly acknowledged his support for same sex marriage.
“We have to be careful not to fight the wrong culture war. We have gay people in our congregation. They are people made in the image of God, and we want them to come close to him in Christ and follow God. So we have to remember that this is a hurtful issue for many, many people, and we have to be very respectful as we talk about it,” Hunter told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
Hunter told the president that he disagreed with his view on marriage, but the decision would not fracture their friendship. When asked about his relationship with the president by Mitchell, Hunter replied, “I love him and he’s a friend.”
Pastor Joel says he has three initiatives he would like to spend time focusing on after he has officially stepped down from Northland: “teaching a weekly Bible study where community members can ask questions, helping the Community Resource Network unite people and churches to address the problem of homelessness and finally, form networks of Jesus followers in order to “distribut(e) the church into everyday life.”