From Central Florida Lifestyle Publications, By Michele G. Hudson Longwood pastor Joel C. Hunter leads a global ministry that serves our local community.
"Let's go out and change the world for good." These passionate words, delivered by Longwood pastor Joel C. Hunter in the closing prayer at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, reflect this evangelical leader's perpetual mission.
As senior pastor at Northland, A Church Distributed headquartered in Longwood, Hunter's reputation for championing compassion issues drew worldwide attention. Then, being invited to pray a blessing over our 44th president in a private, pre- inauguration service in Washington, D.C., sparked further notoriety.
"It was amazing," Hunter says of his time with President Obama and the inauguration events. "There was a buoyancy and optimism- a new era of history-which was very encouraging."
How did President Obama become acquainted with a pastor in Longwood? Hunter says his leadership in organizations like The World Evangelical Alliance, The National Association of Evangelicals, along with shepherding an innovative church like Northland, "put him on the radar screen" and positioned him "as a religious leader who may be good to access."
In 1985, Hunter moved from a Methodist church in Indiana with his wife, Becky, and their three sons to Central Florida. Under his leadership, Northland grew from a congregation of 200 to more than 12,000, embodying the "Church Distributed" philosophy. Today, worshippers participate in interactive services each weekend from five sites throughout Central Florida, as well as hundreds of virtual sites around the globe.
Named one of America's 50 Most Influential Churches by Church Growth Today, Hunter speaks humbly of the church's success: "We have never tried to grow ... just tried to love and serve people, and follow God. You can get surprised along the way."
Northland's state-of-the art 160,000-square-foot facilities at their Dog Track Road location (which opened in August 2007) is a hub for more than just worship services. In their new sanctuary, they hosted several Nutcracker ballet performances, which drew a wide audience. "We want to be a facility that offers experiences in the arts as a service to the community," says Hunter. In addition to numerous Christian music acts, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and country star Wynonna Judd are scheduled for future events.
"There are very few organizations in Seminole County that make as dramatic an impact in the community as Northland," says Longwood City Commissioner Joe Durso. "The way they are organized, the types of community programs and family- based activities are a testament to how powerful a leader Joel is."
Hunter wants Northland to be viewed as a resource to the entire community, "not just to our own constituency," he says. "We want to be seen as servants in the community of Longwood."
According to Durso, "Joel is a humble guy, and he downplays his role and influence a bit. The size of the church is unbelievable, and the amount of outreach they are able to generate is impressive." Regarding his priorities for the future, Hunter says, "We are a church that has three things to do: worship together, provide service all over the community and try to equip people for those tasks."