LONGWOOD, Fla. – The pastor of a Central Florida megachurch announced Wednesday that he's stepping down.
Dr. Joel Hunter, who has led Northland Church in Longwood for more than 30 years, made the announcement in a statement on the church's website.
Hunter told the church elders that his "call to the pastoral role in the church is fulfilled."
When Hunter started as pastor of the church in 1985, the congregation had about 200 members. Northland now boasts a membership of about 200,000.
Hunter also served as a spiritual advisor to President Barack Obama.
No date has been set for Hunter's departure.
Below is the full letter posted by lead pastor Vernon Rainwater on Northland's website:
"On behalf of Northland’s leadership, I want to let you know that Pastor Joel has expressed his intention to transition from his role as senior pastor of Northland Church. Our governing elders received this information today after he returned from his annual sabbatical. They have asked me to communicate this to you, the congregation.
"It’s been my great pleasure to serve alongside Pastor Joel and Becky for 32 years, 27 of those years as a pastor. Having worked closely with him, I know him to be a man of integrity, full of compassion for others, and infectious love for Jesus Christ. No doubt you join me in gratitude for all that he has taught us about who God is and what He has done. 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, and we look forward to hearing more from him in the coming weeks.
"So what’s next for Northland? Our governing elders are praying and seeking God for direction. 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.
"Here are some questions you may have:
When will this transition take place?
Our board of elders is working with Pastor Joel to identify the best timing for him and the congregation.
Why is Pastor Joel transitioning from his role as senior pastor?
This morning, Pastor Joel told the board of elders and executive staff that “my call to the pastoral role in the church is fulfilled.” We look forward to hearing from him over the next several weeks.
Who is going to be Pastor Joel’s successor?
Clearly, there is no one like Pastor Joel. The governing elders are working through this process now and expect it to take some time. Pastor Vernon will continue to serve as our lead pastor and we are blessed with a number of excellent preachers and leaders who will serve our congregation.
How can we show our appreciation?
We are working on a plan to honor Pastor Joel & Becky and their faithful ministry at Northland — you will have the opportunity to participate in that."