Some people find the path to faith in God late in life. Joel Hunter found his path early on. Observes Joel, “It was the First Methodist Church that began my faith.” Growing up in Shelby helped shape his outlook on life in many respects. “The friendships in sports and the Class of’ 66 taught me the value of teamwork and, thankfully, dozens of people around town felt free to instruct me growing up and help me understand that it ‘takes a village to raise a child.'”
While at SHS, Joel was senior class president, a three-year member of Student Council, sang in choir and was tri-captain of an undefeated Whippet football team. He then earned a bachelor’s degree at Ohio University and a master’s in divinity and a doctorate in ministry from Christian Theological Seminary in Indiana. Just before graduating from seminary in 1972, he married Becky.
For 15 years, Joel served as a United Methodist Church minister in Indiana. Then in 1985 he moved to Longwood, an Orlando, Florida suburb where he serves as senior pastor at Northland, A Church Distributed. Since then, the church congregation has grown from 200 to more than 12,000. Says an SHS alum, “He often uses examples from his childhood and childhood friends. He incorporates them into sermons applicable to passages in the bible for directions on how to live our lives. He is a man of principle and integrity and he is humble.”
Northland’s congregation is non-denominational and worships at five sites throughout central Florida. It reaches thousands more worshipers via the worldwide web and partners with churches in distant locations such as Namibia, Ukraine, Argentina and Egypt.
Joel traces his interest in politics and major issues to his student days at OU. Today he serves on the board of directors of the World Evangelical Alliance, National Association of Evangelicals, Christian Peacemaking Resources, Global Pastors’ Network, and the Jobs Partnership of Central Florida. Joel has authored Prayer Politics and Power, a 10-book series, and has another book scheduled for release in January 2008.
From 1991-2002, he served as adjunct professor of practical theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and currently is a guest lecturer.
In 2006, Belhaven College awarded Joel an Honorary Doctor of Humanities. In addition, Joel has become a nationally known spokesman for “compassion issues,” including the environment. He has been featured in national news media, including Newsweek, TIME, USA Today, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Early Show, Nightline and Anderson Cooper 360. Grist recently cited Joel as one of the world’s top 15 religious leaders in caring for the environment.
Joel and Becky, who live in Orlando, have three married sons, two who are ministers and one a doctor completing an ophthalmology residency. The Hunters have five grandchildren.
Nominator: Shirley Whitney Hawkins ’53. Presenter: Dave Spangler ’66