Pastor Joel Hunter steps down as megachurch leader to minister to the poor and homeless

Joel Hunter has announced that he is stepping down as a senior pastor in Orlando megachurch Northland Church to go beyond the walls of the house of worship and minister to the poor and the homeless.

(REUTERS / Lucas Jackson)A homeless man rests on the street in New York January 4, 2016.

In a blog entry on the Northland Church's website, Hunter said his calling as a pastor had already been fulfilled and it was now time for him to minister to the people who were "unincluded in the Kingdom." His announcement signalled the end of his 32 years of service as a senior pastor to the Orlando megachurch, Christianity Today detailed.

"When I knelt at the altar to give my whole life to Jesus, I was a part of the Civil Rights movement. My focus on Jesus was not only for personal salvation after this life but also for compassion towards the marginalized in this life. My call to follow Jesus and serve the vulnerable is stronger than ever," Pastor Hunter wrote in his announcement. "Jesus often taught in different synagogues but the bulk of his teaching and work was outside established religious settings. Following his way, I will seek to include the unincluded in the Kingdom."

Hunter, who also served as a United Methodist pastor for 15 years and was former U.S. President Barack Obama's evangelical adviser, was instrumental in Northland's expansion from a few hundred members in 1985 to gathering a weekly attendance of 20,000 in three campuses.

In the wake of the announcement, Pine Castle United Methodist Church senior pastor Scott George wrote an opinion piece in The Orlando Sentinel that praised Hunter's decision to leave the pulpit in order to have time to help the homeless. Rev. George recalled how the megachurch pastor once gave him valuable advice when he was torn between leading a local church and serving the poor in his community.

Pastor Hunter pointed out to George that there were already more than 2,000 churches in the area. He said at the time that they did not need another church but they needed George to fulfill the ministry of helping the poor.

Meanwhile, Hunter revealed that after he leaves his duties as Northland Church's senior pastor, he will teach a Bible Study group every week. He will also participate in the Community Resource Network's efforts to solve homelessness and form groups of Jesus' disciples who will be "distributing the church into everyday life."