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Butternut Squash Soup is calling, but Joel Hunter stands glued to CNN in his living room in rainy Orlando.

Lunch can wait another minute, because details about President Barack Obama's meeting with a foreign leader might be coming. When the news anchor switches topics, Hunter, satisfied, quickly joins his wife, Becky, at their glass dinner table.

One of Hunter's megachurch staffers gleefully picks on his boss, recalling when Hunter sat next to boxing legend Muhammad Ali at Obama's inauguration: "You should've given him a little nudge on the shoulder, just to say you've been in a fight with Ali." "Oh yeah," Hunter replies sarcastically. "I can see the headlines now: PASTOR PUNCHES PARKINSON'S PATIENT."

Politics and media are strong siren calls, and Hunter doesn't ignore either's pleas. His national profile emerged after he resigned from the Christian Coalition in 2006, saying the organization was unwilling to expand its mission beyond fighting abortion and same-sex marriage. During the 2008 presidential election cycle, Hunter prayed at the Democratic National Convention last summer and with the President on Election Day.

Journalists often looked to Hunter during election season as the de facto voice of moderate evangelicals. But the Orlando-based pastor who helped Northland, A Church Distributed grow from 200 to 12,000 people in 20 years has established himself as one of the country's most innovative church planters.

"Politics is one venue in which the Lord can work, but his plan A has always been the local congregation," Hunter says. "My calling is to be part of that frontline ministry."

A Church Distributed

At first glance, 61-year-old Hunter appears closer to retirement than to the Blackberry addict he is. Wearing a black suit, ...

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September 2009

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