WOODSTOCK, Ga. (BP)–Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., and immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has extended his leave of absence from the church through mid-September, citing physical and emotional exhaustion.
Hunt had been expected to return to the Woodstock pulpit Aug. 8 following his annual July sabbatical. However, Jim Law, senior associate pastor and administrator of the church, announced Hunt and Hunt’s wife, Janet, will extend their leave by another six weeks.
The decision came on the counsel of a professional who encouraged the couple to extend their time away from ministerial responsibilities, Law explained.
Reading from a prepared statement, Law noted an “incredibly busy schedule for both of them, particularly the past two years serving our church family while at the same time serving our beloved denomination, they found themselves physically and emotionally depleted.”
“Our pastor and Janet, right by his side, have been consumed with their responsibilities here because of their deep love for us as well as of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Law said. “In recent days, at the encouragement of several of us, they sought the counsel of a professional and they have been advised that they needed an extended break from their normal routine.
“I know of no one else on the planet who has been giving himself away to others more than pastor Johnny,” Law added. “Many people face physical and emotional weariness and that is especially true of leaders and their families.”
Referring to the biblical prophet Elijah, Law said “exhaustion often follows mountain top experiences” and it “often follows intense periods of stress and strain, which they’ve been under.”
Law said the church staff stands “in total support of the counsel they’ve received” and urged all staff and church members not to attempt to communicate with the Hunts “in any way at this time.”
Law said Hunt is expected to return to the pulpit Sept. 19.
On Aug. 7, the night before his expected return, Hunt sent out a note through Twitter saying he was taking a leave of absence from Twitter and Facebook so he could spend more time with his wife.
That Tweet stated, “Must take a break from twitter & facebook for awhile as I seek to spend quality time with my dear wife Janet of 40 years. U all r great.”
Hunt was sidelined earlier this year, in the middle of his second term as president of the denomination, as he underwent successful prostate surgery on Jan. 7. His presidency was consumed by the creation of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, which called for spiritual renewal and a partial restructuring of the denomination with greater emphasis on missions.
Hunt completed his two one-year terms in June at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Orlando, where the task force’s report was adopted by messengers.
A native of North Carolina, Hunt has been pastor of the Woodstock church since December 1986. In the 24 years of his pastorate, membership has increased from 1,027 to more than 17,000. Current average church worship attendance is 6,800.
Joe Westbury is managing editor of the Christian Index (www.christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.