Dr. Johnny and Janet Hunt
"I literally enjoy teaching God’s Word and watching it ‘take traction’ in the life of the people," Dr. Johnny Hunt told this writer, when asked what he enjoys most about being a Pastor. "In other words," he added, "being there, week in and week out, loving them, teaching them, and then watching them embrace the truth of God’s Word, watching it transform them, their taking ownership of it, and literally not only be built as disciples, but begin to disciple others.
"For instance," he continued, "in the early days, when God captured my heart for missions, I began to teach missions, and now the people have embraced it, and our people are in 40 different nations of the world. Today, I answered three or four e-mails specifically to pray for people on mission or to support people who are on mission. So, what I’ve challenged them to embrace, they have, and now they’re challenging me to join them, which is the ultimate passion of seeing II Timothy 2:2 become a reality."
Hunt has led as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia since 1986. He previously served as Pastor of three other churches, including the church where he was saved.
Hunt was born in Lumberton, North Carolina and grew up in Wilmington.
When he was only seven, his father left the family, and his mother, Bessie Mae Hunt, became a single parent of six children. To provide for her family, she worked two jobs, during the day in a factory and at night as a waitress in a restaurant. (Years later, as an adult, Johnny Hunt felt the need to witness to his father, drove to him, and led his father to Christ.)
Hunt describes himself as a model student in his early years, but a rebellious teenager who spent most of his days in a local poolroom, who began drinking at the age of eleven, and who, at the age of sixteen, quit school because he was too shy to give an oral book report. The owner of the poolroom hired him, and he managed the poolroom for about three years.
At the age of 18, he married Janet Allen, after a six-month courtship.
She attended a Presbyterian church and would encourage him to go, but to no avail. After having spent his time during the week at a local bar or at the two places he worked, the poolroom and a hardware store, he would tell his wife that he was too tired on Sunday mornings to go to church.
Week after week, a gentleman named N.W. Pridgen would come into the hardware store where Hunt worked and would invite him to Long Leaf Baptist in Wilmington. In November of 1972, Hunt told his wife that, if she was going to keep asking him about going to church, they could visit that Baptist church down the road from their house. After a few Sundays of attending Long Leaf, Hunt came under conviction and would cry during each morning service’s invitation. On a snowy Sunday night, January 7, 1973, he returned to church for the first Sunday evening church service he had ever attended, and he gave his heart and life to the Lord Jesus Christ.
He immediately felt the need to tell others -- his family, friends, and customers at the hardware store where he worked – of how Jesus Christ had changed his life. He quit his job at the poolroom and then led the poolroom’s owner and his wife to the Lord. The poolroom’s owner was baptized at Long Leaf, and later became a deacon and usher there. He closed the poolroom, bought a Tom’s peanut truck, and began selling peanuts.
Hunt persuaded his mother to attend church with him, and the Sunday evening she did, she gave her life to the Lord and lived for Him, and became a big encouragement to her son.
Shortly after Hunt was saved, God called him to preach.
After attending night school to earn his GED, he attended Gardner-Webb College (now University) in Boiling Springs, North Carolina while pastoring Lavonia Baptist Church in Gaffney, South Carolina (which now has the address of Mooresboro, North Carolina). He was voted Ministerial Student of the Year in 1979 and received his Bachelor of Arts in Religion. He then attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina while pastoring Falls Baptist Church in Wake Forest and earned his Master of Divinity in 1981. (For his work in the ministry, he has since been honored with a Doctor of Divinity from Immanuel Baptist Theological Seminary in Sharpsburg, Georgia, a Doctor of Sacred Laws and Letters from Covington Theological Seminary in Rossville, Georgia, and a Doctor of Divinity from Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His alma mater Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has established the Johnny Hunt Chair of Biblical Preaching in his honor.)
While attending college, he benefited from the generosity of couples like Howard and Isabel Carter, Otis and Viola Scruggs, Bob and Nancy Peeler, and Z.O. and Helen Cobb. He has been quick to point out, If you ever see a turtle on a fence post, you’ll know he didn’t get there all by himself. "Otis and Viola Scruggs helped us through college, bought our clothes, gave us spending money, and literally became a major impetus of believing in us and helping us to believe in ourselves," said Hunt.
When Long Leaf Baptist Church called him as their pastor in 1981, he shepherded his home church, where he was saved, until he was called to First Baptist Church Woodstock, where he has led since December of 1986.
In addition to preaching each week at Woodstock, where the services are seen worldwide on the internet at www.fbcw.org/media/on-demand-media/, Hunt's messages are also seen in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe via Kingdom Sat (www.KingdomSat.com) in three languages, Arabic, English, and French. He preaches in conferences around the United States, including Johnny Hunt’s Men’s Conferences, Jubilee Conferences, and Xtreme Conferences, and leads the Timothy-Barnabas ministry to instruct, challenge, and encourage other pastors. He serves as Chaplain of the Dixie Speedway in Woodstock and has written several books, including Building Your Spiritual Resume and Building Your Leadership Resume. He led as President of the Southern Baptist Convention from June, 2008 until June, 2010 and has traveled extensively, including several trips to Israel.
Hunt said he recalled the very first sermon he ever preached: "God wants to do for you what He did for the Israelites." "I used a text in Deuteronomy, which says that God brought us out to bring us in. I took the concept of God brought us out, which was a picture of salvation, to take us in, the spiritual-fullness life, filled with the spirit, living a life of victorious journeys. I do remember writing that sermon and still have a copy of it."
Hunt counts many blessings in his ministry. "I’m in my 26th year (as Pastor of First Baptist Church Woodstock)," he said. "I have young deacons now that I did their parental-child dedication when they were infants. I was part of the dedication of those children to the Lord. And I give Bibles to first graders, so I have pictures of them on my knee as first graders, and then I had a chance to lead them to Christ, baptize them, watch them grow over the years. They have graduated from high school and college, I performed their wedding ceremonies, and now they’re young leaders in our church. So, it’s really a joy to stay somewhere long enough. There’s no such thing as a great work without longevity. You can have a good work. God can use you. But you’ll not build something very sustainable or of any size that is sustainable without longevity. So, the longevity has been part of the joy of just watching how God has so radically changed people. It gives you a chance to see what God does through your style of leadership and your proclamation of the truth -- is this really building Christ followers? And it’s been encouraging."
In his own life, he has been influenced by mentors.
"Probably the greatest single influence in my life has been Adrian Rogers," Hunt told this writer. "Most people, when they use that name, put the reference more in the context of his preaching. Everybody has their favorite. To me, he was probably the greatest voice I ever heard in the 20th century, and then on into the 21st century, before the Lord called him home. But it was more of his demeanor that influenced me -- watching him as a Pastor, the way he treated his people, the way he walked his halls slowly, the way he stayed after the services to mingle. It just gave me a beautiful picture of a shepherd with sheep, and so that is what influenced me with him. The truth is, I’ve listened to very, very few of his sermons through the years. I was more fascinated by his humility, integrity, and genuineness. That made the biggest impact on me."
Hunt’s greatest goal in life, he says, is not to be a great preacher, but to be a great Christian. "The bottom line is that the greatest calling in my life is not to be a Pastor. The greatest calling is to be a Christian, a Christ follower. So, my emulation as being a Christ follower supports my capacity to be an exhorter and encourager. So, what people want to know when they come to church is not am I a good communicator or can I articulate the message. That may help a little, but the main thing is -- are you genuine, are you real, can you be trusted? When that becomes the real impetus for a platform, that has the potential of making a big impact."
Woodstock has touched lives in many different ministries, including the Foster Children’s Ministry, which Hunt wants to expand to include more children in foster homes.
The 19,000-member church recently established a hospital in the country of Haiti, and named it for one of the Hunts’ young granddaughters, Hope. "We just built a medical center," Hunt said. "The church gave the money on my 25th anniversary called the Great Giveback, and we went (to Haiti) and dedicated it. It’s called the Hope Center in honor of Hope Hixson. She has cerebral palsy, but she’s really doing remarkably well. The church also built a church and a school there. Individuals in our church recently made a commitment to fund about 250 boys and girls to attend that school at $30 a month, giving them medical attention, clothes, hot meals at home, and sending money home. Plus, we built a nice well up on that mountain, and we’re providing fresh water for the entire community."
First Baptist Church Woodstock has planted about 100 churches, nationally and internationally (including in France, El Salvador, and Argentina). "And we’re part of a collaboration of planting churches in northern Iraq," Hunt added.
The importance of planting churches, as with the many ministries the church is involved in, is in sharing the Gospel. "The greatest need," said Hunt, "when you 'cut to the chase' and make it what’s most important in life, is that nothing is more important than realizing we all are sinners. All have sinned and come short of the God’s glory for our life. And then realizing the need to repent and believe the Gospel and Christ changing a person’s life. There is no greater need. I’ve never met anyone, in my 40 years of knowing Christ, who has regretted coming to Christ, but only heaven knows that hell is full of people who have regrets, and they wish they had made the single most important decision."
Family has always been of utmost importance in the life of the Hunts. Their two daughters, Deanna and Hollie, and their two sons-in-law, Jake Carswell and Pete Hixson, have given them four precious grandchildren, Katie, Carson, Hope, and Addie. "My wife certainly has believed in me," Hunt said. "The Bible teaches in Ephesians 5:33 that a man’s greatest need is respect; my wife believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. She’s never seemingly been surprised at the different platforms and opportunities God has chosen to give me. She felt like she could see it, but, from where I was sitting, in my insecurities, I didn’t see what she saw. She believed in me. Everyone needs people to not just pray for them and encourage them, but to believe in them."
Hunt has stated that relationships should be cherished more than possessions. "We have to handle relationships carefully," he said, "because people are here and gone, or they’re here and we’re gone. What matters most, ultimately, is a relationship with Christ and then with others, which is really a major part of John 17, the high priestly prayer. Possessions you can lose, and possessions we are to use and hold lightly, because God gave them to us, and He may have given them to us to use for others. Too much emphasis is put on possessions, and they ruin so many relationships, but, when there are proper relationships, possessions flow easily, it seems like."
Each morning, Hunt devotes time to scripture reading and prayer, and for years, in addition to other scripture, he has daily read a chapter from the book of Proverbs that corresponds to that particular day of the month. His favorite scripture verse is Proverbs 20:7: "The righteous man walks in his integrity; His children are blessed after him." "That speaks, first of all, how God uses genuineness in a person’s life before it makes a difference in others’ lives," he said. Other favorite scripture include two verses he says he committed to his daughters: "Matthew 6:33, in praying that Holly would seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and Proverbs 3:5-6 for Deanna, and that is to trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. I’ve always been a big lover of those, and out of that I’ve preached a series on the kingdom life --- that, if He is the King, He wants to have rule."
In scripture, Hunt said that he admires the Apostle Peter. "I see a rough background," he said. "When he got saved, he was carrying a knife and swearing, and he didn’t change right away. He continued to cut ears off. Yet the great hope came in that, when Jesus met him, his name was Simon, which means ‘wavering one’, and He called him Peter, which means ‘a rock’, speaking of stability. So, Jesus sees us for who we can become. He knows what we have the potential of becoming in His grace.
"Barnabas, being an encouragement, is another one of my favorites," he added.
Hunt sees the spiritual condition of our country, which was founded on Christian principles, as being in danger of becoming un-Christian. "We’ve become a nation of religious pluralism," he said, "like there are so many ways instead of there being only one true God. Apart from a revival, a divine intervention from God, I see this nation as extremely hopeless and 'going to hell in a hand basket.' And I’m a very optimistic person, but there’s not a lot to be optimistic about. You have to pray you have revival in your own heart and that God would use you to influence and affect as many as you can.
"It’s kind of like in Haiti, where there are nine million people," he continued. "You go there and try to help a child, and you feel like, what is this among so many? But ask that child. It made such an impact and a difference in that one life. We’ve got to be able to see the one life at a time. That’s how God changes people, one at a time. And so I’m encouraged in that sense.
"In the world, there are many good things happening. God is still doing a phenomenal work in China and unbelievable work on the continent of Africa. But in my studies, and even reflecting through it, it seems like the places where God is doing the greatest work are in the lands of poverty and persecution. In the lands of prosperity, we have become very lax in our morals and are very independent."
When asked how he would like to be remembered, Hunt replied, "I would like to be remembered as faithful and genuine and a man of integrity and character. I want to model generosity. I want to touch poverty. I want to equip students who are going to be here beyond me. I want to mentor young Pastors. I want to lead my church in a good way, where they will be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ."
Link: Johnny Hunt's official website
Link: First Baptist Church Woodstock