"I just want to be accessible...to meet people and hear them out," said the pastor of Ignite Fellowship Church on Alpine Ave. NW. "I love conversation."
Conversation is a main ingredient in the most public of his ministries. Pittman is founder and co-host of "Ignite Radio," an on-air broadcast with a 10-year history of making community connections as well as spiritual ones.
The two-hour program (heard 3-5pm Sundays on the R&B-formatted 102.5FM "The Ride") continues its mixture of interviews, scripture, and gospel music
"The goal is live radio that's relevant with real people telling their real stories," said Pittman, who co-hosts with Kishen Newton.
"While people share their stories and their journeys, I'm able to sense where it is that the Holy Spirit wants to convey the gospel."
Among their recent guests have been Pregnancy Resource Center director Jim Sprague, and Sherita Edwards, professor of sociology at Grace Christian University.
They've also welcomed area gospel music artists such as George Moss and Bobby Barrera (Bendito), giving listeners a look behind the artists' ministry as well as a sampling of their music.
Co-host Newton knows the program well. Back in the early days she was a guest on "Ignite" when she worked for a non-profit organization.
When the former co-host left several years ago, Newton herself stepped into the role.
Pittman says he was looking for a female perspective in an on-air partner "She is a seasoned woman, mature in her walk with God and she's worked out so well," he said, "She is able to go into areas of questioning (guests) that sometimes I wouldn't."
"Ignite Radio" has provided some on-air surprises. Newton remembers a "God moment" during one program when a despondent woman suddenly was on the call-in line, unable to explain how she made the connection. "She told the story of being in an abusive relationship, had a court date coming up, and she was feeling hopeless," said Newton.
The co-hosts were able to pray with her in a dramatic time in her life with God in their midst.
Another highlight came from a caller who responded to an on-air salvation prayer. Sometime later the co-hosts learned that she died from an improper medication. "It touched our hearts, however, that God used us to grant her that moment of salvation before she passed," Pittman said.
Pittman, now 52, arrived in West Michigan as a youth when his father came here to plant a church. The young JR felt a call to ministry as early as elementary school when he heard God's voice saying he would have a ministry to "lead the next generation."
John Hulett, former school assembly coordinator for Action Wyoming, said Pittman had numerous gifts to share in his interaction with students. "He could walk into an assembly of 500-1,500 students and read the crowd in three minutes," Hulett recalled. "I was stunned at his skill for assessing and navigating them in various situations to find hope and answers."
Pittman added, "It was all about helping them find mentors for the dreams and visions they have in their hearts."
A RIDE AROUND THE DIAL
"Ignite Radio" has survived several "hiccups," airing on three different stations during its history. It debuted as a Saturday evening program on Christian radio JQ-99 (99.3FM) where it stayed for more than seven years.
Producer Chad Cashman was one of the program's biggest advocates, according to Pittman.
"When our 'JQ time ended, I was ready to let the program go," said the co-host who considered a move to Internet radio. "It was Chad who said it wasn't over, that God would bring us something."
With the producer's guidance the program moved down the dial to "Magic 104.9" with a Sunday slot it held for several years. But a format change abruptly ended the run there. Cashman once again helped "Ignite" find another home at 102.5FM "The Ride" where it re-debuted last October.
"Chad is the glue – he points people in the right direction," Newton said.
(You can livestream the program on www.theridefm.com or listen to "Ignite" conversations on podcasts at Soundcloud, Google Podcast, Apple Podcast, and Stitcher. You can connect with "Ignite Radio" at www.facebook.com/Ignitegrandrapids Newton has her own podcast, "Stories With Kishen," available at https://soundcloud.com/storieswithkishen?ref=clipboard&p=a&c=0)
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