The Passing of Spiritual Giants
Over the last few weeks Pittsburgh has witnessed the passing of two spiritual giants in Dr. Jay Passavant and Tunch Ilkin. These men impacted Pittsburgh for Jesus Christ in countless ways through their respective vocations.
Dr. Jay Passavant was a great husband, father, grandfather and Founding Pastor of North Way Christian Community. The church God called him and Carol (and 8 other couples) to start in 1981 exploded with growth throughout the 80s and 90s, and North Way has now grown to thousands who gather in 8 different locations across the Pittsburgh region.
In the mid 2000s, Pastor Jay met with the Mayor of Pittsburgh and asked what North Way could do to help the city. The Mayor responded that Homewood needed mentors in the community and schools. L.A.M.P. (Learning and Mentoring Partnership) was born and has paired hundreds of mentors to kids in the Homewood community and is now expanding to other communities.
I want to share one personal memory of his impact on me. After I finished preaching at North Way one Saturday night, Jay waited around to speak with me. He handed me a note. His words on that note were very specific and constructive. It was a small gesture that deeply encouraged me. I still have it and read it often to this day. Incredible words from a spiritual giant.
Who will be the next Jay Passavant? Who will step up like this? Who will answer the call of God and Mayors and drop everything to serve?
The ripple effect of Jay’s passing will be felt greatly as he impacted thousands in the Pittsburgh region and beyond. He loved Jesus. He loved others.
Tunch Ilkin was a great husband, father, grandfather, Men’s Pastor and a Pittsburgh Steeler. He played in the Steelers for 13 years (plus 1 year for the Packers) and was an announcer for the Steelers for 23 years. His NFL career was impressive to say the least, but it was how he leveraged his platform for Christ that was even more stunning.
Tunch served Pittsburgh in three profound ways.
He advocated for and served the mission of Light of Life Rescue Mission on the North Side of Pittsburgh. He and Craig Wolfley raised so much awareness and money, but they also served the homeless men, women and children. He would say, “As soon as you walk through the doors of Light of Life, your life will never be the same.” He served Light of Life so faithfully for nearly his entire NFL career, all the way up to a few weeks before he passed into heaven.
Tunch also served as the Men’s Pastor at The Bible Chapel in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. Hundreds of men have been impacted by his leadership, mentorship and example. He was often the emcee at Men’s Ministry gatherings around Pittsburgh, and his story of how he came to follow Jesus Christ profoundly touched many who would follow Jesus as a result.
Tunch was a servant leader within the Steelers organization and Steelers Nation. I have never met a person within the Steelers who doesn’t love him. He lived out his faith in Jesus Christ in front of everybody, and he prayed for people on the spot. Players respected him and loved him. Coaches wanted him around and loved him. Staff would genuinely greet him when he came around.
I want to share one personal memory of his impact. As he battled ALS, Tunch announced his retirement from his NFL broadcasting career. After the official announcement, he visited the Southside practice facility one last time. He stood on the balcony with several reporters and members of the Steelers Front Office. Players, coaches and staff saw Tunch on that balcony and greeted him. I climbed the stairs to the balcony, and he gave me a hug and simply whispered, “I love you, Kent.” Incredible words from a spiritual giant.
The ripple effect of Tunch’s passing will be felt greatly as he impacted tens of thousands in the Pittsburgh region and beyond. He loved Jesus. He loved others.
Who will be the next Tunch Ilkin? Who will step up like this? Who will answer the call of God and leverage their God-given platform to love and serve?
Spiritual giants don’t start out as spiritual giants. They love and humbly serve their way there by doing the small things daily. Serving when no one is looking. Encouraging people as a way of life. Using words to build up rather than tear down. Sacrificing self to lift others. Enhancing God’s reputation in the eyes of others on a daily basis.
Jay Passavant and Tunch Ilkin loved and served like their leader, Jesus. That’s why they became spiritual giants in Pittsburgh and beyond. It wasn’t about the size of their circle of influence. It was about their willingness to serve anyone who God brought around them.
For Jay and Tunch, it wasn’t about the number of people who followed them that made them spiritual giants. It was about loving and serving one person at a time over a long period of time. We can all do that.