“When you come to the point where Jesus is all you have, you’ll find he’s all you need.” [Bert Tippett]
If men were measured by their titles, Bert Tippett would barely register on my personal radar. But since men are measured by their influence, I still think about him often 15 years after graduating from the college where he impacted me, and even years after his death.
What was his official position at Welch College back when I was a student? I honestly cannot recall. I think it was something PR related. Even though I cannot tell you that, I can tell you story after story of the ways he discipled me and countless others. It wasn’t his title (to my knowledge), but he was definitely a campus pastor. He encouraged like few others. He was sought for advice like few others. When Dr. Matthew Pinson took over as president of the college my senior year, he met with the Student Council and asked us our advice and suggestions for changes the school needed. Mine was simple: Let Mr. Tippett preach more. The agreement from my fellow students was audible and enthusiastic.
I don’t know if there is anything I can tell you about his preaching other than I never took a single note during one of his sermons, but 20 years later I can recall many, many of his quotes: “The most godlike thing you can do is forgive,” “We need to get to the point where we say ‘I will not sin.’ But you say, ‘Mr. Tippett that’s impossible.’ Look how easy we give up!” And, even though cancer took his life on January 5, 2011 he was able to say, “Everything that is good comes from God. Even cancer.” This man understood Truth, excelled at communicating it, and the things he preached have stayed with me and my heart has been stirred by them in crucial moments of spiritual battles in my faith.
Anyone who attended services that Mr. Tippett directed, most notably the beginning of the semester services and campus church on Wednesday nights, will tell you that he was a master at giving an invitation after the sermon. We could have listened to the most dry, boring 40-minute talk and Mr. Tippett could speak for five minutes and you would feel like you had heard a great sermon that night. He was so genuine and so skilled at making a profound point quickly and he connected so well with college-aged students (despite being decades older during my time), that the altar would be filled with people wanting to repent.
Mr. Tippett had a truly unique ability to connect to people from opposite ends of the spectrum. Christianity is, sadly, divided by doctrine and conviction. Even within Free Will Baptists. Yet from a distance I would watch him have lunch with a person from one extreme side of an issue one day and coffee with someone from the other side the next day. I have no doubt he believed in Christian unity and reconciliation and did his part until his last breath to live them out.
Roger Kint said, “The Devil’s greatest trick was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” It wasn’t a trick, but I think the most amazing thing Mr. Tippett did on the campus of Welch College was causing us to believe he wasn’t great. He was the kind of man where I feel like I could poll the students and ask them “Who is the best speaker on campus?” or “Which faculty or administrative staff has the most impact here?” And they would think of three or four people, none of them Mr. Tippett. And then I could say, “What about Mr. Tippett?” And their eyes would light up in agreement, “Yes!” How could we forget about him?
Because that is the kind of man he was. He was humble, willing to be overlooked, like an incredibly well-kept secret that everyone knows but no one tells. He was Christian virtue hidden in plain sight. If he were alive today to read any of this, he’d credit to God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ and grace before I finished half a sentence. One of my clearest memories of him was a story he told of a personal failure he had that I won’t repeat because it is not my place to do so. But I remember it because he was transparent about it and by telling it he communicated to the Welch student body that he was biblically self-aware; he didn’t think more highly of himself than he ought. Yet those who knew him thought as highly of him as possible. Precisely because he didn’t.
People often make hyperbolic statements like this when people die, but I’d have said this before his death and I’ll say it 40 years from now if I’m still alive: I hope my life has 1/10th the impact on the kingdom of God that his had. I’d give anything for one more sermon, one more conversation or one more chance to see him impart his wisdom meekly to a willing learner. But since I will not, I am thankful for the memories. I have hundreds of Bert Tippett, who didn’t even allow cancer to keep him from discipling people to understand the glory of our God.