REO Pays Tribute: Bert Tippett
“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.
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19 thoughts on “REO Pays Tribute: Bert Tippett”
Thanks for remembering Bro. Bert. One of the greatest men I have been privileged to know.
Gowdy, I firmly agree with what you said about Mr. Tippett.
Bert was an example, a mentor, and a genuinely great example of godly manhood. I felt privileged to have him as teacher, fellow church member, neighbor, and friend. He took the time to listen, and then to make just a little remark here or there that opened the door to volumes of thought. Plus, he introduced me to Macintosh…. 🙂
Hear, hear. While I was not a student at Welch, I was immediately compelled to learn more from him since the moment he and Mrs. Dianne hosted me in their home during my first year at Truth & Peace. At the time, I didn’t know him from Adam, but I soon began to learn how many people he had positively influenced and I’m glad to count myself as one of them.
Couldn’t agree more. A great example of a Christ follower and if just the readers of this site followed his example the kingdom would be greatly influenced.
“I would rather my children serve Christ on the other side of the world than to have them live next door to me and not know Him.” I always think of that quote from him. I have even used it several times when speaking to teenagers or parents when talking about what their children want to do with their lives.
If Mr. Tippett were alive today he would have the Cofer’s Pulpit on a regular if not weekly basis. Even if I were the one preaching that day, I would turn the invitation time over to him. I count it a true joy to have sat under his teaching while at the college, and left The Wednesday night service at Truth and Peace for him to speak every year. Every year he would try to decline, trying to talk me out of asking him, but every year the altars would be full of students getting things straight with the Lord. He is a giant hero to me.
That’s awesome. I’d feel similar. I just missed getting to hear him in that T&P preaching time. Tommy was a good heir to it but there’s only one Mr. Tippett.
Along with Brother Tippett, I also lost a classmate on April 5th, 1998 (I think), Jason Turner. I am reminded that we interact with wonderful, godly people every day and take them for granted because they are always there. Ministering, teaching, exhorting, and sometimes, giving us a good “what for.” Through our friends home goings may we learn not to take others for granted and to redeem the time we are given with them. A beautiful article about someone whom we were honored to know and look up to.
Jason Turner was from my neck of the woods in SC. I was not super close to him but went to summer camp with him and things like that and he definitely brought joy and laughs to every situation.
I was just thinking about him today! My thought was that I hope I can be so close to God, so in tune with HIS plans for my life and not my own, that I could receive devastating news (of terminal illness or anything else) with an embrace the way Mr. Tippett did. I didn’t know him well, but his example left an impact on me, too. Thanks for writing such a fitting tribute.
There were honestly several faculty and admin that I would say I was closer to, but he had a way of impacting people without having to be super close to them. He impacted me without even knowing it most of time, from a distance or me sitting in an audience for a sermon. We had a few personal conversations but most of it was just watching how he lived.
He and Mrs. Tippett were profoundly influential in my life. I had the pleasure and honor of having him for my Sunday School teacher for several years. He graciously photographed our wedding…his photographs always captured the moment perfectly. Thank you for penning your words so perfectly about this wonderful and humble man.
I dislike altar calls. Strongly. I have seen preachers use the altar call as a way to manipulate the audience too many times. I have seen preachers ask for a show of hands to see who made a decision, and then claim to see hands all over the congregation that were never raised. I have seen preachers tell the congregation that they need not come forward, but to raise their hand if they have made a decision for Christ. And then, after hands have been raised, that same preacher then tells the congregation that if you raised your hand, you needed to come forward or that would show you were not serious about your decision.
Yet even with all that baggage, I never once doubted the sincerity of Brother Tippett’s altar calls. I never once doubted his heart and his love for the students at Welch. It takes a truly special person to overcome all my hang ups. Bert Tippett was a truly special person.
I actually considered leaving that part out for that reason. The altar call can be such a frustrating part of the Christianity I grew up with. But I left it in for the reasons Phill states. I have no doubt Mr. Tippett didn’t care about numbers or recognition as much as just wanting to see students make decisions that would change their lives.
Gowdy, thanks for a wonderful tribute to a great man! You brought back so many memories of the conversations I had with him and the many lessons learned from him. For that I am very grateful to you!
One of my favorite human beings of all time. Wish I could hug him again!
We were all blessed by this humble giant of a godly man but I alone wear the birth title of being his little sister. The stories of his gentle, loving heart go as far back to my first childhood memories of him pushing me on a swing or staving off the neighborhood bully, protecting me. He lived what he preached. His life and heart were open for all, a true reflection of Christ. I miss him still.
Thank you for sharing your memories!