How big are you?

2 min readMay 30, 2023

How do we assess how big we are as preachers?

Is it simply a matter of aggregates: how many people attend our church, listen online or follow our social media streams?

Is it assessed by having our book on a bestseller list or our presence on the platform at a major conference?

Such considerations do contribute to how we might assess how big we are. Yet as I continue to reflect on the influence of Timothy Keller, I am discovering a variety of fresh reasons for seeing how big the big man was.

Tish Harrison Warren wrote a beautiful piece in the New York Times, entitled ‘A pastor who truly loved his neighbours, even across deep divides’. Warren writes, “What I will most remember him for, though, is his generous kindness.”

Keller had contacted her out of the blue after she had received an internet mauling because of a piece she had written. Harrison is a minster in the Episcopal Church in the US; Keller belonged to the PCA, a denomination that does not ordain women. That initial contact led to an ongoing ministry of encouragement from Keller for the young writer.

She writes, “Even earlier this month, in his last weeks, when he was very sick, he made time to offer me wisdom and advice. Tim had nothing to gain from giving me his time. He was simply generous, even to the very end.”

A true generous orthodoxy that is kind to others, even those with whom we disagree, is as rare as it is beautiful.

On Sunday I was preaching in Riga at the International Church on 1 Corinthians 8. The passage speaks about how Christian freedom is not merely from something but for something. We can rejoice in freedom from guilt and condemnation but forget that we have been given freedom to live faithfully for Christ, reflecting his character as we are shaped by the message of the cross.

Paul asserts, “Knowledge puffs up. Love builds up.”

Some have such an inflated view of their own “wisdom” and self-importance that they are in danger of exploding and leaving behind nothing more than the shreds of a burst balloon.

Keller was one of the smartest men I have met but the impression he left on those who interacted with him was of godly wisdom and love that was more interested in building others up than in promoting himself. The following words he spoke about showing love in what we say on the internet is a case in point.

“Could at least some Christians be known for their love on the internet? Could they rebuild spaces of public discourse where we can present our faith confidently and listen to our critics carefully and humbly at the same time. Yes, we could. But will we?”

The internet, the Christian world and the secular world would be a healthier place if we took a leaf out of the kindness section in the book of Timothy Keller’s life.

John Woods