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Important Announcement from Ozark Christian College and Lincoln Christian University

By: President Matt Proctor

After months of prayerful discussion, today OCC President Matt Proctor and Lincoln Christian University President Silas McCormick announced important next steps for both institutions. Read their joint statement below.

FROM: LCU President Silas McCormick and OCC President Matt Proctor
DATE: October 11, 2023

In 1944, Lincoln Bible Institute was founded by Earl Hargrove, and the school quickly gained a sterling reputation for preparing men and women for ministry in the local church. Over the course of the next nearly 80 years, Lincoln Christian University—born out of Lincoln Bible Institute—continued that good work while also educating all students, undergraduate and graduate alike, to live out their faith consistently and considerately in the world, regardless of their profession. 

In 1942, two years before LBI’s founding, Ozark Christian College (then called Ozark Bible College) was founded with much the same mission and has, for over 80 years, been deeply faithful in their own kingdom work. As our slightly older sister school, we have enjoyed a long relationship, and the sibling bond between Ozark and Lincoln has never been more meaningful than it is now.      

The last several years have been challenging for higher education and particularly for Christian higher education. We have felt deeply our own share of challenges. Our mission to nurture and equip Christians with a biblical worldview to serve and lead in the church and the world has remained the same, but in February 2022, we announced a radical shift (here) in our programming and educational delivery. These changes have seen some marked success, particularly with our Lincoln Christian Institute initiative. However, we have continued to see a steep decline in enrollment, as well as a partial decline in giving. 

At the end of summer 2023, LCU’s leadership concluded (1) we were not likely to be able to proceed independently as an institution, and (2) we should pursue collaboration with a sister school. This inspired a conversation between the leadership teams of Lincoln Christian University and Ozark Christian College—and eventually, the boards of both schools. The two colleges reached a resolution, described below, and institutional conversations are ongoing with regard to further implications of the resolution.       

Pending approval by our respective accrediting bodies, at the end of the academic year, May 31, 2024: 

There is no small amount of grief behind this news, but it is Christian grief of high order—not without hope. We are grateful for the continued ministry of Lincoln Christian Seminary in name and with excellence via a sibling who cares deeply about and for us and our mission. 

There is much to be shared in the days to come, and we are all hurting. We would very much appreciate your grace and patience. We will aim for timely and clear communication that will include, but not be limited to: FAQ documents for students, donors, and alumni; ongoing announcements concerning LCU’s regional presence and its campus; and information related to Ozark’s acquisition of the Seminary.

In the meantime, we do want to make a request of you: please help us finish this academic year well—from now through May 31, 2024. A good finish for us means a good start for our sister school who has come alongside us in a time of need and will carry on our work. To put it simply: please continue to give, and please continue to pray. 

At Convocation in August, we continued our long-held tradition of beginning the academic year with the doxological statement that closes out Jude (verses 24 and 25), and it seems fitting to conclude this announcement in the same way: “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!” 

And to that we, along with you—and all of us with Jude—say, “Amen.”

2 Timothy 4 rings with both sadness and hope. After a long and fruitful ministry, Paul—now a death row prisoner—is saying goodbye, “The time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” But before he leaves, Paul passes the leadership baton to Timothy, “I give you this charge: preach the Word!” As Joshua followed Moses, as Elisha followed Elijah, so Timothy will carry Paul’s ministry into the next generation. “God buries his workmen,” wrote Charles Wesley, “but carries on his work.” Timothy preached for the next 30 years, and in the midst of sadness, there was hope.

This feels like a 2 Timothy 4 moment. After a long and fruitful ministry, Lincoln Christian University is saying goodbye, and we at Ozark grieve her departure. We know well LCU’s great kingdom impact—the thousands of “Lincoln leaders” sent into the harvest fields—and we give thanks for how well our sister school “fought the good fight.” But before LCU leaves, a baton is passed to OCC. Lincoln began when Earl Hargrove’s famous sermon cast a vision to the Illinois churches, “The preachers are coming!” Since 1942, that same vision has guided Ozark, and as we now adopt Lincoln’s seminary, we carry on that work. The preachers are still coming, and in the midst of sadness, there is hope.

When President McCormick first approached us at OCC, the connections between the two schools were clear: similar missions, similar constituencies, shared HLC accreditation, shared Restoration Movement heritage. The OCC leadership team—President Matt Proctor and Executive Vice Presidents Chad Ragsdale, Damien Spikereit, and Jim Dalrymple—are all Lincoln seminary alumni and former Illinois preachers. At least eleven of our current professors are Lincoln alumni, as well as recently retired stalwarts like Dr. Mark Scott, Dr. Gary Zustiak, Dr. Terry Bowland, and Dr. Woody Wilkinson. These connections, along with OCC’s financial and enrollment health, suggested the conversation might be fruitful. 

When we spoke, President McCormick shared the story of Lincoln’s most recent chapter. In the fall of 2019, among other challenges, they faced an overwhelming $9 million debt. President McCormick and his team went to work, and in February 2022, they announced significant changes to focus the college tightly on ministry preparation and debt elimination. Since then—through the sale of campus property, hard-but-necessary budgeting decisions, and the generous support of their faithful donors—they have slashed the debt to $3.1 million. By the end of the 2023-24 academic year, it should be at $2.6 million. When they cease academic operations May 31, 2024, Lincoln Christian University will work to finish paying the remaining amount, but rather than face academic closure under a massive, all-assets-swallowing debt, the Lincoln leadership has instead preserved something of great value to pass on to future generations.   

Thus, as the conversation continued, both schools—including the respective boards—prayerfully decided to enter into a more formal kingdom partnership, a “passing of the baton.” As LCU President McCormick shared, on June 1, 2024, Lincoln Christian Seminary will transfer to Ozark Christian College, changing its name to Lincoln Seminary at Ozark Christian College, along with LCU’s $3.8 million student scholarship endowment. 

Such an announcement naturally raises several questions, which I will try to answer below. While the information overlaps with what LCU President McCormick shared, I often tell my students, “Repetition is the key to learning.” At the risk of repetition, I share the following in the hope of clear communication:

What exactly is involved with OCC embedding Lincoln Seminary as part of our college?

Where will Lincoln Seminary’s operations live?

What are the reasons for Ozark adding a seminary?

What are the advantages to Ozark embedding Lincoln’s seminary instead of building its own?

Why is Ozark keeping the Lincoln name on the seminary?

What’s next?

How can we pray?

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