By David Fincher
Within our fellowship of churches, people are often surprised to learn Missouri has three Bible colleges. Churches in this state and region have been blessed by the ongoing ministry, Bible teaching, and ministerial training offered by Ozark Christian College (OCC) in Joplin, St. Louis Christian College (SLCC) in Florissant, and Central Christian College of the Bible (CCCB) in Moberly,
Through the years, faculty, staff, and administrators of the three colleges have had cordial relationships and developed many friendships with supporters. But there remains this question, “How could the three Bible colleges in Missouri work together to reflect and advance our common goals and characteristics?” This was the topic considered by 16 administrators from these colleges as they gathered on December 17, 2008, at Southern Heights Christian Church in Lebanon, Missouri.
Since the programs at all three Bible colleges grew out of the church and are focused on the church, participants chose to meet at Southern Heights church in Lebanon, itself an example of the collaborative benefits of the three colleges. Past students and/or staff at CCCB, OCC, and SLCC have served the church in leadership and volunteer roles through the years. The congregation also has supported all three schools with special and regular gifts. This combined legacy of the three Bible colleges in Missouri was a particular inspiration for attendees at the retreat.
The administrators came together uncertain about what the meeting could accomplish. Several expressed hope that, if nothing else happened, gathering in the same place would lead to further appreciation of the ministry of each institution and an awareness of the people serving in similar capacities at our sister schools. What actually took place surpassed expectations and led to an eagerness to pursue future collaboration.
Similar Characteristics, Separate Stories
The academic deans of the schools arranged the meeting, and the presidents—all of whom assumed their current roles in the summer of 2006—began the morning with an overview of the unique story of each institution.
Ron Oakes, president of CCCB, gave an overview of the history of the school from its founding in 1957, its emphasis on strong biblical teaching and local church involvement, and the transition to becoming a full-tuition scholarship college in 2001.
Matt Proctor, OCC’s president, described the consistent presidential leadership and the slogans that have characterized his school. He quoted Seth Wilson, Ozark’s founding dean, who said, “We should pray that we could be the best college we can be, and that the other colleges can be even better.” The recent record graduating classes were celebrated, and he noted that the most popular majors are world missions, youth ministry, and preaching ministry.
Guthrie Veech, SLCC’s president, reminded everyone of the similarities the three colleges have: the same Bible college accreditation, the same focus on mission and ministry, commitment to Christian churches and churches of Christ, and a strong support for the people who work at our sister colleges. And yet, like the other colleges represented, SLCC is unique—particularly in its emphasis on urban ministry and the fact that one-third of its students are ethnic minorities.
By the end of our first hour together, we were already better aware of the similarities and differences, leading to appreciation and anticipation of how we might be able to work together to make each institution more successful.
The first breakout session approached the issue of how we could work together to reduce expenses at the three colleges. The cost of Christian higher education has increased far faster than inflation. Part of this is due to challenges all institutions face in personnel costs, administrative expenses, and demands for facilities and supplies. Several insightful observations and practical ideas were generated about how to share or reduce costs in such areas as health insurance, student recruitment, and campus technology.
The second breakout session addressed how the colleges might work together to advance excellence in their programs. Working together in creative ways can allow each school to maximize its strengths and support the strengths of the other two institutions.
This will require awareness of unique opportunities available at each college and a willingness to promote the work of our colleagues for the good of the kingdom. It will also allow us to lend institutional support to joint programs and activities.
The final breakout session addressed how the three colleges might work together to provide enrichment for employees, students, and the churches we serve. We hoped to identify creative ways to support and encourage one another.
We agreed that student and staff collaboration could lead to training opportunities, shared experiences, and best practices that help the personnel at all three colleges do their jobs better. We also described ways to create joint services, retreats, and seminars to meet the needs of our churches, students, and staff.
A Model of Collaboration
Many ideas were generated during the retreat. In closing the meeting, OCC’s Proctor said, “The discussion is not about uniting, but about unity. The goal is not to propose a marriage of the institutions, but to build a strong friendship between the three.” He then presented a three-part model on how to proceed.
We were challenged to identify symbolic acts that make a statement to our constituents. As members of a unity movement, it is important to demonstrate unity to supporters and students.
For too long Restoration Movement ministries have been characterized by independence and division instead of unity and cooperation. If three Bible colleges with overlapping values and missions located in the same state cannot display unity, then we cannot expect churches, ministries, or Christians to do so.
We were challenged to recognize that social events can provide support as we do our work of ministry to the glory of God. The body of Christ is equipped by God for the mutual edification necessary for successful ministry. Each college has experience and resources that can be shared when we meet together for fellowship and encouragement. Relationships that proceed from those meetings will build respect and empower success.
Finally, we were challenged to recognize strategic decisions can make a substantive contribution of value to all three institutions. In the spirit of walking before we run, Proctor encouraged us to find one practical way to work together with our counterparts and achieve short-term successes that will reduce expenses or advance excellence at our institutions. We agreed to meet again to continue the conversation, report on successes, and discuss future opportunities.
We believe this model will allow Missouri’s three Bible colleges to enhance and advance their contribution to the church. As God rewards our unity, we pray our ministry may demonstrate—to all Christians in Missouri and beyond—a model of how “we may work together for the truth” (3 John 1:8).
David Fincher is vice president of academics at Central Christian College of the Bible, Moberly, Missouri.