2 March, 2024

LCU Alumni Grapple with News of University’s Imminent Closure

by | 31 October, 2023 | 6 comments

By Chris Moon 

Phil and Marian Yakey had a hard time digesting the news about the closure of Lincoln Christian University

The couple have been connected to the college for nearly five decades. Both are graduates. Phil Yakey learned to be a preacher there. The Yakeys also sent two sons to the school in Lincoln, Ill. 

And now LCU plans to close.  

“There’s an element of shock in it,” Phil Yakey told Christian Standard. “We kind of always assumed the college would continue to grow and prosper.” 

Marian Yakey echoed that.  

“I’m just heartbroken,” she said. “We just never thought it would get to this point.” 

LCU announced this month it would close its campus in Lincoln, Ill.—ceasing operations at the end of May 2024, after the current school year ends. The university’s seminary programs will be acquired by Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Mo. OCC also will take over Lincoln’s $3.8 million scholarship endowment.  

LCU, meanwhile, will sell off assets in order to retire debt.  

The closure has been a jolt to LCU’s alumni. 

The university’s Facebook page has hosted an array of comments from alumni, most of them draped in sadness about the closure of the school. 

LCU President Silas McCormick said the response he’s gotten from alumni has been “overwhelmingly sad and gracious.” Many appreciate that Lincoln seminary and the endowment will carry on at OCC and that the university has enough assets to resolve its debts. 

Of course, there are a few naysayers out there, McCormick said. Some people just want to know how the university ended up in this place, and a few are glad to see the university close; they are “either suspicious or satisfied [we are closing], for whatever reason,” he said. 

But, McCormick said, “The largest group is sad but gracious.”  

‘REALLY FORMATIVE’ 

Marian Yakey graduated from LCU one Saturday in 1979 and married Phil Yakey the following Saturday. 

She was a Christian education major and spent three years as a resident director at LCU. Her real interest, however, was music.  

She remembers traveling with the LCU choir on some of its tours. Those 10-day trips were the highlights of her time at Lincoln. 

The choir traveled as far as Delaware, Long Island, and the Chesapeake Bay. 

Marian Yakey recalled staying in the upscale homes of very wealthy people on those trips. She also recalled staying with the very poor.  

One woman made up a bed for choir members on the floor in her home with mended sheets. 

“That was the most memorable place,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Phil Yakey became a Christian while in the Navy in San Diego. He was baptized by a graduate of Lincoln. 

Six months later, Phil was a student at LCU. He graduated in 1981 with a degree in Christian ministry and preaching. He spent the next 37 years pastoring churches, mostly in Illinois.  

The couple has since relocated to New Hampshire, where they served for a time with Restoration House Ministries

The Yakeys remain grateful for Lincoln.  

“For me, it was really formative because I hadn’t been a Christian that long. I was really trying to find my way,” Phil Yakey said.  

He remembers especially the mentorship of Professor John Webb, who headed up the homiletics department in those days. He also remembers the “comradery” of the student body at Lincoln. 

Back in the Navy, Phil Yakey said, it was “dog eat dog.” It was different at Lincoln. 

“It was like a brotherhood,” he said. 

The Yakeys also sent two boys to Lincoln. One of them now serves as part-time worship minister at the Yakeys’ church—Rockingham Christian Church in Salem, N.H. Phil Yakey serves as an elder there.  

Another of the Yakeys’ sons is a sound engineer serving churches in Colorado.  

The Yakeys have stayed involved in Lincoln life over the years. They have served on the alumni council at the university. 

And they’ve followed the struggles of the college during the past few years.  

“It’s a shock, but we don’t blame anybody,” Phil Yakey said. “We feel like the administration and board in charge right now have done all they could. It’s a different time and different era. They tried in every way.” 

One unfortunate thing about LCU’s closure is the impact on the training up of new ministers for Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. LCU’s closure follows the recent path of other Restoration Movement schools that are no more—including Cincinnati Christian University, St. Louis Christian University, and Nebraska Christian College. Additionally, Johnson University Florida will close June 30, 2024. 

The Yakeys own church recently has been without three staff members. 

“We had a terrible time even getting applicants,” Phil Yakey said. “There’s such a shortage of young men going into ministry.” 

‘THEY DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THE TIMES’ 

Darrel Brandon, a 1972 alumnus of Lincoln, has a somewhat different take on the university’s closure.  

He, too, met his wife, Sandra (Fishel), at Lincoln and launched out on a ministry career that spanned from England and Scotland to southern Illinois, Minneapolis, and Long Island, N.Y.  

At Lincoln, Brandon said he was “totally in awe” of professors like John Webb, Wayne Shaw, and Marion Henderson

“These guys were just amazing—amazing scholarship. And they cared about us as individuals,” Brandon said. 

Brandon, who now lives in Minier, Ill., retired in 2015. 

He said two of his siblings and three of his four children also attended LCU.  

When he got the news about Lincoln’s closing, Brandon said he felt “pretty negative” about it. 

“My immediate reaction was I didn’t see this coming, and I felt like I should have,” Brandon said. He chalks it up to a lack of communication to alumni about LCU’s dire circumstances.  

Brandon also said LCU could have done a better job forecasting its enrollment woes. Churches don’t look to the Bible colleges as much as they used to for youth pastors, children’s directors, and secretaries, he said. 

“That Bible college degree didn’t mean as much as it used to,” Brandon said. “They, of all people, should have known that this was coming. Look at the demographics.” 

In response, McCormick said the COVID-19 pandemic devastated LCU’s enrollment.  

The university had 700 students at the beginning of the pandemic. In one semester, LCU lost 100 students—and then another 60 students the following semester. 

“That’s a ton,” he said.  

LCU never was able to recover. 

McCormick said the university during the past couple of years has tried to be transparent with its struggles—most notably when it significantly trimmed back its program offerings in 2022. McCormick said he also was part of a leadership email the college sent to alumni in 2020 that warned things were difficult at LCU.  

With that said, LCU at times could have been more forthright with alumni about its circumstances, McCormick said. But leaders with difficult news to share naturally are wary of scaring off potential students and donors.  

“It’s a challenge to articulate both the need but also the hope,” McCormick said. “Perhaps in the past, we could have done a better job of being transparent.” 

‘THE COLLEGE IS NOT THE KINGDOM’ 

Brandon said he doesn’t fault McCormick—“because he inherited an untenable situation. He’s the one who had to tell us the score.” 

Since the announcement of Lincoln’s closing, Brandon said he feels like he’s gone through the five stages of grief.  

He has two granddaughters the family had hoped could attend LCU. Now, that’s impossible. 

“I’m pleased that Ozark is cooperating with the college, with Lincoln, to salvage something—not just the seminary, but to give the students that opportunity [to continue],” he said. “I hope Ozark becomes stronger and stronger through this.” 

In the end, Brandon said the university served God for many years. 

“If we have served God in our own time, that’s about the best you can ask,” he said. “I think Lincoln did God’s will during the time the college was there. . . . The college is not the kingdom. The college is a tool for the kingdom. There might be better tools now.” 

Chris Moon is a pastor and writer living in Redstone, Colorado. 

6 Comments

  1. Jon Weatherly

    Alas, many more colleges are vulnerable, either to closure or to marginalization. This is no less true for institutions outside our fellowship as it is for those inside it.

    I continue to believe the primary issue is not the financial support of churches or the number of people interested in studying for ministry but the dynamics of a higher-education market in which the vast financial resources of a few institutions, the declining number of traditional-aged students because of declining birthrates, and the renewed skepticism about higher education make the marketplace highly competitive, one in which institutions without significant financial resources are likely to fail.

    Many who study the economics of higher education suggest institutions do not become economically efficient until they reach an enrollment threshold around 2,000. Notably none of the institutions associated with the Christian Churches approach this threshold. This is but another indicator of stresses to come.

  2. Bill COX

    I am sure that many are incredibly sad about this situation. We are sad not just about Lincoln but for all the colleges going through this same outcome. I agree with Jon Weatherly in how the outlook of higher education is changing. I believe sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Like many, the possibilities of this happening repeatedly are very possible thus we have a great need to consider the future of the local congregations that are the backbone of orthodox Christianity. Will we see local congregations in small towns across America fade away along with the ministry that has been done over the years? I know the continuation of how things have been done in our brotherhood is sometimes unsustainable. First it was the NACC, now Bible colleges and I would imagine small churches are either next or already happening. The last thing we may see go away is the great idea of the Restoration Movement, restoring New Testament Christianity. Did I say I miss the NACC? We need to come together. Big, Super Mega, Mega, Large, Median, Small, Very Small, and even micro churches need to come together for the sake of the CHURCH and the unsaved.

  3. Darrel Brandon

    Unfortunately omitted: my wife’s name is Sandra ne:Fishel. After I attended Lincoln, my parents both joined the college (my father on staff and my mother on faculty). Then my two younger siblings graduated from LCC. The article does note that three of our four kids hold degrees from LCC.

    EDITOR’S NOTE: I have added your’s wife’s name to the body of the article. I’m sorry her name wasn’t included initially.

  4. Melinda Johnson

    I agree with these two gentlemen who commented. I think LCU did communicate as much as they felt they could. I have read every email that was sent out over the last few years. And I have read over many of the articles and news snippets about Lincoln, Restoration House Ministries, and many other points of interests because of my family’s long, long history and many connections to this institution and the Restoration Movement. I finished my high school years at Manchester Christian Church (now called The One or something like that), in the shadow of Restoration House, during the season of the first interns from LCU. My husband, brother in law, sister in law, father in law, and my husband’s grandfather are all LCC/LBI grads. Without LCC and the week of Evangelism, my husband and I would not have met.

    I was also hoping to send one of our children there some day and continue the legacy. We know the need for preachers and other full time ministry staff is great. My father in law was the senior minister of a mega church for nearly 30 years. He’s taught for LCU, CCU, and several other Christian colleges. My husband was the president of Maritime Christian College on Prince Edward Island, Canada for 4 years. We know this field extremely well. We fear that there will be many more closures as the market at large has drastically changed so much. Even for our children, they have decided on a much different route in their needs and studies. The oldest is getting his business degree online through a local college. The second born will be entering college next year and might be a commuter so he can save money on housing. Our daughter might choose a career that doesn’t involve a college degree. And who knows what the market will require when our 8 year old graduates in 10 years.

    Also, the oldest is working full time in our megachurch as an assistant technical director (on lights, sound equipment, computer technology) as a 21 year old without a college degree or Bible degree, because he had already been working as a volunteer on that team since he was in 9th grade. He also is a drummer and plays on the worship team, again, without any formal training. But he is filling a need and doing it well. And now he is being paid for it.

    I’m not saying Bible colleges are obsolete because they are not. In fact, I didn’t go to Bible college and I wish I had. I went to a private university and got a BS in Accounting. I wish I had had the opportunity to learn under all of these infamous professors I grew up hearing about. What a privilege! I believe that preachers and those that teach the Word do need formal education in how to deliver a well-designed sermon/speech/lesson. There is a lot of background and history to know and share with a congregation. We are homeschoolers and I’ve learned a lot about ancient history now and I know there’s a lot to it. And then there are other things like people management, and counseling, and early education, music, etc.

    But, we had such a plethora of ministry-related schools that the economics of it is telling us it’s time to downsize, to consolidate with what the market demand is. And I think what Ozark and Lincoln have done is brilliant! Lincoln did its best to reinvent itself. It didn’t work. I wanted it to work, but it didn’t. So they found a way to carry on the legacy, and Ozark, bless its heart, agreed.

    We will get through this. God has the victory. The Church will survive. Leaders will be educated. The Gospel will be spread. We have to wait on God and see what He does with this. Just like He did when all these schools were created and all these churches opened their doors, God is on the move.

  5. curtis J taylor

    My son, the preacher that primarily discipled me, the preacher that baptized me, and my current preacher all went to Lincoln, as well as a few other friends. (How did I end up at Louisville? Distance and age of me when I went.) My son ended up not going into the ministry, and at least part of that is the current trend of churches hiring non Bible school-educated staff (since my son was interested in a staff role not a pulpit role, and, frankly, partly Lincoln, as he didn’t seem to get much help from them).

    I pray that this trend does not continue. I was happy to see a recent hire at the church I attend is an Ozark grad. But I was speaking to a fellow at church and decrying Lincoln closing and he intimated that anyone could preach if God just gives them the Word. I suspect he would prefer a doctor that was educated properly rather than one who was just discipled to the craft.

    It concerns me, but I know our God has a plan and a way forward in this.

  6. Rather Not Say

    I graduated from Lincoln Christian College but have no love for the school and feel no loss with its closing. It was a mediocre education and its been very hard for my degree to be taken seriously. The experience of LCC has been mostly a barrier for me in my effort to make a living. I participated in campus life, served as RA, served on student council and. service teams but didn’t really learn. You can say it’s my fault but the education was really bad in my opinion. I really was never moved by the teaching of Henderson, Sackett or Castelein…maybe it says more about me than anything else but I don’t have any bad feelings about the school closing. I don’t discount the impact for the kingdom LCC’s graduates make and I’m thankful for that. I also don’t associate the closing of LCC with a diminished Kingdom advancement.

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