21 May, 2024

The Passing of the Baton

by | 7 May, 2024 | 4 comments

MAIN ARTICLE: “Concluding a Work, Leaving a Legacy,” by Silas McCormick, president of Lincoln Christian University. 

_ _ _

By Matt Proctor 

It’s my senior year, and under the stadium lights, my track team cheers from the bleachers: sprinters, high jumpers, and a shot-putter who could eat distance runners like me for breakfast.  

I’m the third leg of our 4×800 relay, and as I crouch in the exchange zone, adrenaline pumping, heart thumping, the second-leg runners pound around the curve. I start inching forward, arm outstretched for the handoff, and in a moment, when my exhausted teammate slaps the baton in my hand, I will grip it and take off for all I’m worth. 

I will run hard because I want to beat the guy in the next lane, because I want to represent the hometown colors on my skinny chest, and because the two relay guys who ran their guts out before me are counting on me. As I await the baton, anticipation, amped-up energy, community pride, and a sense of responsibility all jostle in my heart—it is a crowded moment. 

That’s what this moment feels like.  

Lincoln Christian University President Silas McCormick shared the thinking behind LCU’s decision to close their academic doors and gift their seminary and endowment to Ozark Christian College (p. xx). Let me share what we at Ozark are thinking as that baton is passed. It’s a crowded moment, and of the emotions jostling within us, I’ll mention three.  

WE FEEL GRATITUDE FOR THE PAST 

In 1944, Lincoln began when President Earl C. Hargrove’s famous sermon cast a vision to the Illinois churches, “The preachers are coming!” And for 80 years, Lincoln has sent out preachers . . . like Ben Merold, Chuck Sackett, J. K. Jones, George and Nate Ross, Mike Breaux, Gene Appel, Rob Daniels, Jud Wilhite, David Upchurch, Matt Merold, Nikomas Perez, Dave Ferguson, and Ken Idleman. Lincoln planted God’s Word in generations of preachers and youth ministers and church planters and missionaries and kingdom servants of all kinds.  

That’s why the stories of Ozark and Lincoln have been intertwined for so many decades: a shared ministry heartbeat as Restoration Movement Bible colleges. When I was an Ozark student, I was shaped by professors who were shaped at Lincoln. I’m a Lincoln seminary alum myself, and today at OCC, I serve alongside a dozen Lincoln graduates. Generations of Ozark students have a strand of Lincoln in their spiritual DNA. 

So, we feel grief at Lincoln’s closing, but we also feel gratitude. We are thankful for the men and women who, in Earl Hargrove’s footsteps, worked in Lincoln’s mission, and we’re thankful for the generous churches and donors who upheld them. Their labors sent preachers around the globe, and heaven will be fuller for it. God used a little Illinois Bible college and seminary to make a dent in the world, and we give him thanks. 

WE FEEL RESPECT FOR THE PRESENT 

As Silas McCormick shared, in recent years Lincoln has faced significant challenges. When Silas became president in 2020, he inherited a large debt, enrollment drops, a pandemic, location in a struggling town, a campus needing attention, and operating finances stretched thin, all in a tough higher education landscape. In the midst of all this, Lincoln’s leadership has done heroic work. 

Sadly, other colleges have faced similar situations. In their efforts to survive, these schools often squeeze all value out of what remains—emptying endowments, going deeper into debt, losing students, forfeiting accreditation, and eroding trust. When forced to close their doors, these institutions are left a hollow husk, with nothing preserved to pass on. 

In their turnaround efforts, Lincoln’s leadership made hard decisions to focus their mission and drastically reduce debt; but when these decisions resulted in progress, but not enough to remain sustainable in the long term, they refused to be naively optimistic. They sought the Lord and faced the unflinching facts.  

They made more hard-but-wise decisions: to close their academic operations in a way that served their current students, protected their still-robust seminary and its accreditation, and preserved millions of dollars of endowment . . . all of which could then be passed like a baton from one spent runner to the next leg of the relay. The mission of Lincoln would live on. 

As Silas said, everyone loves a “turnaround” story, and few go looking for a “finishing well” story. But Silas and his team agreed to run the race marked out for them (Hebrews 12:1), and as they finish well, I hope you are cheering them from the stands. 

At Ozark, they have our deep respect. 

WE FEEL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE FUTURE 

Dr. Michael DeFazio will lead Lincoln Seminary and serve as its dean under Ozark’s Vice President of Academics Dr. Chad Ragsdale. These two men, along with the top-notch faculty we’ve assembled, all feel a sense of responsibility: 

  • Responsibility to students. We have worked hard to give the now-transferring Lincoln students and others a high-quality, graduate-level Bible and ministry education in Joplin and online. (Visit occ.edu/lincoln.) 
  • Responsibility to Lincoln. If Lincoln stalwarts like Earl Hargrove, Wayne Shaw, Marion Henderson, and Robert Lowery can see from heaven, we want that “great cloud of witnesses” to nod their heads as they watch. We will run hard because the guys who ran before us are counting on us.  
  • Responsibility to Ozark. We enjoy a rich heritage too, and if Ozark stalwarts like Seth Wilson, Don Earl Boatman, Wilbur Fields, and Don DeWelt are watching from heaven with their Lincoln friends, we want them to smile as we fulfill Ozark’s mission in new ways.  
  • Responsibility to our brotherhood. With the closing of Cincinnati Bible Seminary, our fellowship had only two accredited seminaries left: Emmanuel and Lincoln. We are grateful for Emmanuel, but our movement should be preparing so many kingdom leaders that we need more than one seminary. That’s why we gladly carry on Lincoln’s work. 
  • Responsibility to the Lord. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:37-38). We embrace Lincoln Seminary because we can train even more workers for Christ’s harvest field. We are a Jesus school, and we want his smile the most. 

As we at OCC stand in the exchange zone, hand outstretched, ready to take the “seminary baton,” we want more than anything to prepare men and women to take the gospel to the world. At the end of the race, it won’t be the name Ozark or the name Lincoln that matters—only the name of Jesus. Our prayer is that God will use a little Missouri Bible college and seminary to make his name known among the nations. 

Matt Proctor serves as president of Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. 

4 Comments

  1. Melinda Johnson

    I will forever be grateful in how LBI/LCC has played a part in my family’s life. From my husband’s grandfather going to LBI in the 1940s and finally graduating in 2004 with his grandson (my brother-in-law), to my in-laws living in married student housing so my father-in-law could go to seminary when my husband was 1-2 yrs old, to the way my husband and I met through the Week of Evangelism in New Hampshire, and my father-in-law serving on the board and as an adjunct professor.

    And I’m forever grateful that if our children choose to, they have a place to go to seminary and follow in their father’s, grandfather’s, and great-grandfather’s footsteps in becoming full-time ordained ministers of the Gospel.

    No matter what, it’s such an honor and privilege to be part of both schools’ legacy.

    God bless you richly!

  2. Barbara Sachtleben

    Thank you to OCC and all involved in accepting the responsibility to continue Kingdom work through Lincoln Seminary at Ozark. While I grieve the loss of a school I love, I rejoice that another school I respect is carrying on the work. God bless all who are making this transition happen so smoothly!

  3. Russell Kuykendall

    At Alberta Bible College, I was taught by alumni of both Butler School of Religion and Lincoln Christian Seminary, among others. The similarities of perspective of alumni of both schools was notable even though separated by time and space. Alumni of both exuded commitments to the Great Commission, to the Plea and to being students of both the Word and the World. This was no coincidence as Lincoln was founded by graduates and by at least one teacher from Butler. The tripartite commitments of Butler lived on at Lincoln. May it ever be! At Lincoln, I experienced a friendship and fellowship of leadership and service in the company of so many, some of whom Matt Proctor mentions. Long live the fellowship!

  4. Melody Johnsen

    Yes, Mr. Proctor, as you say, “Only the name of Jesus.”

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