Although I am not an alumnus of Clearwater Christian College (CCC), nevertheless, my heart is heavy this day after it was announced that the college will close her doors at the end of this month. CCC’s closing follows in the wake of several former conservative\fundamental Christian institutions [Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, Northland University, Tennessee Temple University – to name a few examples]. I have a distant knowledge of the changes in administration and philosophy that drove those institutions to extinction; however, as a pastor in Tampa Bay for 30 years I have had the sorrow of watching the demise of Clearwater Christian College from the proverbial “front pew”.
CCC was a small, nondenominational liberal arts Bible College founded by Dr. Arthur Steele in 1967. Dr. Steele (1920-2011) was a successful businessman, an officer in the Corps of Engineers in World War II, a seminary graduate, professor, and college president before he had a vision for a fundamental Bible college on the West Coast of Florida. I found Dr. Steele to be a gracious, kind spirited Christian man who loved college students and was passionate in his desire to minister to local fundamental churches. A ready smile and a humble, non-assuming air always accompanied his greeting.
In his mid-70’s, Dr. Steele set his heart on finding a man who would assume the helm of his small college of 200 students and steer her into a new era while maintaining the college’s unique nondenominational, biblically fundamental stripe. He found his successor in, of all places, Washington DC [Dr. George Youstra and his wife Pat were part of the Reagan administration from 1981-1987]. Dr. Youstra resigned his position as the special assistant to the secretary of education on January 2, 1987 and assumed the presidency of CCC.
Under Dr. Youstra’s leadership the college would enjoy 15 years of consecutive growth and its student body would number nearly 700 students necessitating renovations to existing buildings and constructing new dorms and classrooms. Like his predecessor, Dr. Youstra exhibited a kind, gracious, self-sacrificing spirit that was reflected in the administration, faculty and student body. Under Dr. Youstra’s leadership, CCC would become a prominent educational Christian institution earning the respect and admiration of fundamental pastors, churches and families [the church I pastor had as many as 17 students enrolled at one point during Dr. Youstra’s tenure and we enjoyed the ministries of several faculty and students over the years].
I shared the confidence of many pastors across the country, missionaries, and national pastors around the world, that CCC reflected a fundamental biblical worldview in its philosophy and practice. Serving as a board member for a few years, I witnessed firsthand Dr. Youstra’s leadership and his ready response to the concerns of pastors and staff. In the summer of 2002 Dr. Youstra transitioned to become president emeritus and was a part-time professor of graduate studies while his wife Pat continued as a professor until her retirement.
“From the front pew” it has been my sorrow to observe CCC’s decline over the past 13 years. From a college with a strong following of biblical fundamental pastors and churches, CCC appeared to have lost her way. Many reasons will be given for the doors of CCC closing. Some will cite economics, a dwindling number of conservative churches, low student enrollment and competition from other colleges. Although all of the above no doubt contribute to the demise of CCC; I suggest from my vantage point that the leadership of the college over the past 10 years steered the college away from its founder’s purpose, philosophy and vision. Rather than an institution dedicated to educating, challenging and equipping young people to be “soldiers of Christ”, CCC evolved to a pragmatic philosophy of accommodation lowering her standards, adopting CCM music in her chapels and athletic events and most recently featuring an activity night of rap and rock music. It is with sorrow that I realize the beautiful campus by the Bay will no longer serve my church or young people; however, I’m afraid that has been true for many years.
The legacy of CCC is not in her buildings or physical location. The legacy of CCC envisioned by Dr. Arthur Steele and carried forward by Dr. George Youstra is seeded in the lives of her alumni, faculty and administrators who are true to her founding principles. My prayers are with you in this season of disappointment and transition.
With the heart of a shepherd,
Pastor Travis D. Smith
Travis D. Smith is the pastor of Hillsdale Baptist Church in Tampa, FL. He blogs at from the heart of a shepherd, where this article was first published. It is used here by permission.