Dave Heller still remembers how challenging it was to find opportunities to preach after answering a call to the ministry more than 40 years ago.

Based on his own experience, Heller frequently looks for ways to give aspiring pastors the chance to preach whenever he can. That’s one reason why he dedicated a recent Sunday to giving seminary students a chance to preach in churches that are part of the Columbus Baptist Association.

“‘We’ve used seminary students for pulpit supply for several years,” said Heller, who has served as the associational mission strategist in the Columbus association for more than seven years. “We thought it would be a good idea to set aside a day and have a group of students come down and preach in our churches.”

Heller put out a call to local churches and worked with the administration at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) to sponsor the first official “Seminary Day” in the association.

Sixteen churches signed on, and on Sunday, Feb. 6, students from SEBTS along with faculty and staff traveled to the Columbus Baptist Association offices in Whiteville, which is located in southeastern North Carolina.

The day started with breakfast at the association offices, where students met the pastors of the churches where they would be preaching that morning. The pastors took the students to the churches and out to lunch after the morning worship services before returning to the association offices for a time of fellowship and conversation about how the day went.

For some students, it was the first time they had preached during a worship service. Two people also trusted Christ as Savior through the messages that were shared that day.

Andrew Davis, who is pursuing a master of divinity in preaching and pastoral ministry, preached a message from Luke 18 on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector at Peace Baptist Church in Whiteville. It was Davis’ first time preaching to a congregation and afterward, a man came forward to place his faith in Christ.

“I am still processing this miracle,” Davis said. “This was both humbling and encouraging to me knowing that if I remain faithful to the mission God has given me, He will use His Word to save sinners. The Lord used this day to propel me forward in faithfulness.”

Brock Drumm, who is also pursuing a master of divinity in preaching and pastoral ministry, preached from Psalm 84 at Pleasant Plains Baptist Church in Whiteville. Pleasant Plains is currently without a pastor and after the service, members of the congregation inquired about whether Drumm would consider becoming a candidate for the pastorate.

“That was such an honor for them to ask, because that was not something I was expecting,” Drumm said.

If this is the kind of students that Southeastern is training up today, our future with our churches is in good shape.

Heller said he’s heard nothing but positive feedback from churches, pastors and congregants where seminary students preached. He called the day a “win-win” for everyone involved.

“The students benefit from having an opportunity to preach,” Heller said. “The churches benefit from meeting and hearing from the students and seeing how their Cooperative Program dollars are being used. It was a great day all the way around.”

Cooperative Program giving supports a number of local, state, national and international missions and ministry efforts. Those efforts involve training future ministers and missionaries through theological education at six seminaries across the country that include SEBTS.

After talking with fellow pastors who participated in the “Seminary Day” event, one pastor said, “If this is the kind of students that Southeastern is training up today, our future with our churches is in good shape.”

Based on feedback from the day, Heller said he plans to work with SEBTS officials to hold a “Seminary Day” event once a semester. The next one is already scheduled for Sept. 25.

Heller also said he hopes to see even more of the 53 churches in the Columbus association participate in the future. He would love to see other associations across the state host similar events.

“It’s not hard to do,” Heller said. “It’s really easy. There are tremendous benefits to the churches and the students, and it strengthens the relationship and bond that we have with the seminary that’s located right here in our own state.”

SEBTS President Danny Akin expressed his appreciation to the Columbus Baptist Association and its affiliated churches for hosting the event.

“I cannot say thank you enough,” Akin said. “And that they intend to do this again speaks volumes of their love and support of these God-called ministers of the gospel. It is a great joy and privilege to partner with the churches of North Carolina.”