I have often written about the disconnect between seminary and the local church. One of the major setbacks, for instance, are ministers will little experience in preaching and teaching and will soon enter their first ministerial context. I recall in preaching class earlier this semester a time when the professor asked for a show of hands of how many preached the past Sunday, and in a class of about 20, only two raised their hands. Moreover, as students had opportunity to preach, many shared that this was only their second or third time they had ever preached.

So with that in mind, I am really excited to hear about a new effort by Third Avenue Baptist Church (here in Louisville) that has started “an intensive training, experience, and evaluation for aspiring pastors” called The PIT (“pastors-in-training”). Here is how Third Avenue explains the program:

The PIT is a semester-long training and evaluation program for men at Third Avenue who are aspiring to be pastors; an “under-the-hood” look at pastoral ministry at Third. Participants in The PIT will be invited to and commit to:

* A one-on-one goal-setting meeting with all the elders at the beginning of the program.
* Preach at least 2 (and perhaps even 3) Sunday evening devotionals in a row, and receive feedback from elders and other PIT participants.
* Attend all Elders’ Meetings, and be invited to stay for some of the Elders’ Private Session.
* Attend Service Reviews with the pastor and elders.
* Attend a Discipling/Debriefing meeting with an elder after each Elders’ Meeting.
* Attend a monthly(ish) dinner with your wife at the Heaths’ house, other PIT participants, their wives, and anyone else the Heaths invite.
* Go with the pastor on occasional pastoral visits.
* Lead the morning service at least once, and receive feedback.
* If needed, receive credit for Applied Ministry Project at SBTS. (We’re still working on this.)
* A one-on-one evaluation meeting with all the elders at the end of the PIT program.

How cool is that? Those who are called to minister and serve as leaders in the church in the office of pastors or elders are called to “equip the saints,” and yet there is a real need today to equip those who will equip the saints. I can say that, were I had been given such an opportunity in a local church to be trained, instructed, mentored, and invested in, I know that not only would I be more mature in ministry but it would have prevented many of the mistakes I made as a young, immature, inexperienced minister.

Churches and pastors, allow me to make a plea here. You have young men whom God is called out for the work of gospel ministry. They may go to seminaries to get theological education, but there only so much that seminaries can teach. The pastoral training and experience they could receive in a local church context is invaluable, and many are hungering for such an opportunity. Please consider developing something like “The PIT” in your own church for the sake of these young ministers and the churches will they eventually minister.

We need to build bridges between the seminaries and the local church, and I think The PIT is a great place to start. Perhaps other churches are doing something similar to it (I know of a couple in AL). The results of such intentional investments in the kingdom through training pastors in a local church context will cultivate continuity and continued health (or bring about health) for the next generation. May this generation leave behind faithfulness to the gospel and faithfulness to those who are most entrusted with it.