|Theology / Church
|1 April, 2011
‘Theological Education by Extension’ is often misunderstood as ‘distance learning’ or ‘correspondence courses’ – but it is not really either of those things! So, how can it best be explained? In some contexts it may be put simply as ‘discipleship and leadership training, based in the local church’. In others, where higher-level courses are on offer, as ‘a seminary in every place’.
Those who study a TEE course do not need to be uprooted from community, family or work situations. They can study where they are, in the time they have available, and apply what they learn to their everyday lives straight away.
It is local church-based. Learning takes place from the course book, and from other members of a local learning group, facilitated by a trained local tutor.
There are three components in the TEE model: home study; weekly group meetings and practical application.
As the ‘railway track’ illustration shows, each one of these elements is vital if the method is to work well. Of course, none of these elements is distinctive on its own, but the combination of the three is a distinctive of the TEE approach.
TEE began in Guatemala in the 1960s. A training college in the capital found that students coming from the countryside to be trained as pastors rarely returned. Life in the city was too attractive! ‘Theological Education by Extension’ was an attempt at taking the training to the students, allowing people to study without leaving their context.
Since that time, TEE has been used successfully in many different countries. Courses first used in South America have been taken, translated and contextualised for use in different cultures. And new courses have been developed to meet the needs of different situations.
One of the key organizations in providing TEE courses has been SEAN (Study by Extension for All Nations), which began under the leadership of Archdeacon Tony Barratt, in Argentina. The most widely-used SEAN discipleship-level courses are ‘Abundant Life’ and ‘Abundant Light’. ‘Abundant Life’ is now available in over 70 languages, and has been studied by hundreds of thousands around the world!
But ‘TEE’ is not an international organisation, or a particular set of courses. It is an approach to discipleship and theological training which has given rise to many distinct, independent, national movements around the world. The Kathamandu conference (which you will read more about in this edition of GO), aimed to bring together different national movements in Asia, to encourage mutual learning and encouragement, co-operation where possible, and cross-fertilisation of ideas and practices.
Today, TEE is moving forward! Its educational method has been tried and tested, and it is providing many people with effective Christian Education, at a number of levels. This method of ‘training in context’ is equipping many believers to grow in their Christian faith and to demonstrate it by practical service and gospel outreach in their communities.