Time for a history lesson! Let’s look at how TEE developed over the last decades, and why we believe it is still relevant today. Not only relevant, but also growing in exciting ways!
A First Wave of TEE: From the 1960s
TEE was born in 1964. A seminary in Guatemala had discovered that very few of their graduates returned to the rural pastoral ministries for which they had been trained. Meanwhile the local leaders of rural congregations had received no training. An ‘extension’ branch of the seminary started, with the teachers travelling out to equip rural pastors in their own contexts. ‘Theological Education by Extension’ (TEE) was born.
The concept of TEE spread rapidly to other continents in the early 1970s. And where many programmes and courses failed, some programmes flourished: the more interesting, understandable and applicable courses spread widely because TEE students enjoyed them. In some parts of Asia, courses from the first wave of TEE are still enjoyed today and have been revised along the way. In Africa, a successful curriculum is called TEXT Africa. The courses were specifically written for African contexts and have ongoing value. In Latin America, the curriculum written by SEAN became globally influential. At present SEAN materials are used in more than 100 countries and in over 80 languages. Read about SEAN here.
A Second Wave of TEE: From the 1980s
While the first wave of TEE had mostly aimed to equip pastors, by the 1980s a second wave was beginning that eventually outgrew the first. SEAN’s growth contributed much to this, and some of TEXT Africa’s courses also spread. This new wave sought to equip all Christians, not just leaders.
In the 1990s, the second wave accelerated further wherever multitudes were turning to Christ from other religions: in countries like China, Mongolia and Nepal, new churches were springing up like mushrooms after rain. How could the new believers be discipled well? How could local leaders be equipped for the new churches? And how could all this be done in an affordable way in local contexts? In response to these issues, dozens of new national TEE movements were formed to meet the urgent needs on the ground. This second wave of TEE continues to this day.
A Third Wave of TEE: The 21st Century
Today, at least in Asia, a third wave is gathering momentum. It is opening up new horizons.
This third wave is marked by innovation as national Christians lead TEE movements and take it in new directions. Creative new courses are being written for local contexts. New connections are being made between TEE organizations, leading to new collaborative initiatives. There is potential for partnerships with seminaries, and joined-up learning pathways. In some places TEE for teenagers is being developed, or TEE for oral preference learners, or digital courses. TEE is reaching the diaspora in growing numbers. New energy is in the air.
These new horizons are too wide for individual TEE organisations to explore on their own. This is where the work of the Increase Association is crucial, as it links church-based training programmes throughout Asia and the Middle East. As they collaborate, these national programmes can achieve so much more!
this post is based on Chapter 5 of TEE in Asia: Empowering churches, Equipping Disciples