Theological education by extension (TEE) is a term that describes a method and a movement that appeared in the missions world in the early 1960s. Responding to the rapidly changing patterns of the church, the ministry, and leadership training, TEE revolted against the residence type of theological education. It espoused a new form of education, “which yields to the life cycle of the student, that does not destroy or prevent his productive relation to society, and does not make the student fit into the needs of a residential school.” It was theological education for church growth.

Brief History of the Movement. TEE was born in Latin America, occasioned by the general needs of Latin American evangelicals, particularly by the Presbyterians in Guatemala in 1962. They had an excellent seminary of the traditional type in Guatemala City with a highly qualified faculty. But a survey revealed that in twenty-five years the seminary had prepared only ten pastors who were actively serving the denomination. At that time only six students were enrolled—hardly sufficient to serve two hundred rapidly growing churches in one of the most fertile fields of all Latin America. Something was radically wrong.

Providentially, a trio of highly qualified, unusually creative, and evangelically concerned missionary professors made up their faculty. Ralph Winter, Jim Emery, and Ross Kinsler all had multiple degrees in engineering, anthropology, and theology. They moved from the city to the rural area where most of the churches were, but this did not solve the problem. A radical change in structure was necessary.

The church leaders could not come for training if it required residence away from their homes. From this sprang the idea of a decentralized seminary. If the potential students could not come to the seminary, the seminary would go to them! Regional centers were established. Courses on three levels were adapted to the schedules of the students. Textbooks were put into programmed instruction. Care was taken to maintain academic excellence. Enrollment immediately increased from six to fifty students—and the TEE movement was born.

Five advantages of the new TEE program were noted by the missionaries.

First, the door was opened for leaders who desired to reach a higher level of training.

Second, the leaders could receive theological training in the context of their own subculture.

Third, the system permitted those students who had low motivation to leave without losing face.

Fourth, instead of lowering academic levels, the extension student learns better and develops better study habits in his or her home.

Finally, extension is much more economical than the conventional seminary, and it saves much time for the professor.

Thus a radical new form of theological education arose in a tiny country of Central America. Soon it became more widely known and its leaders went on the road to respond to requests from other fields with the same problems. The new method spread to Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina during the 1960s and into most Latin American countries in the 1970s. From there it has spread to Asia and Africa, maintaining its basic principles while assuming different forms. TEE’s adaptability has been one of its strong points. It targets established leaders instead of prospective leaders.

For almost a decade the TEE Movement met different degrees of opposition from traditional theological educators. This was due to some unmerited criticism of residential forms by TEE proponents. However, after realizing that TEE was not necessarily a substitute for, but a complement to, resident theological education, the two sides have gradually fused and see each other as mutually beneficial.

Methodology of the Movement. TEE can better be understood when one keeps in mind that it does not espouse the extermination of resident structures, but only their extension. TEE suggests that the seminary become student-centered instead of institution-centered. The seminary simply extends its theological education in several ways. Geographically, the seminary goes to the student in his or her natural habitat. Chronologically, the schedules of classes are drawn up after consulting the students. Seasonal classes and schedules must be considered. Culturally, the course material may be the same, but the Center adapts the content to the needs, customs, language, and thought patterns of the Center area. Academically, courses may have to be offered at several different levels, geared to the local environment. TEE is apt to reach people of different social and economic classes and prepare bivocational ministers. Finally, economically TEE avoids the enormous expense of maintaining institutional buildings and salaried faculties.

The TEE Movement has spread to all areas of the world of mission. Most missiologists agree that it is not a substitute for resident theological education, but a needed complement, especially in theological education on cross-cultural mission fields.

Justice C. Anderson

Moreau, A. Scott, Harold Netland, and Charles van Engen. Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Baker Books; A. Scott Moreau, 2000.

  • Posted May 12, 2015 4:30 pm
    by Travis Snode

    How would you suggest that we apply this type of training on the mission field? Should we try to find this type of material or develop our own? At what point in our ministry should we do something like this? How would you see this type of training working in relation to a Bible institute/Bible college? Do you think it should be another way to get training or be something that is supplemental to normal training?

    • Posted May 12, 2015 4:32 pm
      by Austin Gardner

      why don’t you find a course to check out. See how it works and then see how you can develop something similar. I used this in Peru.

      Basically it would be like a correspondence course. Give them a book to read. Have the write questions and summaries. Give them a test over the material.

  • Posted May 14, 2015 12:54 pm
    by Robert Canfield

    What type of accountability comes with an education system like this? Is this like home school for seminary? Thanks for posting this by the way.

    • Posted May 14, 2015 2:00 pm
      by Austin Gardner

      Usually the missionary or trainer will meet with the person for a test and discussion after the student has finished the book

  • Posted March 6, 2019 7:52 am
    by Bonface Nyangolo

    How can we partner with you and help me set u a theology by extension program in my church? I am a pastor leading a church of between 250-300 members in Nairobi Kenya. How can you help by even sending missionaries to us or trainers? Please talk tome.

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