Education is “the act or process of imparting or acquiring particular knowledge or skills, as for a profession.” Traditionally, Bible schools, Bible colleges, seminaries and other educational organizations have been the main agents for educating pastors in classroom or on-line settings. However, there is another more effective educational model: Theological Education by Extension (T.E.E.). T.E.E. is a more effective way of training church leaders because of its reasonable cost, its flexibility of place and pace, its built-in accountability for applying lessons, and its life-long learning emphasis.
While the traditional method of pastoral education has been developing for hundreds of years, T.E.E. is a new method of education. During the 1960s, missionaries preached the gospel to people of Guatemala. Many came to faith in Jesus. The need for leaders was so great that mission agencies sent 200 people to pastoral training for several years. After twenty five years, a survey was done on those 200 trainees. Only twenty of those original 200 were serving the Lord as pastors: eighteen in cities and just two in rural areas. So the missionary group sought for alternative ways to raise leaders. Missionaries began to give two weeks’ training to local churches for two years, and they were able to train 200 pastors within two years. Even though they were able to raise 200 leaders, this work was extremely challenging for the missionaries. So they continually sought for alternative educational methods, and they finally produced material and a method for group study that they named T.E.E. (Theological Education by Extension). This method has become so popular that now it is used in more than 130 countries and has been translated into many different languages. Officially introduced in Nepal in 1999, T.E.E. is now used by over 16,000 students in fifty-four of the seventy-five districts.
New learning methods need to be promoted in addition to traditional institutions for biblical education, especially in developing countries. Because people in developing countries face special challenges getting an education, new learning methods are beneficial. In these regions, T.E.E. offers an option for pastoral training that traditional schools cannot offer. Many people are not able to acquire the biblical education to become pastors because of funding challenges. Another challenging cost factor for most people of the developing countries or even developed countries is lack of time. Raising crops and livestock are the major income sources. If students in developing countries miss even one season, it will be hard for them to survive throughout the year. So these kinds of people will not be able to attend a Bible College even though they have zeal. Most traditional schools require two to four years to acquire a Bible education. T.E.E. offers an affordable, convenient alternative.
A second reason T.E.E. is such an effective method of biblical training compared to traditional Bible colleges is that it allows for much more flexibility in place and pace for the students. Figure A and Figure B below illustrate this difference.
Figure A’s arrows are pointing to the Bible College, which represents traditional Bible colleges. The learner needs to go to a Bible School for a certain amount of time with enough funds. Figure B’s arrows are pointing outside because the Bible colleges come to the learners. The learners gain biblical knowledge in their own place and at their own pace. Also, most traditional institutions only accept students who have achieved academic prerequisites. For example, the learners are not permitted to enter the college until a certain grade level has been completed. But God’s words deal with characters not with grades. Many will not have the opportunity for traditional Bible schools because of their lack of academic qualifications, especially in developing countries. This slows their pace in studying the Bible.
The ultimate purpose of Christian education and biblical training is that people become more Christ-like in character and be equipped to lead others in Christlikeness. In traditional Bible College, students register as individuals. In contrast, the T.E.E. method is a group method which involves built-in accountability for the members to apply the lessons. Once a week, all learning members come together and share what they have learned from their personal study of the lesson. Each student gets the opportunity to explore further through discussion in the familiar small-group setting. The group leader leads the group with help from a structured group leading manual. The ministry (or practical) assignment applies what has been learned from personal study and group discussion. T.E.E. courses are based on the principle, ‘Iron cuts iron’ which teaches that students can study biblical courses in a group and affect each other. Unlike students in a traditional education, T.E.E. students form a group with five to ten members. If they learn together in a group, they will be growing together and correcting each other.
This picture of a ladder with two sides and several rungs shows the three components needed to prepare a pastor. A ladder with just one side or a ladder with two sides and missing rungs is useless. In the same way, T.E.E. trains pastors to apply what they learn in their personal and group studies.
Finally, T.E.E. is a more effective way to train church leaders because it focuses on shaping their character day by day to be more Christ-like. While students at traditional Bible schools attend for four years and are considered “educated,” students in T.E.E. continue courses over a much longer time period.
Although I would argue that T.E.E. is more effective, I am here at Boyce so people will have an easier time understanding my argument for T.E.E. and so that I will have the credentials to promote T.E.E. Getting a traditional Bible college education can be a detriment though. I have some friends who did theological training in India. When they returned to Nepal, they had a hard time fitting into local church ministry again because they were critical of the “less educated” pastors. They felt superior, but the less trained pastors are leading people to Christ. Instead of discouraging pastors and putting them down, these Bible school trained pastors should encourage and fill in the gaps the less trained pastors can’t do, like preparing sermons. Local pastors feel uneasy around these Bible school trained pastors. What I have found is that Bible school trained pastors were far better at giving sermons but, when dealing with practical matters with conflict in the church, the T.E.E. trained pastors are much more effective because they act as a group. They bring the issue to the group and pray over it. On the other hand, the Bible school trained pastor is alone.
Ultimately, the biggest advantage of T.E.E. over traditional Bible training schools is that the T.E.E. method results in not just the training of pastors, but the training of the whole local church. Because pastors and church leaders are staying in their home region to learn in a group setting with built-in accountability and low cost, more people are receiving the biblical training. In turn, this builds up the whole church. More people are equipped and thus serving well in the churches and all the responsibility does not on the pastor’s shoulders.