• Greg H. Parsons

Theological Education by Extension: Lessons from the Past, Application for the Future


Two months ago, during a meeting in Asia with leaders from China, I met a sharp young man who was in leadership at a seminary in the Mainland. As each of these leaders outlined the issues facing their ministry, it was clear that this brother’s frustrations grew out of his passion to get people a quality training. He knew well what the need is and he was looking for any of the typical resources a seminary needed. But he did not seem to have any idea that there are other models than the standard residential seminary pattern.

Will the difficulties of training in a nation like China force the issue on the rest of us who care about training?

Evangelicalism has never been able to afford enough residential training programs to equip enough leaders for the global church. This is especially true in India, Africa and Latin America. There is no time in history when this was not true. And, it is true not merely because of the cost—which limits the number of students, but also because of our current models—which limit the quality of the candidates. In a very real sense, seminaries are dependent both on donors to give money and churches to “hand over” their best disciples and ministers.

Add to that the fact that over the last few years, well-funded well-attended seminaries in the U.S. are cutting back on expectations for enrollment, as we will illustrate below. (In a way, we saw this coming when the president of least one major seminary in the U.S. said that without the Koreans, they would be out of business.)

Recognizing the reality of these issues 60 years ago, Ralph D. Winter and James Emery developed Theological Education by Extension (TEE) and brought it to the forefront of evangelical mission field training. Soon, Ross Kinsler joined them and continued to work at furthering TEE into the 2000s until his retirement.

Given these changes in the global scene: What are we going to do today? We would be wise to learn from what others have done as we seek to solve this training dilemma today.

Clarity of the Problem

Part of that dilemma is that we have firmly established a pattern (the residential seminary training) in the Western world where there is a “strong” Christian population, sufficient wealth so that people can take off time for years of study. Part of my argument, however, is that we are not be able to sustain this, even in the West. We assume that other cultures of the world will be blessed by that pattern. The desire of leaders around the world to obtain this kind of academic credentials and credibility is strong and increasing. But the U.S. pattern of residential schools is simply not feasible for most leaders in the Majority World.

Ralph Winter claimed,

The established American tradition has continued to be carried out across the world like a disease germ by missionaries who had not themselves been trained in an off-campus pattern. … The enormous power of social momentum from the West, … force[s] us to do things, like it or not. … To a great extent what’s done in this country tyrannizes what can or can’t be done in the mission field. … [But] what we do in this country just won’t fit in most situations overseas (Winter 1993, 77).

One illustration of this issue arose more than 100 years ago, when “educated” missionaries of the Student Volunteer Movement went out around the world. According to Ralph D. Winter, they “took one look at the level of education of many African pastors and declared them unqualified. They pushed the real leaders out of the pulpits. Serious setbacks resulted in most fields” (Winter 1996, 5).

In the early 1960s, Winter recognized a similar problem while he was serving as a missionary in Guatemala. The churches had “lay leaders” or elders, but they could not officially be pastors nor be part of the leadership. He knew they would be more effective if they had some training and, over all, the churches could suffer because of a lack of biblically trained leaders. Beyond that, the seminary was physically a long way away. At times, the seminary also trained students beyond what the rural churches needed. In other words, the clear majority of the students in pastoral training are not the seasoned, mature believers defined by the New Testament as candidates for pastoral leadership (Winter,2003b, 10). Winter called this the “largest stumbling block to leadership development in the global church” (Winter 2003a). Winter first presented this information as a talk at the ACCESS (the Association of Christian Distance Education) conference in 1998 in Pasadena California. He also often said, “the kind of leaders the Bible defines for the church are not easily discernible at the time people in their early twenties register in seminary.” (Winter: 1993), 80 For more information on ACCESS, see their web site at:

Winter argued that even if seminaries and other residential schools had nothing but proven, gifted leaders in their schools, and these were the best candidates for being the pastors and missionaries of the world, still their entire number of students would only be a drop in the bucket compared to the massive number of “functional pastors” who cannot make it to school because they are busy planting new churches, holding down jobs, and having families as well (Winter, 2003a, 88). Beyond that, Winter also estimated there were 2 million churches all over the world without pastors at all.

Another key aspect of this problem is caused by having training that is disconnected from the local church and her needs.

The Significance of Extension Theological (And Missiological) Education

In the early 1960s, Winter and his colleague Jim Emery experienced these problems with the residential seminary of their denomination, located in the capital city of Guatemala. In 1962, the Presbyterian Church in Guatemala took inventory and “discovered that in twenty-five years the seminary had prepared only ten pastors who were actively serving the denomination” (Covell and Wagner 1971, 71). The recognized leaders had families and jobs that they could not just give up to study full time. In rural areas where Winter served in the highlands of Guatemala, they often grew their own food as well. Emery observed:

The people who most need the training are not those who traditionally attend the seminary, but those of the larger group who are more mature, and with experience. These, however, cannot attend seminary for economic reasons, even if they could meet the academic requirements (Emery 1963, 132).

(See the Addendum for more about what Emery, Winter and others did in Guatemala, to help those without the necessary academic requirements to enter theological training.)

So, Winter and his colleagues designed seminary training that would go to these “functional” pastors. The underlying assumptions were: (1) that there were already leadership gifts in operation within the various subcultures of a given church, (2) these leaders lacked helpful training, (3) that you could train those people where they were (Winter 1966, 12), and (4) if you did not train them where they were, they would never be trained.

To accomplish this, instead of attending lectures, they began to develop context-sensitive coursework which students study at home. Then, students would meet regularly in groups with a tutor to discuss the academic work and how it related to their actual ministry.

This was the origin of the Theological Education by Extension (TEE) movement—a church-based training model for church leaders. (Paradoxically, Winter often noted, when formal seminary training is required for ordination, the growth of the church stalls.) Winter gave a simple answer to the question, “what is extension education?” by saying, “briefly, it is that method which reaches the student in his own environment rather than pulling him out into a special controlled environment” (Winter 1969, 153).

As TEE was starting, a new missionary joined them in Guatemala named Ross Kinsler. He had a number of questions about TEE. Winter wrote to him with several rhetorical questions that could help answer the question, “is distance theological education necessary?” He asked:

  • Are you serving candidates for the ministry, which no residence program could possibly reach?

  • Is it likely that the U.S. method [of residential schools] could not … be more than a program for a small part of ministerial needs—either from the standpoint of quantity and also of cultural requirements?

  • Are many of [the uneducated church leaders] of higher caliber both intellectually and spiritually than young people able to attend residential schools?

  • Are you able simultaneously to serve people in radically diverse social sub-groups? (Winter 1964).

In addition to enlisting Kinsler for the cause of TEE during these early years, Winter also persuaded James F. Hopewell, an Anglican who later held a key role of heading the Theological Education Fund under an arm of the World Council of Churches (WCC), to champion the cause of TEE. In 1967 Hopewell wrote a lengthy guest editorial for the International Review of Mission, where he expressed his perspective regarding schools suffering “contemporary irrelevance” and schools serving fewer and fewer students (Hopewell 1967a, 141). In that article, Hopewell directly addressed the isolation of theological schools, which are physically and educationally removed from the realities of life and real needs. He raised questions about everything from the less-mature student, to the questionable validity of teaching to prepare future professors rather than pastors and leaders to teaching anything away from the context of ministry. He wrote:

Were it our primary intention in a seminary to equip a man for the profession of witness in the world, I doubt whether we would construct an institution that essentially removed him from that world, giving him a three-year vacation, so to speak, from the life he would live before and after (Hopewell 1967b, 158).

Using TEE allowed the seminary to fit into the life-cycle of the student rather than extracting the student from ministry and fitting her/him into the life-cycle of the seminary (Winter 1972, 1). Kenneth Mulholland spoke of TEE as “decentralized theological education. It is a field-based approach which does not interrupt the learner’s productive relationship to society” (Mulholland 1976, 66). Ross Kinsler later wrote that the TEE model was designed “to encourage and enable local leaders to develop their gifts and ministries without leaving their homes, jobs, communities, and local congregations” (Kinsler 1981, 30). Winter summarized this TEE core idea: “an educational delivery system which did not implicitly exclude the more mature leaders of the congregations; that does not erect artificial barriers to lay people with leadership gifts who are found in the real world of the local church. The key word in this discussion is access” (Winter 1993, 77).


Other core ideas of TEE, in addition to serving the “right” students—and thus and empowering leaders—continue to be relevant to the growing contemporary distance education movement for theological training. These core ideas of TEE provide a foundation for modern day distance programs:

1. Access for current church leaders (and missionaries) to receive ministry training

2. An alternative path to credentialing for pastoral ministry

3. Theological (and missiological) training provided within the local church and cultural context

4. Affordable training

Lastly, and crucial to the core idea of TEE, was the engaged involvement of a mentor. Later, Winter saw the proliferation of “distance” courses and repeatedly expressed his dislike for “distance” education divorced from a mentor. TEE was different, “what is distant about sitting one foot away from the mentor?” he would ask.

Theological (and Missiological) Education for the Right Students

In the Church Growth Bulletin, which missiologist Donald McGavran edited, he wrote about the challenge of getting the right training to the right people:

(McGavran 1969, 142).The greatest encouragement in missions today is that the Christian movement is outrunning the traditional methods of ministerial training, but the great tragedy, both in the U.S. and abroad, is that we are ecclesiastically and institutionally arthritic at the point of bending to give appropriate, solid, theological education to the real leaders that emerge in the normal outworking of our internal church life. Without this critical retooling of our theological education, church growth may in many areas wander into Mormon-type heresies instead of producing a biblically-based evangelicalism. In some places this is already happening before our eyes

One way to try to solve the problem of heresy arising in churches around the world would be to provide existing church leaders with affordable access to biblical, theological, and missiological education. The TEE model of leadership training addresses the problem of getting this type of training to those church leaders since most seminaries are in urban settings, while most congregations are in rural areas.

Winter considered it a serious problem that the seminaries and Bible schools of the world are not able to make an adequate contribution to the growth of Christianity around the world. He wrote,

…virtually every church movement everywhere which has adopted residential schools of any type for their exclusive source of pastoral candidates has slowed, stopped, or even declined in growth. At the same time, virtually every church movement everywhere that is rapidly growing selects its pastoral leaders later in life [but] may not effectively train them, maybe not at all (Winter 2005, 34).

To encourage the global church in reaching out to the remaining unreached peoples of the world, people in many different contexts needed access to theological/missiological education by extension around the world. For Winter, there was a growing concern for the cutting edge of the pioneering mission movement. He saw the need for a clear frontier missiology on the mission field and with the field missionary as well. Without training the missionary in the field the frontier mission movement may slow down (Burris 1992, 6).

This is also the way that the best selections can be made for the pastors and evangelists—without whom the Christian movement cannot continue.

…one of the most disruptive tensions in the non-western churches of the world today is the conflict between the natural leaders, who have in many cases pioneered in the early growth of the church, and the new breed of younger ministers who have gone the seminary route. It is a safe generalization that the healthier churches are those that make the best use of the natural leaders (Winter, 1972, 4).

It does not seem wise to depend on seminary admissions processes as an effective way to select leaders. There is only so much a seminary can do to screen and equip its students—in part because it is disconnected with the local church. No amount of training can guarantee to produce the kind of gifts possessed by those who have distinguished themselves in lay leadership. Those church movements that are growing effectively depend primarily on the dynamics of the local church to select leaders (Winter 2003b, 10).

Beyond the main goal of the early TEE offering of seminary training by extension was the goal of giving church leaders the academic credentials without which they could not function as fully ordained and effective leaders. Effective training for real leaders was on Ralph Winter’s mind for the rest of his life. Thirty years after the founding of TEE, and before “distance” education was catapulted to the forefront by the internet, Winter began developing a degree program at the university he founded with his wife Roberta, the William Carey International University. This was in the tradition of TEE, and focuses on historical and cultural factors related to missiology—in addition to biblical and theological education. Stephen E. Burris, who was working with Winter on this MA course, wrote: “people on the run” are the most likely candidates to give high quality help in finishing the task of taking the gospel to every people. “But it is much more than making education available to busy people” he said. “It is tapping into perhaps the world’s finest candidates for missionary service, both Western and non-Western” (Burris 1992, 6).

Local Training in the Cultural Context

The ability to apply theological learning within the local context is a hallmark of TEE. The student’s mentor can make assignments and adaptations to the local needs and experiences of the student. Conventional theological education has tended to be isolated from actual involvement in ministry, making it difficult for students to apply the concepts they have learned to their later ministry work. TEE’s adaptability extends to the possibility of materials being designed for any language, culturally appropriate teaching methods, and any academic level.

Missiologists and anthropologists have recognized an unhelpful influence of Western cultural training patterns in both the theology and the methods of teaching used in the Majority World. For example:

As the insights of cultural anthropology filter down to grass roots, missionary educators have become more aware of patterns of culture and sub-culture all over the world. … Institutions that are not extended will often require that a student from one culture take his training within another one. Experience has shown that this cultural extraction is not ideal (Covell and Wagner 1971, 9).

What harm might be caused when people receive their training outside of their own cultural context? As noted above, many Majority World seminaries and Bible schools are in urban areas while many students come from poor rural areas. After adjusting to the urban setting, it is often difficult for students to go back to the slower pace and economic deprivations of rural life and ministry. Students choose to remain in the urban areas and find employment or church work instead (Bontrager 1989). Similarly, says Korean theologian Bong Rin Ro, “many Asian Christians uphold the West as their theological model. Thousands of young people have made an exodus, particularly to the U.S. for their education” (Ro 1970, 49).

Within local contexts, then, champions for biblical leadership development can develop seminary and university level materials that fit the historical, cultural, and linguistic distinctives of their part of the world. While at first, some of this work might have to be done by people from outside the cultural context, the goal would be that indigenous leaders with seminary or university qualifications would take responsibility for developing degree programs that could be a valuable resource for key leaders who would not leave their places of ministry to get advanced training (with the possibility of some never coming back!).

One example countering this tendency is the Middle Eastern “Program for Theological Education by Extension” fulfills its mission by providing evangelical theological education by extension for church leaders “wherever they live in the Arab world.” Extension education supplements the theological and missiological training that residential seminaries can provide by identifying leaders and giving them the training, tools, and recognition they needed to be able to serve in their local context.

The Spread of TEE

(For a more detailed explanation and evaluation of TEE, see chapter four, “Extending Theological Education,” in Ralph D. Winter: Early Life and Core Missiology (Parsons 2012).

The core ideas of TEE support the comment in the recent book, International Handbook of Protestant Education: “Theological Education by Extension (TEE) is regarded as one of the greatest advancements in Protestant education” (Jeynes and Robinson 2012, 371). The Theological Education by Extension (TEE) movement continues to thrive globally in parts of Africa, India, Asia, and Latin America. With the advent of the Internet, programs continue to expand, in part because residential programs have become more expensive in the West—but are they effective?

The global prayer resource Operation World is witness to the value of TEE around the world. For example, in the introductory section on African, a major point of the “need” for leaders says:

TEE programmes, modular training and training-in-service are all key for training both lay leadership and the many overworked and bivocational pastors. Several hundred TEE programmes now operate in Africa, accounting for over 100,000 students. Despite past obstacles, TEE is establishing itself as an effective alternative for theological training (Mandryk 2010, 37).

Sixty-Four different countries are listed in Operation World as having or needing more significant TEE ministry—including thousands of students in countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico, Philippines, Madagascar, Mauritius, Pakistan, India, Australia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, Zaire, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, and South Africa.

Many of these are in places you would expect, areas where poverty or security are major issues, such as Algeria, where the prayer guide says, “[With] the establishment of strong indigenous groups and church leaders, the rapid growth and sensitive context makes leadership development a constant challenge. TEE is developing quickly in order to help raise up a new generation of leaders” (Mandryk 2010, 99).

OMF reports that in Cambodia, “Theological Education by Extension (TEE) is an interdenominational group committed to educating and training church leaders, wherever they may be. TEE provides this training through a mixture of home study, group learning and ministry application”

In 1993 Winter called attention to the reality that in the vast majority of the house churches of China, the theological “anchor man” is actually a Bible-trained woman. This training came through women missionaries, who selected Chinese women who loved the Bible and taught them by “extension” methods. This reality on the field in China, shows how much more effective the non-seminary training of lay women was than was the much more cumbersome seminary training of men. That “unplanned extension” phenomenon is the main reason there is a thriving church in China with the degree of biblical knowledge it does in fact possess (Winter, 1993, 75).

Among the churches in India, theological education by extension has taken hold effectively in the form of a program called The Association for Theological Education by Extension (TAFTEE). A large proportion of those studying under TAFTEE are people in midlife careers, such as doctors and engineers. Thus the typical TAFTEE graduate is not only more mature but has more extensive secular education than the typical seminary or institute graduate. They are the vital backbone of the Christian movement in India. Additionally, there are large numbers of people outside of formal churches who are seriously reading the Bible and following Jesus. This vast movement of believers does not employ residential schools to create and train leaders (Parsons 2012, 147, 165).

With the motto, “Equipping Anyone Anywhere for Ministry,” the Theological Education College of South Africa set out to discover how a seminary could prepare leaders for a variety of ministry needs and settings. They also realized the seminary would need to go to the student. With the seminary and student in the same location as the student’s ministry context, the “world” in which the student was swimming became part of the training.

Another example of TEE at the seminary or university level is the Francophone University of International Development in West Africa, also known as l’Institut Universitaire de Développement International. The school was founded by Moussa Bongoyok, a Fuller-educated scholar and Biola University professor from Cameroon, and is patterned after Ralph Winter’s principles for a biblically-based university that features self-directed learning at a distance, combined with mentoring.

How might the original TEE model inform current and future distance/online learning settings in the Majority World to help churches train their leadership for effective pastoral ministry and the great cause of reaching the remaining unreached peoples of the world with the whole Gospel? The answer should come these 60 places around the world that are running hundreds of programs with thousands of students.

Beyond the Original TEE Vision: Church-Based Degree Programs

Thanks to the internet, it is now possible to have church-based theological and missiological education that leads to a university level degree. Ralph Winter strongly believed that “the most extensive major cultural tradition ever developed in history is the university pattern” (Winter 2003b, 11). To him, importance of theological and missiological education tapping into this tradition could not be underestimated. He also believed in using the “language” of the university tradition in terms of the degrees offered as that is the only thing that would make sense to the rest of the world. In a Mission Frontiers article in 2003 he described an encounter in a Southeast Asian country with a faculty member of a Bible college. This person explained to Winter the “tragic fact that after graduating from this Bible college, students were unable to enroll in the national university. The units and degree structure did not conform to the pattern of society.” Winter elaborated: “We live in a world which speaks specific languages and channels life in specific cultural patterns. It is a missionary principle to speak the language of the native. This includes the labels on our degrees. The initials: BD, MDiv, ThM, ThD, DMin, made no sense to Winter.

The last years 15 years of Ralph Winter’s life were devoted to an experiment with distance-based university education. Through the university he founded, William Carey International University, he led a team in developing a master’s level curriculum he called “seminary in a suitcase.” His plan was for missionaries and national leaders to be able to study anywhere in the world with a local mentor toward a degree that included

theological and missiological education. The MA degree program eventually evolved into using online resources almost exclusively, but it retained the concept of a mentor-coach and application of learning within the local ministry setting, following the TEE model. It also retained the TEE value of making training more affordable than residential schooling.

Keeping programs affordable for students in 73 countries, South African Theological Seminary (SATS) provides undergrad and graduate biblical distance (online) education. Credits for prior learning and experience help SATS achieve its goal of affordability. The school was founded to support local churches in providing Christian education and training to their members and leaders right where they are. Similarly, the Assemblies of God’s Global University, based in Springfield Missouri, integrates distance education and ministry in a network covering 150 countries. The network produces curricular materials in multiple languages and aspires to serve the local church in training its leaders through nonresidential learning methods.

Lastly, a crucial issue is the need for church-based training. Often, we assume it is best to “hand off” to seminary those in our churches called into ministry. While some training programs began in a local church context with a passion to train church leaders, they end up being institutionalized. Jeff Reed, Founder and CEO of BILD, based in Ames Iowa, wrote about the need for "church-based ministry training which is truly church based” (Reed 2001). Steve Kemp, formerly with BILD and now Academic Dean of the Antioch School, similarly wrote an article, "Church-Based Theological Education," for the Encyclopedia of Christian Education.

Reed's focus is on establishing “real” church-based training. He outlines the differences between different kinds of training, giving examples. He includes some programs which started out as church based, but ended up being institutionally based. He wrote,

Over the last three decades, almost all the creative attempts of Western formal educational institutions to extend their training—TEE, field education, middler years, distance education, etc. have in one form or another, been an extension of the formal theological education paradigm and its enterprises. In addition, almost all the attempts by churches to assume major responsibilities for training their own leaders have been dominated or overshadowed by the formal theological education paradigm (Reed 2001, 2).

Reed argues that formal structures dominate the church today, and they are not able to communicate well many of the core biblical values such as faithfulness in service, discipleship, spiritual disciplines, and character development.

Conclusions and Reflections

Missiologist and scholar Kenneth Mulholland listed five important accomplishments of TEE at its twenty-year point:

1. It made formal theological training available to persons for whom it was previously unavailable.

2. It raised significant issues of educational method.

3. It unleashed unparalleled creativity in theological education at all levels.

4. It strengthened the church.

5. It brought to the forefront the question of leadership selection. (Mulholland, 1986, 13-17)

Schools around the world that are now using the TEE model in some form for ministerial training need to expand in two directions: 1) remedial general education studies for gifted leaders to prepare them for academic work and 2) church-based seminary and university level degree programs to strengthen church and missions workers in their fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Here are a few reflections based on the above:

1. Improving TEE

The day of building large, central locations for training (the typical Western Seminary model) is over, or nearly so. I was told by faculty at Dallas Theological Seminary that they are no longer going to build new buildings. They cannot fill the dorm space they have. Fuller Seminary has some of the same issues and recently sold a large housing facility. Among other issues, students are not studying full time, in part, because of the increasing costs of living and of seminary tuition.

Why would we place an expensive, un-multipliable model on the backs of the rest of the world?

We should help improve and expand church-based TEE around the world. As noted above, for many different reasons, so many different nations use this as their model of training. Why would we want to set up a different deliver structure? Wouldn’t it be a wiser use of human and financial resources to improve the system? One of the reasons TEE never took hold or declined in some locations around the world is that it was not seen as the best model for training in the West. We must be careful what we do and the way do it, as it may be copied later—to our horror!

2. The Internet and Availability to Promulgate All Our Courses.

But global changes since TEE was introduced force us to consider how things are different now. Probably the largest change is the advent of the internet, which is an amazing source of information—with both positive and negative consequences. The ability for everyone to create online materials or courses is amazing—if extremely uneven in quality. Fortunately or unfortunately—everyone can produce materials! Yet, not only are there potential errors of theology or bad missiology that we might worry about, but most professors are not distance trained curriculum developers. Making a good course is very difficult. Creating something that fits the context is impossible from a distance—especially when those doing the training have not been trained by or in extension methods or models.

But perhaps the biggest problem with Internet courses is the lack of a face-to-face mentor.

3. Working Models of Training

While it would be foolish to hope that what works in one place will also naturally work in another, we need to learn from the good and the bad aspects in any model of training. Let me illustrate with a model that shows both problems and hope.

In 1994, in East Africa, a missionary trainer Roger E. Coon and his wife Joyce, served with AIM International in Kenya. He and his wife returned from retirement after years of Christian education experience in Africa with a commission to do a study of eleven Bible College training schools. In an undated email from Roger Coon to Chris Little Coons explained that the study sought to “investigate the question of why giving Bible School training to pastors in African churches is not resulting in Bible teaching being passed on to the believers in the churches – as intended." He reported, “The survey showed that there is little reaching in the churches for youth and adults. Evangelism is strong but teaching is weak. The people are not being fed.”

Coon went on to give the details of the oral surveys he and Joyce gave to over 600 students. And questions remained as to why trained pastors did not give solid Bible teaching.

But there was an exception: The Sitotwet and Ahero Bible Training Centres trained differently. They had a program for men who had already been

…serving the Lord in their home churches. The program lasts for two years, during which time the students come to the Centre for two weeks and then go home to practice what they have learned for six weeks. At the School they study one subject for one week, then another subject for the second week before going back to their church. After six weeks they return to the Centre for two more courses. While they are at home they are all visited by the head of the school who discusses their work with them. They also write reports when they return to the School. The percentage of churches having adult Bible studies for Sitotwet student’s home churches would be 100%. … A requirement for elder training at Sitotwet is that every student must have a Bible study group at his home church.

4. Evaluate How We Train and What We Teach

How: This harkens back to Winter's motto, “learn the language of the native.” We must deeply understanding how different cultures learn and develop curriculum from their cultural perspective—changing our methods, illustrations, and approach to each context. And, we should be teaching this approach as we train trainers.

What: When we work through with local leaders what the church needs and how it learns, we can help them shape how to meet the need. This is, of course, idealistic. Many places around the world were taught “well” by our older educational model (and that of the UK). Thus, they may think they need to take notes, pay attention, get it right on the test and they are now trained. Because of the way education is done in many places, students expect a certain, predictable way of learning. Still, we should be proactive to demonstrate how it can work and can help produce equipped believers with a pattern of life-long learning.

5. Mentoring: The Crucial Element in Training

Even if we cannot change the systems as much as we might want to, we must focus on discipleship in the process of training. This was the process of Jesus with the disciples and Paul with Timothy. The lack of discipleship training in distance models is the most dangerous aspect of the internet-training age. If people are not maturing as they learn, it will not produce fruit. And you can’t measure maturity at a distance.

Many of the TEE programs include a core element of mentoring or discipleship. The school in South Africa we mentioned above, with the motto, “equipping anyone anywhere for ministry” (Theological Education by Extension College) is quick to point out that this is not merely correspondence or distance education. It is supported by a tutorial structure which enables the study to be contextualized.

Perhaps an illustration will help us as we close. George Barna had worked for years, gathering and analyzing massive amounts of data to understand what was happening at the intersection of faith and culture. What he discovered was that, despite all kinds of efforts, programs, and strategies, there was virtually no impact; nothing was happening. Leaders and followers were very committed and wanted to make a difference, but the data showed that it wasn’t working. Barna was discouraged, almost depressed. He writes:

I couldn’t figure out what the underlying obstacles were that kept us from seeing tangible, positive results.

It wasn’t for lack of marketplace intelligence.

It wasn’t for lack of funds.

It wasn’t for lack of passion.

It wasn’t for lack of plans and tactics.

Then one day he had a breakthrough. He “realized that the key to spiritual health in America (if not the world), and a general about face in our culture, did not hinge on our facilitating some kind of grand, nationwide revolution that would hit with fury and force all at once. Instead, it was bound up in a return to the way Jesus did things—that is, changing one life at a time (Barna 2011, vii-xi).

Addendum on Pre-Seminary/University Level Studies

It may be necessary to develop “lower level” training to provide prerequisites to those desiring training. In Guatemala in the early 1960s, the founders of the TEE movement developed a nationwide extension program that enabled anyone studying part time to gain a government diploma for the first six grades of general education. Many adults in church leadership positions in Latin America, Africa, and some parts of Asia need remedial general education to prepare them for seminary level studies. Winter wrote, “this sixth-grade level then provided the basis for enrollment in the lowest four levels of training offered by an extension seminary program we had simultaneously devised which was our real goal” (Winter 1993, 76).

Away from the city, the Spanish language primary education program stopped at the third grade. Because they wanted to see Indians ordained and able to lead their own churches, Winter and Emery began to work to extend the required seminary training down to the post-elementary level and to bring those with only three years of schooling to the point of finishing elementary education at a minimum (Parsons 2012, 116).

The original TEE program set out to fill in the education gap between the average education level of rural pastors and what was needed to get started in theological training. Winter cast a vision that motivated the involvement of missionaries in many different denominations and non-denominational missions to developing an elementary education diploma program. They prepared materials to enable those studying part time to come up to the sixth-grade level—and even to receive a government diploma for their work. This then qualified them to enter the lower levels of the seminary’s extension program, leading eventually to an ordination credential.

While multiple TEE programs, such as TAFTEE and SEAN (Study by Extension for All Nations, based in Latin America), offer non-academic courses for witness, church ministry, and ministerial credentials, there need to be TEE-like preparatory courses in all these parts of the world that will equip gifted key leaders to move on to advanced academic education without disrupting their ministry. There are, of course, examples of these kinds of programs around the world. In partial fulfillment of this need, the Assemblies of God’s Berean School of the Bible (BSB) brings ministerial training to local communities and individual ministers through courses for Bible knowledge and ministerial credentials. Some courses taken from BSB can transfer into the denomination’s distance-based Global University degree program under certain conditions.

But this still does not meet the global need for general education preparation to meet criteria for entrance into a seminary or university, whether residential or distance-based. Can existing TEE programs expand their vision to include these types of courses? Could existing or new TEE institutions partner with institutions that offer theological and missiological degrees to develop remedial courses prospective students need for entry into seminary or university, to be delivered by extension methods?


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Winter, Ralph D. and J. Emery, eds. 1969. Theological Education by Extension. South Pasadena: William Carey Library.

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_______. 1993. "Missiological Eduacation for Lay People." International Journal of Frontier Missiology 10, no. 2: 75-81.

_______. 1996. "Editorial Comment: The Gravest Danger: The Re-Amateurization of Mission." Mission Frontiers 18: 5.

______. 2003a. "The Largest Stumbling Block to Leadership Development in the Global Church." International Journal of Frontier Missiology 20: 86-94.

______. 2003b. What's Wrong with 4000 Training Schools Worldwide? Mission Frontiers, 25, 10-11.

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