Theological Education by Extension

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Theological Education by Extension (TEE) is a ministry-oriented model of church leadership training whose primary purpose is to provide training for people who are already serving in church leadership positions. One author has called it "simply decentralized theological education. It is a field-based approach which does not interrupt the learner's productive relationship to society" (Mulholland, p. 66). TEE is distinguished from traditional models of leadership training by several factors, of which the most obvious is the "extension" element. As an extension program, the training is offered at a location near the student's home, eliminating the need to spend months or years in preparation at a Bible school or seminary. One of the main visions of the TEE model is "to encourage and enable local leaders to develop their gifts and ministries without leaving their homes, jobs, communities, and local congregations" (Kinsler, p. 30). TEE is a flexible program which is able to adjust to the needs and abilities of the students and can be developed and adapted to the local situation and meet particular needs. For this reason it found increasing acceptance in the 1980s, particularly by the growing churches in developing countries.

In 1963 the Presbyterian Seminary in Guatemala began a new leadership training program which became known as Theological Education by Extension (TEE). This program was in response to the observation that the conventional theological curriculum which they offered was not meeting the needs of the young, growing church. They observed that many of the rural churches were without pastors, while a high percentage of the seminary graduates did not remain in ministry but were engaged in other occupations. The original educational model consisted of home study materials, weekly classes with an instructor at several regional centers near the students' homes, and monthly meetings of all students together at the central campus. The program continued to develop and adapt in the following years and soon spread to other parts of Latin America and the world.

Since its beginning in 1963, TEE has become increasingly popular in the young, growing churches of Africa and Latin America. According to the "World Directory of Theological Education by Extension" the total enrollment in TEE programs worldwide grew to 14,000 by 1972, and to more than 55,000 by 1980 (Youngblood, p. 13).

In general, the TEE model of leadership training responded to the following problems: (a) Conventional residential Bible schools and seminaries have not provided enough church leaders to keep up with the needs of rapidly growing churches. (b) Many people, including some already serving as pastors, would like to study theology and leadership but are unable to enroll at a residential school because of the high cost of training or because of commitments to family, jobs, and church leadership. (c) Students who attend the residential schools tend to be young and inexperienced and have not proven themselves in church leadership roles. Also, many of the seminaries are in urban settings, and it is difficult for the students to return to ministries in rural, agricultural areas and to adjust to life in these areas, which are often economically depressed. As a result of these factors, a high percentage of the students do not continue as pastors following graduation, but often obtain other employment in urban areas. (d) Conventional theological education tends to be isolated from actual involvement in ministry and too often the students are not prepared to apply the concepts they have learned to the needs they encounter in the local churches. (e) The high cost of operating and maintaining a conventional Bible school increases the dependence on outside resources, since many of the younger churches do not have the ability to administer that kind of program without outside assistance.

The typical TEE program has three main parts. (a) Lesson materials are prepared for individual study by the student at home. Through these materials, the student gains the facts and knowledge relating to the course of study. Many of the materials are in the form of programmed instruction. This form of instruction, with its well-defined objectives and instructions for self-study, seems to be most appropriate considering the educational background of many of the students. (b) "Seminar" meetings are held weekly, several times a month, or monthly so that the students can discuss the material they learned in their individual studies and consider how it applies to their life and church work. The seminar meetings are usually held in existing church buildings or schools in regional centers near the homes of the students. (c) Because TEE is training for ministry, field experience is an important part of a TEE program. The lesson materials are written to include work assignments which relate in practical ways to the student's own ministry. Since the students are normally involved in leadership positions, the knowledge gained in the lesson materials and through sharing in the seminars can be applied almost immediately.

According to information published by the Mennonite Christian Leadership Foundation in 1986, there were at least 27 different Mennonite-related TEE programs in 20 different countries of Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The Eastern Hokkaido Bible School in Japan was a similar nonresidential program. There was at least one TEE program among the Indigenous Mennonites of Northern Ontario. More than 2,600 students are enrolled in the various Mennonite-related TEE programs. The first TEE program in the Tanzania Mennonite Church was started late in 1982 in the North Mara Diocese. In 1985, a similar program was started in the South Mara Diocese. The Mennonite Theological College in Musoma had been closed in 1981 because of the small percentage of graduates who entered church ministries and the general feeling among church leadership that the overall benefit to the church was not enough to justify the cost of operation. The TEE program began with 5 regional centers (seminar locations) and approximately 75 students enrolled. By 1987, in both dioceses, there was a total of 18 regional centers and approximately 450 students enrolled. Most of the students were lay church leaders who were in charge of small, local congregations. The teaching staff included two expatriate missionaries and six local pastors. Besides the benefits of providing training in biblical studies and church leadership, the TEE program also encouraged a sense of community and mutual support among the church leaders of Tanzania Mennonite Church.

In Central America, a program with a vision similar to TEE was SEMILLA (Seminario Ministerial de Liderazgo Anabautista [Anabaptist Ministerial Seminary for Leaders] ), which had more than 100 students enrolled from eight Central American countries. In this program, the instructors traveled to the various countries to hold classes for the students from that country. The students engaged in individual study during the intervals between the classes, which were held for several days at a time and several months apart. The studies offered through SEMILLA were on a higher academic level than those generally offered through TEE. SEMILLA was administered by representatives from Mennonite and Mennonite-related churches in each of the Central American countries involved.

In the 1980s, there was increasing interest among North American Mennonite regional conferences in developing educational programs with a format similar to TEE, in order to provide preparation and in-service training for church leaders ("conference-based theological education").

See also Indian Ministries, North America; Pastoral Education.


Batle, Agustin and Rosario Batle. Theological Education by Extension: A Guide for T.E.E. Workers in Developing Countries. Nairobi: Uzima Press, 1983.

Hogarth, Jonathan, Kiranga Gatimu, and David Barrett. Theological Education in Context: 100 Extension Programs in Contemporary Africa. Nairobi: Uzima Press, 1983.

Holland, Fred. Teaching Through T.E.E. Nairobi: Evangel Publishing House, 1975.

Jacobs, Donald R. Leadership Training Programs: Mennonite and Brethren in Christ, Covering Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Landisville, PA: Mennonite Christian Leadership Foundation, 1986.

Kinsler, Ross F. The Extension Movement in Theological Education, rev. ed. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1981.

Mulholland, Kenneth B. Adventures in Training the Ministry. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1976.

Sprunger, W. Frederic. TEE in Japan: A Realistic Vision. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1981.

Youngblood, Robert L. ed. Cypress: TEE Comes of Age. Exeter: The Paternoster Press, n.d. [ca. 1985].

Author(s) Joseph Bontrager
Date Published 1989

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MLA style

Bontrager, Joseph. "Theological Education by Extension." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 1 Oct 2023.

APA style

Bontrager, Joseph. (1989). Theological Education by Extension. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 1 October 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 879-880. All rights reserved.

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