by Jim Lo
Seven ingredients that I discovered to be present in every successful TEE program that I researched in southern Africa.
In 1982 it seemed as though every missionary I spoke to brought up the topic of Theological Education by Extension (TEE). They enthusiastically shared about the effective ministry TEE was having in South America and Africa. Upon arriving in Zimbabwe, I began to implement TEE in the churches I was planting and working with.
However, after a few short years, much of the excitement that our denomination had for TEE began to fade. As in many other mission organizations that had been using TEE, some of the missionaries I was working with were suggesting that we not use it anymore.
There were three primary arguments for their request: (1) TEE does not train pastoral candidates quickly enough; (2) TEE is a second-rate program of training; and (3) TEE does not help churches to grow. I agreed that in some TEE programs these criticisms were quite accurate. However, I was not willing to lump all TEE programs together as being failures, nor was I willing to dismantle the Wesleyan TEE program that had been started in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Mozambique without a fight.
I began researching TEE programs in southern Africa. My hypothesis was that there had to be identifiable ingredients in TEE programs which were successful. I wanted to isolate what some of those success factors were. At the outset of my research, Reverend Samson Sigwane, the regional superintendent of the Wesleyan church in southern Africa, defined how I could determine success. Successful TEE programs were defined as being those which were helping local churches experience numerical increases in both conversions and attendance at church functions.
My research included three questionnaires, interviews of over 40 individuals who were involved with TEE, and on-sight observations of numerous TEE classes. The following is a summary of seven ingredients that 1 discovered to be present in every successful TEE program that I researched in southern Africa.
1. RELEVANT SPIRITUAL ISSUES
Successful TEE programs in southern Africa seek to deal with spiritual issues relating specifically to Africa. The study materials that they use are written to include African spiritual issues such as ancestral worship, demonology and witchdoctors. They also examine the phenomenon of African traditional religions, recognizing their power and ritual appeal.
TEE class leaders and students are also encouraged to read books in addition to their TEE study guides which deal with spiritual issues pertaining specifically to the African context. Some of the books that they may read include African Traditional Religion in Biblical Perspective, The World of the Spirits and African Religions and Philosophy. The books are made available at circulation libraries in central locations, allowing pastors involved in TEE programs who cannot afford to buy books to have a strong biblical foundation to assist them as they discuss African spiritual issues.
2. SOCIAL-POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT
Students in successful TEE programs in southern Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Mozambique are encouraged to deal with social and political issues. They are reminded of Nehemiah, who encouraged the people of Israel to reflect upon the political, economic and religious forces that were depriving them of their rights. TEE students are encouraged to take time to think about what is happening to them and their surroundings and why. In addition to reflecting upon their situations, they are encouraged to take action.
After reflection, the students are required to intentionally and systematically enter their communities to identify the felt issues and needs, substantial problems and pivotal leaders who may be able to give direction in dealing with critical issues.
3. ADMINISTRATIVE PROVISIONS
Successful TEE programs in southern Africa are built upon a solid administrative infrastructure that includes a fulltime director who is responsible only for the TEE program. This was very evident in my discussions with those who were part of the Brethren in Christ denomination. For many years TEE directors were required to juggle their TEE responsibilities with pastoral/missionary responsibilities, employment and/or Bible school responsibilities. Fulltime status is facilitated by funding that is allotted for continuing education of national directors and salaries that provide actual living expenses rather than meager stipends. Because many successful TEE leaders happen to be nationals, the living benefit combined with additional training gives them the time and the tools that they need to nourish a burgeoning ministry. In years past national TEE directors were given little or no salary at all. It is no wonder that the majority of them were unable to accomplish their TEE responsibilities, since they had to find other work in order to support their families.
Successful Wesleyan TEE programs have trained TEE class leaders. Those who are selected to be class leaders match selection criteria and qualifications. Once potential TEE class leaders are found, they are given opportunities to participate in apprenticeship programs during which they are trained to conduct TEE classes. Some programs also have TEE class leader manuals that the leaders are given and required to read. Leaders are also expected to attend workshops in which they learn how TEE functions and what new materials are available, share about difficulties they may be having and, ask questions. Funds have also been allocated to help these class leaders to attend these workshops.
To assist TEE class leaders in conducting their class sessions, teaching guides have been produced for some of the courses. The guides include such topics as: preparing for the class session; the best use of class time; guidelines for giving tests and quizzes; suggestions for practical exercises; further insights into the lessons being taught; and sample knowledge, application and insight questions that may be presented to the students for discussion.
4. PRACTICAL MINISTRY ASSIGNMENTS
In successful TEE programs students are expected to identify with a local church and to be involved in ministry there. They are also expected to perform the assigned practical exercises within real ministry settings. To ensure that this is done, most of the successful TEE programs that I observed require students to fill in practical ministry assignment forms. The form asks them to record what the ministry assignment was, when the assignment was performed, who the supervising mentor was, what preparations were done in order to accomplish the assignment, problems or questions that arose while they were doing the assignment, and how they felt regarding what they did. These forms are then submitted to the TEE class leader, as well as to the sponsoring pastor of the TEE student. No final grade for the course is given until all practical ministry assignment forms are turned in.
Class leaders also seek to work in partnership with the pastors who are supervising TEE students. Local pastors are encouraged to be mentors to their students, modeling what Christian ministry can and should be. They recognize that one of their responsibilities to students is to keep them accountable for completing all required practical ministry assignments that the TEE class calls for.
Successful TEE programs in southern Africa understand the principle that "evangelism is more caught than taught." Besides just talking about doing evangelism, TEE class leaders in successful programs will take students out with them on a regular basis to conduct personal evangelism. Fred and Grace Holland modeled this style of ministry for me when I ministered in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Every week they would be out with their TEE students witnessing about Christ’s love and mercy. If distance prevents a class from giving adequate personal attention to this area of ministry, the TEE student is paired up with someone proficient in the area of personal evangelism in their church.
Successful TEE programs also promote church planting. One way this is done is by inviting actual church planters to share in the TEE class. This has proven to be important, because people tend to listen more attentively to those who have a successful record of active implementation of the program. In the TEE program that TEAM conducted in Harare, Zimbabwe, those learning about church planting worked directly under the supervision of a church planter.
6. APPROPRIATE TEE CURRICULUM
Successful TEE programs in southern Africa are developing study materials for students that span every level of education, ranging from nonformal educational background to well educated. They are accomplishing this by setting up committees that exist for the purpose of producing different levels of TEE books. Many TEE programs partner with other TEE organizations in Africa because financial and time constraints are too large to overcome individually. As an example, the Nguni TEE committee was made up of individuals who were part of the following denominations: Free Methodist, Southern Baptist, Christian Missionary Alliance, Wesleyan, Presbyterian, United Methodist and Pentecostal.
7. PERCEIVED IMPORTANCE OF CLERGY AND LAITYBoth the clergy and the laity have a vital ministry in helping the church to experience growth in church attendance and in the number of churches started.
Successful TEE programs have instilled this principle in the hearts and minds of their students. Students begin to realize that lay believers should also be free to become involved in ministry. As the whole body becomes involved, the ministry of the church will become diverse and flexible to match the capabilities and tasks of the individual community members.
Someone shared with me not too long ago that "TEE should be allowed to die. It has outlived its usefulness."
I disagree with this evaluation. For every TEE program that has not proven successful, there are just as many that have flourished and continue to flourish in spite of obstacles. They are helping denominations equip pastors, conduct ministry and empower laity to exercise their role in the ministry of the church.
Gehman, Richard. 1989. African Traditional Religion in Biblical Perspective. Kijabe, Kenya: Kesho Publications.
Mbiti, John S. 1970. African Religions and Philosophy. London: Heinemann Educational Books.
Moreau, A. Scott. 1989. The World of the Spirits. Nairobi: Evangel Publishing House.
Jim Lo is an associate professor of intercultural studies and the coordinator of Intercultural Programming at Indiana Weslyan University.
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