by Bradley N. Hill
Our church leaders have suggested that there are some serious flaws in this TEE format, and they have prompted an exploration of new avenues.
The missionary, scurrying from his last class at the Bible institute, gathers up his recently translated TEE course. He fires up his Honda 250 and, lowering his visor, races 40 kilometers to meet with the catechists who have already gathered from miles around.
This scenario is regularly repeated across the Ubangi-Mongala territory in the northwestern corner of Zaire. Our church leaders have suggested that there are some serious flaws in this TEE format, and they have prompted an exploration of new avenues.
FOOTPATHS OF FAILURE
Theological Education by Extension (TEE) was first introduced to the Ubangi-Mongala in 1970 with the appearance of the translated course, Winning People for Jesus. Since then the missionaries have been busy translating more than a dozen other TEE courses, ranging from the Shepherd and His Work, to The Prophets, to The Christian Family.
The preparation of these courses has been top-notch, done by competent, professional, veteran missionaries. The Lingala language was checked and cross-checked by the nationals. The format was field-tested before printing. Revisions were made. As a result of these efforts, 700 students in the Communaute Evangelique de l’Ubangi-Mongala (CEUM) have finished at least one course. ("Communaute" is roughly "denomination." The CEUM belongs to the Eglise du Christ au Zaire.)
TEE courses came under the auspices of the Institut Biblique de l’Ubangi (IBU). The missionaries interested in TEE were either teachers in the IBU, or wished to put their curriculum under some official body. The IBU began to issue attestations to those students who successfully completed a course. Matriculation numbers were assigned and records kept. Students registered in increasing numbers in the hope that this avenue would lead to leadership positions in the church. It looked as though TEE was off and running, but in reality it had just collapsed. Why?
In 1978 a conference on theological education was held on one of the mission stations, bringing together Evangelical Free Church and Evangelical Covenant missionaries, as well as national leaders interested in theological education. A TEE program that corresponded to the official IBU curriculum was hammered out. Then at the end of the conference, the delegates voted that TEE not be accredited and that it not lead to any officially recognized position of leadership in the church.
A second conference of the CEUM leaders was held in 1985. It was voted unanimously that TEE be taken out of the supervision of the IBU and placed under the Department of Christian Education, effectively making TEE only a tool for personal growth, rather than a stepping stone to official leadership status in the church community. Why was this done?
A FOREIGN FLAVOR
The delegates to the 1978 and 1985 conferences stated their objections to TEE as a way of obtaining leadership positions in the church. These objections fall into five defensive postures.
1. Defense of the institution. "Why should we even have an IBU if any villager can acquire a diploma without ever sitting in class?" asked one national pastor. After all, the IBU had been created at great cost over the years. It had prestige. Enormous investments built it and sustained it. It was felt that another approach to leadership formation would undermine all that had been achieved.
2. Defense of status. "If an IBU diploma and a TEE diploma are equivalent, then all my efforts and sacrifices will be diminished." The prestige of the institute is bestowed on its graduates. If that status can be obtained by another means, then the prestige is reduced. There is an implicit assumption that a diploma gained without formal classwork is suspect.
"I don’t understand you missionaries," complained one pastor. "You spend years convincing us that going to school was the key to the future, now you want to avoid the school!"
He was right, of course, in his perception of our communication. The Western educational style, according to Eugene Nida, is "the most artificial technique ever devised for conveying instructions" (Customs and Cultures, p. 112). For half a century, the missionary had emphasized the structured classroom. Contrary to local culture, he had elevated Western classroom models and Western definitions of success. Pastors who had with great sacrifice climbed the Western academic ladder were understandably not enthralled with TEE’s new approach.
3. Defense of the market. The CEUM presently has 93 pastors on the active rolls, only 41 of whom are ordained, and this is to serve a constituency of over 90,000. While the CEUM has averaged a 10 percent growth rate over the last 10 years, the ministerium has grown at a rate of about four percent. The institute graduates about four or five pastors a year, adding them to the CEUM’s leadership pool, but the CEUM also loses two or three pastors each year for various reasons. The limited number of ordained pastors perceive that the doubling or tripling of their numbers would compromise the prestige of ordination.
They are also hesitant about blurring the laity-clergy distinctions, which they feel TEE will do. "I don’t see how a TEE graduate could be considered a pastor, not really," they say. It becomes evident that graduation from IBU is a rite of passage that leads first to the pastorate then on to ordination. That the ordinary villager could aspire to this same position via TEE is almost unthinkable.
TEE represents a shift in perspective in the concept of the church. Ecclesiology is at the root of their hesitancies about TEE. The CEUM views the church as essentially hierarchical in nature and the clergy as a priestly caste. Authority comes from above and sifts down to the members, it does not really derive from the congregation.
This hierarchical leadership style has roots that arise out of both the traditional patterns of chieftainship and missionary modeling. In the early, formative years, the missionaries with their prestige, technology, and knowledge, inevitably assumed the positions of "oracle" and guardians of the faith. National leaders had never seen an actual local parish modeled for them, only missions, and so naturally they adopted this style into their parishes. The clericalization of the CEUM is a process stemming from both cultural and missionary precedents.
TEE tends to shift this to a grassroots movement that allows leadership to bubble up from the village level. It advocates a different concept of leadership wherein a leader is one who is experienced, proved, gifted, and then trained— ”not necessarily one who displays a diploma.
4. Defense of initiative. "The greatest problem of this TEE program," said the moderator of the 1985 meeting, "is that you missionaries came and introduced it, funded it, wrote it, and taught it, and you did not proceed through the right channels." The "right channel" would be that of a full-orbed partnership with the CEUM from the beginning. The missionaries managed somehow to "impose" TEE on the CEUM, and not "contribute" TEE.
The statement that TEE was written by, translated by, funded by, distributed by, propagandized by, and taught by missionaries is accurate. Every single TEE course we have is a translation done by a missionary, though in close cooperation with national pastors. We should not be surprised to find that, as of this moment, not one single pastor is teaching TEE, in spite of the fact that every IBU graduate is trained to do so.
5. Defense of one’s inability. "How can we teach it? We don’t have the means," some pastors say. Except in rare instances, the missionary uses a vehicle to go to his classes. He is too busy to take the time to walk there, or to take a bicycle (or he is out of shape!). He has several distant TEE centers to "hit" in a short time. Precedent is dangerous. It has been fatally communicated that TEE can only be done by modern, mechanized means.
In a survey recently given, several pastors were asked why they were no longer teaching TEE. The common response was that they could not afford it. An analysis of this statement revealed an economic impasse. The Librarie (book depot) hesitated to give out TEE materials on consignment due to past experiences of pastors defaulting on payments. Therefore, the teacher had to collect the money in advance from his students. The students were not willing to part with their money before they saw the material in hand, since one TEE book could cost a month’s pay. So the dedicated pastor had to buy it himself and distribute the lessons, hoping to recoup his expenses.
But a particular cultural dynamic came into play here: any debt must be pursued vigorously if the lender wants his or her money back. Inevitably, the lender does not get it all back and so the teacher loses and TEE eventually grinds to a halt.
TEE has known criticism from the beginning, and not just in Zaire. Dr. Jose Arrequin of Mexico writes: "TEE does not work according to the cultural patterns of formal education that are coming more and more into use in Latin America…it favors complacency because it comes to they stay away from centers of research…TEE creates leaders that are not creative and who are inflexible. They have a small range of action" (Theological Education by Extension, pp. 228ff.).
In the Ubangi-Mongala some changes are being made in an attempt by missionary and national alike to make the TEE enterprise more culturally relevant.
First, we are enhancing contextualization by going beyond the mere production of materials. The Comite de Literature is considering curriculum, educational philosophies, and methodologies as well. Materials produced in real cooperative effort with the national pastorsâ€”not just translated, imported hand-me-downsâ€”will not only stir greater interest among students and teachers, but the nationals who produce them will become keen advocates of them. The missionary will no longer have to "push" the product.
Second, the mission is taking the risk of guaranteeing orders given to teacher-pastors on consignment. When the financial risk for the teacher is eliminated, more teachers will volunteer. For the mission, the financial stake is almost minuscule, but for the individual pastor who earns the equivalent of $4 a month, it is considerable. The TEE students are required to pay for more than books. They are also paying enough to compensate the teacher for his travel to and from the center on his bicycle.
Third, those with an eye to leadership formation are going beyond logistical remedies. The great impediments are the adherence to a hierarchical ecclesiology and the cultural requirements for status acquisition. But together we are designing compromises in the present TEE format that will permit it to function within these givens. One step may be using TEE as a prerequisite for entering the Bible institute; each entering student must have passed a number of TEE courses before acceptance into the school. This would allow for a formal accreditation of TEE, while at the same time preserving the prestige of the IBU and their sense of church.
The number of pastoral leaders in the CEUM has not been keeping pace with the growth of the church. The year 1983-1984 saw nearly 7,000 people leave the membership rolls. True, the church continues to grow, but members are also exiting by the back door in droves. As one CEUM pastor put it, "We can catch them but we can’t keep them." TEE can introduce more leaders into the system, enabling the CEUM not only to catch them but also to keep them.
THE SOUND OF SUCCESS
Reverend Mbua Matutu Elambo, an IBU graduate trained in TEE, superintendent of 67 parishes and 7,000 members, hurriedly leaves the all-night wake as dawn breaks, and takes to his bicycle for the 8 km trip to teach his bi-monthly TEE class. His 42 students have each contributed a few zaires to buy replacement parts for his bicycle.
Today Rev. Mbua will collect a portion of the student monies to repay the book depot for the TEE materials. Many catechists and deacons come for personal edification, but others are using TEE courses as a means of upgrading their education in order to begin classes at the IBU. Pastor Mbua is glad to teach this course, since he co-authored it with two other CEUM pastors and a missionary.
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