TEE—A Tool for Contextual Equipping of all God’s People

In this paper, Graham Aylett, David Burke, and Iljo de Keijzer demonstrate that seminaries and Bible schools aren’t the only place for theology to be taught. They make a plea for Theological Education by Extension (TEE) programs to be multiplied as “A Tool for Contextual Equipping of all God’s People.” The paper lay outs a practical way for TEE to be taught as part of a seminary program to equip graduates so that they can better train their church members.

Graham Aylett, David Burke, and Iljo de Keijzer

Graham Aylett served with TEE in Mongolia for fourteen years, and then from 2013 with the Increase Association, and since March 2021 as General Secretary. He is Vice-Chair of the Trustees of SEAN International and a member of the Asia Theological Association’s Commission on Accreditation and Educational Development.

 

David Burke has served in educational and pastoral ministries in Australia and Southeast Asia since 1979. He is presently an adjunct teacher and research fellow at Christ College Sydney, chair of the Increase Association Committee, an associate of Australian Presbyterian World Mission, and incoming moderator-general of the Presbyterian Church of Australia.

 

Iljo de Keijzer has been serving in the Philippines since 2005. She has been mainly involved in different types of training for the majority of church leaders who do not get to go to Bible school. She is the Preaching Movement Coordinator for Langham in the Philippines. She also collaborates with Increase (a network focusing on Theological Education by Extension) and other like-minded organizations.

 

TEE —A Tool for Contextual Equipping of all God’s People

Mission Round Table Vol. 17 No. 2 (May-Dec 2022): 36-39

To download a PDF of this edition, visit this post on Mission Round Table 17:2.

 

1. Introduction: Increase Association participants at the OMF Theological Educators’ Consultation

This reflection on the OMF Theological Educators’ Consultation comes from members of the Increase Association (www.increaseassociation.org), an association connecting church-based training programmes around Asia, most of which use the methodology of TEETheological Education by Extension.

The designation TEE has been used to refer to a range of training methodologies, including lectures or intensive modules off-campus and evening classes offered on-campus. These have brought great benefit to many, and we would describe them as seminary-based TEE. By contrast, members of the Increase Association use TEE in a specific way to describe the three-fold combination of interactive personal study, leading to a group meeting led by a trained facilitator, moving to structured practical application.[1]

Five people connected with the Increase Association were invited to the consultation, all Increase Equippers, that is, people with long experience in TEE and/or relevant educational and theological experience who volunteer time each year to serve other members of the Association.

We came with the conviction that there was much to be gained from sharing and listening to others involved in the broad task of theological education—helping equip the people of God for the mission of God, from grass roots to scholarly levels and everything in between.

Different member organizations connected by the Increase Association offer training at different levels, some focusing on grass roots, others offering accredited BTh degrees, and still others an integrated pathway from foundations onwards. At the consultation, we were looking for points of connection with providers of education and training at different levels, conversations with church leaders, and had our eyes and ears open for the major issues that participants in different country contexts would raise.

We had many good and insightful individual conversations. But as we reflected on what we heard, it seemed that, while the consultation agreed that theological education was properly in the service of the church and covered the whole range of equipping needs for the people of God, most of the plenary discussion tended to centre around issues facing Bible colleges and seminaries.

Individual conversations developed exciting ways that TEE programs connected through the Increase Association could partner with Bible Colleges and Seminaries. We see possibilities for great synergy!

2. Contextual equipping of the people of God TEE methods and translated courses

One of the themes discussed during the consultation was that of contextualisation. Here, we would like to focus on two aspects in relation to theological education. First, is the training content relevant?Does it connect with the concerns, anxieties, and issues that learners actually face? Does it effectively bring together the biblical text and the learners’ contexts? Second, are the training methodologies appropriate for the learners? Do they at least begin with familiar patterns and methods of learning, even if seeking to develop a wider range of skills?

The TEE method—combining home study, regular group meetings, and practical application—provides training in the context of the learners’ everyday life and ministry. TEE offers training for people where they live, work, and minister, leading to a greater integration of learning and living. Since group discussions focus on living out the truths learned in the members’ personal contexts, this way of training provides many opportunities for contextual learning in the local church.[2] Good facilitation and group discussion, enabling each individual to reflect on his or her own context, leads to what we could call “microcontextualisation”.

To address the second aspect—Is the training methodology appropriate? Does it begin with familiar patterns and methods of learning? Foundation level TEE texts often use pictures with speech bubbles, and are laid out with plenty of white space on the page, with the aim of engaging learners who are not used to engaging with written texts.[3] Group discussion, although referring to the personal study text, is almost entirely oral learning. Learners can progress from basic courses to more advanced ones which call for a greater ability to engage with more complex written texts.

What about the source of TEE course materials? Initially, many TEE programs have taken TEE courses produced in other contexts and translated them, with varying degrees of adaptation and contextualisation. Well-known pitfalls lie before the unwary translator! Words that are a perfect dictionary translation into the target language might actually have a very different colloquial meaning. Some illustrations may need to be changed to be appropriate: a section written in a tropical country illustrating a Christian attitude by giving a cold drink to workers, when translated for a snow-filled country, will change the beverage to hot tea! And some whole sections may not fit the new context: a long lesson showing that the Bible is the trustworthy word of God for people from one context might not be so necessary in a Catholic country like the Philippines. The challenge of effective translation is to find appropriate names, places, illustrations, and content that remain faithful to the intention of the author.

3. Contextual e quipping of the p eople of God  new TEE courses written in and for the context

While it remains important to train people to do translation and contextualisation well, there is an even more profitable solution. One way to avoid insensitive or wrong translation and contextualisation would naturally be having local people write their own courses. Beginning in 2016, the Increase Association has worked to develop a program to train a new generation of TEE course writers.[4]

The program involved three workshops. Different Increase member organizations from various countries that were interested in developing new courses sent teams for training. These new course writers were already experienced in TEE and familiar with its ethos.

In the first workshop, held in March–April 2017, they were introduced to Situation Response Development (SRD).[5] This method starts with the learners and their context, rather than the writers and their content. Course writers are given tools for thorough research of the situation with regard to their topic as it is understood in their context. They ask questions on how people decide and create, what they do, feel, know, and believe about the chosen topic. They describe the current learners and their situation. And then they ask, “What would the situation look like if transformed by God’s rule and reign?”[6]

In the second workshop, held in June 2017, participants brought the results of their community research and learned to put together a profile of their typical learners—age, education, skills, etc. From there, participants learned to dream about what a transformed learner would look like and what skills, tools, character development, and resources this transformed learner would need in order to become God’s agent of transformation in their situation.


Fig. 1 Situation Response Development (SRD) as the framework for course writing

Using this framework, learning objectives were written, relevant case studies gathered, and practical assignments designed to help learners on the journey from their current state to a new place of fruitfulness. Over the next year, course developers worked on writing new lessons with help from mentors.[7]

The third workshop was held in June 2018 and focused on reviewing the course content, writing a group leaders manual, and layout and illustration.[8]


Fig. 2 The timeline of the first Increase course writer training[9]

 

As a result of this initial training, TEE courses have been developed in context to cover areas such as Christian response to persecution (from Pakistan and Bangladesh), ministry to teens (Mongolia), the spirit world (Cambodia), and learning from Old Testament men and women of God (for believers from Central Asia). Others are on the way. These courses address a need noted during the theological educators’ consultation for seminaries and churches to engage more deeply with social issues.

This three-workshop sequence for a second cohort of course writers was rudely interrupted by the COVID pandemic. But this provided the stimulus for developing modular training resources that can be made available online, with potential for more widespread use.

4. Equipping the equippers TEE programs and seminaries in synergistic partnership

As outlined above, TEE is a form of multi-level Christian training that is educationally sound and highly contextualised. This makes it a great tool to be used in the Lord’s global mission of reconciling and renewing creation. God’s mission is worthy of the best energies of the whole body of Christ and all its agencies. This includes the task of equipping the whole people of God as followers of the Lord and servants of his mission. For seminaries, this means both training future church leaders for their own direct ministries and preparing them to equip all the people of God for their various ministries.

The following material aims to show how seminary and TEE can work together in the service of the Lord’s mission.[10] It starts with recognition of the important role that seminaries have in training gospel workers and that seminaries cannot do the whole work of training God’s people alone. It also starts with recognition that the seminary program is typically overcrowded and that any suggestions for change need an elegant economy of scale and flexibility of form.

There are good reasons for including exposure to TEE in a seminary program. It enables the seminary to make better use of its resources and extend its reach. It helps equip seminary graduates for expanded kingdom usefulness as they become effective equippers of God’s people. It helps lift the quality of TEE programs by putting them within the orbit of a seminary’s resources and its quality assurance frameworks. It can also serve as a recruiting ground for future seminary students by providing an opportunity for people to “taste and see” before they uproot their lives and move to a campus for study. More importantly, exposure to TEE through a seminary serves the mission of the church by giving access to contextualised Christian education and ministry training for those on the front line of God’s mission.

Ideally, exposure to TEE in a seminary context will include hands-on experience of TEE methodology as well as training in contextualised course writing as outlined above. Exposure to TEE methodology will include both participating in a TEE group led by someone else and leading a group. Such exposure to the methodology will equip seminarians to write TEE courses that are immediately usable. We have, then, three levels or phases of exposure to TEE: as a learner, as a group leader, and as a course writer.

How can this exposure be given in seminaries? The following give some possibilities that are meant to serve as starting ideas rather than as an exhaustive list.

1.    TEE exposure as a stand-alone elective course[11]

A typical seminary course occupies twelve weeks of class time, with accompanying student work as assessment tasks. A course can be designed that has a mix of classroom learning and direct participation.

Classroom sessions can be used to set TEE in historical and theological perspective and to explain its educational methodology in the light of present educational theory. Class sessions can also explain elements of course writer training that have been outlined above.

Direct participation can be achieved by students enrolling in a TEE course, run by a local church, or run in the seminary. During the first half of the course, students can participate as learners, and then be introduced to group leadership, all under the eye of an experienced group leader. This participation can be enhanced by using the action-reflection cycle common in field education. Assessment of this direct participation can be through the student’s self-assessment, combined with assessment by the group leader using a template designed with input by the seminary and the TEE provider.

The course writer element in TEE exposure can be developed through a mix of the above classroom sessions and production of a TEE lesson or lessons. That is, having been exposed to TEE as a learner and a group leader, and then introduced to the TEE course writing approach, students can be given the task of developing a TEE course outline and one complete lesson with a guide for group leaders and associated practical application relevant to their local context. It will not be reasonable to expect development of a full TEE course in a twelve-week period.

2.      Mix and match over a seminary program

A typical seminary program stretches over three to four years and involves a mixture of classroom learning and various forms of field exposure.[12]

With a little creativity and flexibility, seminary students could gain a rich exposure to TEE through a staged and varied program. In Year One, students could participate as learners in a TEE course as part of their field experience, accompanied by the usual action-reflection process. In Year Two—again as part of their field experience (and perhaps linked to a classroom course on discipleship)—students could be trained as facilitators to lead a TEE group, reflect on their experience, and receive further training to become facilitator-trainers. In Year Three, students could be trained as TEE course writers with the major assessment task of developing locally-contextual TEE lessons to an advanced stage and minor assessments discussing TEE methodology and its fit to their context.


Fig. 3 Equipping seminary students with TEE tools over a three-year program

 

Ideally, seminary students would do all three elements in such a staged program, equipping them to include TEE in their toolbox as church leaders. That being said, the three elements could be separated such that some students simply do the learning phase, while others learn and lead, and others again learn, lead, and write.

Another possibility for the learner and leader phases of TEE exposure is that an existing TEE course could be used to replace an existing seminary course as currently taught.[13] For example, Book 6 of the SEAN Life of Christ compendium could be substituted for an existing classroom course on the book of Acts.[14] Students could participate as TEE learners in such a course. Going further, students who have completed the course could return the next year and serve as TEE group leaders for the next batch of students—all under seminary supervision.

3. TEE tasters

The Increase Association has developed a range of “TEE taster” sessions. One of these could be incorporated into a single seminary three-hour class in a course on disciple-making, Christian education, or something similar.

Such tasters typically include an introduction to TEE as a useful tool in local church life and an introduction to TEE methodology. Those involved then participate as learners in a mini-TEE class, including time to complete the individual learning component of a TEE lesson, a typical TEE group discussion, and identification of a practical activity arising from the lesson. An important conclusion to such a taster held in a seminary context would be a time for students to reflect on and evaluate the experience.

5. Conclusion

In order to equip the whole people of God for the (highly contextual) mission of God, contextually appropriate methods addressing contextually relevant issues are vital. TEE offers tools that are being used around East Asia (and far more widely). Partnerships between TEE programs and seminaries hold great promise! A small effort to contact and build personal relationships with the local TEE body and the Increase Association should open access to a range of resources, including key people who can assist the seminary.[15]

We are so grateful to OMF for the invitation and the connections and conversations that have resulted. May they continue and deepen, bearing much fruit to the glory of God.

 


[1]Tim Green and Graham Aylett, “TEE at a Glance,” in TEE for the 21st Century: Tools to Equip and Empower God’s People for His Mission, ed. David Burke, Richard Brown, and Qaiser Julius (Carlisle: Langham Global Library, 2021), 15.

[2] See Graham Aylett and David Samuel, “TEE in Theological Perspective – Part 2” in TEE for the 21st Century, 73–97, especially 79–84.

[3] See, for example, the sample lessons of SEAN International’s basic course, Abundant Life,that can be accessed at https://www.seaninternational.org/courses-library/abundant-life (accessed 7 November 2022). SEAN is the acronym of Study by Extension for All Nations.

[4] For more discussion and further details, see Tim Green, “Creating Twenty-First Century TEE Courses,” in TEE in Asia : Empowering Churches, Equipping Disciples, ed. Hanna-Ruth Van Wingerden, Tim Green, and Graham Aylett(Carlisle: Langham Global Library, 2021), 227–231, and, in more detail, Nicholas Ivins and Miyung Do, “New TEE Courses,” in TEE for the 21st Century, 175–199.

[5] Nicholas Ivins, “Situational Response Development,” With International Community, 7 September 2017, https://withcommunity.org/situational-response-development/ (accessed 21 December 2022).

[6] Ivins and Do, “New TEE Courses,” 183–85.

[7]Ivins and Do, “New TEE Courses,” 185–86.

[8]Ivins and Do, “New TEE Courses,” 186.

[9] Figure 7.3 in Ivins and Do, “New TEE Courses,” 183.

[10] For a wide-ranging discussion of how seminary and TEE can have collaborative partnerships, see Qaiser Julius, “TEE and Campus-Based Training in Partnership” in TEE in Asia, 269–93.

[11] This possibility is stimulated by a course proposal developed for the Asian Theological Seminary by Iljo de Keijzer. Ideally, such a course would be co-taught by a seminary teacher and someone experienced in TEE.

[12] Field exposure may take varied forms, including unstructured church experience, highly structured internship, secondment to a parachurch body, and such like. Ideally, it is assessed, subject to quality-assurance frameworks, and well-integrated into the seminary program. See David Burke, “Time to leave the Wilderness? The Teaching of Pastoral Theology in South East Asia,” in Tending the Seedbeds : Educational Perspectives on Theological Education in Asia, ed. Allan Harkness (Quezon City, Philippines: ATA, 2010), 263–84.

[13] It is worth noting that ATA has given accreditation to some programs and courses delivered through TEE methodology. It would not be difficult to take the Life of Christ example suggested here and deliver it in a seminary in a way satisfying ATA requirements.

[14] See https://www.seaninternational.org/courses-library/life-of-christ-book-6 (accessed 21 December 2022).

[15] A good starting point is the Increase website: https://www.increaseassociation.org/. As well as linking seminaries to local TEE programmes, Increase offers a range of resources that can help collaboration with seminaries.

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