Book details: TEE for the 21st Century, Langham Global Library, 2021, 574 pages and available through, along with Amazon and Book Depository. If ordering from Langham in October, use code TEE21-30 for an early-bird 30% discount.

Campus-based colleges such as QTC Brisbane, PTC Melbourne and Christ College Sydney offer high-level accredited programmes, taking advantage of centralised resources and creating enriching dynamics between students. The theological college, or seminary, can remain as a blessing to the church.

Campus-based training is not the only form of ministry training historically. Nor is it the only present training approach. 

Church-based training was given a particular shape in the early 1960s by Presbyterian missionaries in Guatemala. They realised that city-based seminaries were inaccessible to many on grounds of cost and dislocation. Some seminary graduates were unwilling to be rural pastors, or were so urbanised that they no longer related to rural people. Theological Education by Extension (TEE) was developed in response. TEE was initially an extension of existing seminary offerings but then developed a distinctive educational methodology.

TEE has three interconnected steps. Students engage in self-study with individual learning materials; they join a peer group with a trained leader; and there is an action project connected to their learning. A typical TEE group closes with the two questions: What have you learned? What are you going to do with it? Of course, TEE is certainly not the only form of church-based training available, but it does have a distinctive place and method.

TEE is now a global movement. The Increase Association acts as an Asia-wide coordinating body between national associations. Similar bodies exist on other continents. 

TEE has been seen as an inferior form of training, using outdated pedagogy and with low standards. It has now developed into a form of ministry education that offers quality-assured, multi-level ministry training that can be delivered with high accessibility to the whole people of God. The fact that bodies such as Asian Theological Association (ATA) accredit TEE programmes at degree level demonstrates how far it has come.

All this is discussed in the recently released book, TEE for the 21st Century (see details above). 

The opening chapter notes major challenges facing ministry training and is based on a survey of global leaders in theological education, including the principals of two PCA theological colleges. Following chapters explore theological, educational, historical missiological and sociological aspects of TEE and give examples of how it has adapted to such realities as digital transformation, migration, diaspora peoples and increasing persecution. In the final five chapters, people from outside the Increase network comment on TEE from church, theological educational and missions perspectives. The book involved a global team of over 90 people. Most chapters have two writers. Three appendices give samples of TEE lessons at ascending study levels.

At times there has been a debate between TEE and campus-based training. Both have challenges. TEE is challenged by ensuring quality control in its self-study materials, group discussions and academic standards; alongside the challenges of giving students a vision wider than their local church and of using current knowledge about adult learning. Campus-based institutions face challenges such as a too-heavy focus on academic standards, dislocating students from their church context and the challenge of costs and campus access. As a contributor to the opening chapter of the book observes: ‘[COVID-19] has pointed out the “chinks in the armour” of many programs.’ 

A key contention of TEE for the 21st Century is that TEE and campus-based training can form partnerships to mutual advantage and kingdom benefit. A chapter by a seminary Director in TEE for the 21st Century shows how fruitful this can be. In an age when the church in Africa, central and southern America and Asia is growing rapidly, seminary and TEE programmes can collaborate to help fill the urgent need to train the tens of thousands of new church leaders needed every year. 

TEE is sometimes seen as useful on the mission field but not in the established church. Given the shakiness of the church in the established world and given the large-scale global movements of people in migration and diaspora, the boundary between the mission field and the established church has become rather blurred these days. 

Read how David McDougall, uses TEE in Sydney’s Hurstville Presbyterian Church: 

… These roles [of evangelism and discipling to maturity] are challenging enough in a multigenerational setting, but add the multiethnic dimension, and the challenge becomes greater – which I found when trying to set before my new non-western converts, western discipling materials. …

TEE has provided that appropriate method and curriculum that my congregation has needed to take responsibility for the privilege of being granted new converts from different ethnicities. And a proper responsibility … a carefully paced curriculum covering their first few years in the Christian Faith.

Our journey with TEE is just in its first steps, but what good steps they have been. Steps including our Eldership team coming to grips with a flaw in our discipleship program and seeing the way to address it; bringing on to our staffing team a qualified person and giving them deliberate space to run the program; and signing-up a small group of keen Christians, new and old, to commit to hopefully what will be the first-fruits of something that will prove to be a long blessing in the discipleship ministry of our local church.

How wonderful if TEE programs linked to our PCA theological colleges could be used to deliver ministry training to people of God in Mount Magnet, Warren, Burnie, Alice Springs, Tuggeranong, Mount Gambier and Townsville?

TEE for the 21st Century is intended as a conversation starter. It gives an exciting opportunity to talk together about how the whole people of God can be equipped for his mission of reconciling all things in Christ. 

– David Burke is general editor of TEE for the 21st Century