Short History of TEEZ

Almost fifty years ago, Guatemalan Christians had a problem, a big problem, a big problem that was only getting bigger.  You see, people heard the damning news that our world is a broken place full of broken people breaking one another as all of creation disintegrates around them.  They also heard that the God who created the world perfectly is rightfully angry at the carnage covering the cosmos, but that God refused to abandon it.  A relentless God pursued human beings through a legal system, hundreds of prophets, and even natural disasters in an elaborate scheme of recreation.  Then this legendary deity did the unthinkable, taking human form in Jesus Christ and absorbing all the brokenness and its proper punishment, dying a criminal’s death as an innocent man.  Three days later, that broken one, a dead man, reappeared, alive, in a new incorruptible body, talking, and eating – already dead and yet now alive, never to die again – death turned into a midwife and the tomb into a womb – we call this resurrection.

Resurrection is recreation, and the resurrected Jesus offers to all who follow him the same adventurous gift – resurrection.   For those who love him, Jesus submits all the brokenness of a broken world and broken people repeatedly breaking one another to death, because they must die, but death is once again transformed into a midwife and the tomb into a womb – we come out already dead, yet still alive, finally free to love without regard for self, liberated to love the only One from whom and for whom love exists.

Guatemalans heard that story about Jesus, and a crazy thing happened, they started to fall in love with this Jesus and learn to love one another.  They were so excited that they started communities all over the country as they told more and more people Jesus’ incredible story and invited them to join them as they tried to follow his way of life, study his word preserved in the Bible, and share his love and story with all those who might listen.

These communities turned into churches, so many churches, so hungry to learn more of the story that they quickly ran out of university-trained ministers, but even that didn’t slow them down.  Churches kept appearing and people kept hearing and responding and retelling and loving until there were thousands of churches meeting, yearning for more of Jesus’ story and eagerly sharing what pieces of the story they each knew.  The churches petitioned the seminaries to train more pastors, but a western-style, residential seminary model is slow, inefficient, and expensive.  Few schools could admit more students, and even fewer students could afford to pay tuition to train as pastors.

So Guatemalan Christ-followers did what Christians have historically done, they devised creative and innovative ways to share the same old story.  Instead of bringing students to a school, a group of Presbyterian Christians, Ralph Winter, James Emery, Jose Carrera B., and Charles Ainley, decided to transport the seminary to the people who were already preaching and serving in churches.  By doing so they were able to create student cell groups all around the country and provide theological training and spiritual depth to preachers and teachers unable to attend a traditional seminary.  Countless men and women were trained and liberated to serve the churches around Guatemala.

Other countries experiencing similar church growth and pastor-shortages quickly realized the merits and the legitimacy of a non-geographical, non-residential theological training for church leaders who may not be paid, fulltime, or university-trained ministers.  Thus the Theological Education by Extension model spread around the globe, to “equip all the saints for ministry in the church.”

On the African continent, TEE first spread to Ethiopia and Zambia in the 1970s.  Theological Education by Extension in Zambia began in 1979 to address the same challenges, namely a church growing much faster than theological colleges could train pastors. Beginning with the Brethren in Christ Church in Zambia, TEEZ quickly spread to the United Church in Zambia and the Anglican Church, who also felt the weight of the rapid church growth and a large lay leadership who needed to be equipped for ministry through training.

Since its inception, Theological Education by Extension in Zambia has been committed to ecumenism and stands as a monument to church cooperation.  TEEZ now boasts 9 partner churches: African Methodist Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church, Anglican Church, Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, Community in Christ, Lutheran Evangelical Church in Africa, Reformed Church in Zambia, United Church of Zambia, and United Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa.

For a more thorough history of the Theological Education by Extension movement, see Chapter 2 of Discipleship Mentoring: Theological Education by Extension by one early practitioner, Sam Westman Burton, which is available online from Google books, here.