The development of Theological Education by Extension (TEE) in the Third World may well be one of the most important religious innovations in the twentieth century. The program enables students to get a good academic preparation for the ministry without disrupting their productive relationship to society. They are not required to leave family, church, or daily work to pursue their studies. Instead, they work at home, using programmed texts. Teachers periodically come to centers near their homes.

TEE now is furnishing hundreds of trained leaders for churches and missionary organizations that might not otherwise be able to get educated persons. The graduates are at work in a variety of denominations and in many countries. The method has been used successfully in the developed nations and in urban areas as well as in developing nations and rural areas.

TEE enrollment has been rising steadily to reach a current level of over 25,000 students in more than 250 institutions in sixty countries. In the last two or three years the fastest enrollment increases have been in Africa and Asia, but Latin America still accounts for about half of the world total.

Nowhere else in the Third World has the TEE concept caught on so well and developed so steadily as in Brazil. The lack of trained pastors and the vast distances between church and educational institutions in Brazil are factors in the success of TEE there, but they alone do not explain its acceptance. The important factor is that Brazil had the resources, human and technological, that enabled TEE to spread; well prepared leadership—both missionary and Brazilian—that was willing to launch out to meet the needs; facilities for getting books printed; and a network of established theological schools.

The TEE idea was planted in Brazil in August, 1968, during a visit by Ralph Winter of the Fuller Seminary School of World Mission. He and others had pioneered TEE work in Guatemala, and he spoke about the concept at a two-day meeting of missionaries. The Association of Evangelicals for Theological Training by Extension—AETTE—was formed, and by January, 1969, a few texts had been prepared and some Bible institutes and seminaries had begun extension programs. Before the end of that year 200 students were enrolled. The number had climbed past 3,000 by 1972.

Today in Brazil, more students are enrolled in TEE programs than in all the seminaries and Bible institutes together. Participating institutions now have some 3,500 students studying by the extension method.

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TEE was originally known as “seminary extension,” since when it originated in Guatemala it was used primarily for training ministers. In Brazil, however, there has been a dual thrust from the beginning. Both pastors and lay leaders have been trained. In 1970, half of Brazil’s 65,000 evangelical pastors had no formal training. Therefore, training lay leaders is as important as ministerial education.

The number of theological graduates is still small when compared to the rapid growth in the number of churches in Brazil. For instance, in 1966 the Presbyterian Church in Brazil adopted the slogan “1,000 in 10,” meaning 1,000 new churches in ten years. Considering the size of the country and the phenomenal growth of evangelicals generally, it was a modest goal. There is every reason to believe that the thousand new congregations will have been organized before the end of the decade. But the graduates of the Presbyterian seminaries during that period will add up to less than half the number needed to pastor these new churches.

The need for trained leadership can be met only by educating the laity. Any person who is spiritually and intellectually qualified can get a complete theological education without having to quit his job or uproot his family. Those who finish the extension curriculum do extensive outside reading and research as well as the required courses in a variety of subjects. Offerings are often more varied than in the campus programs.

Training of lay leaders takes into consideration the wide educational range represented in most Brazilian congregations. Often there are university-trained professionals as well as those who cannot read. TEE curricula are being prepared on three levels to meet this diversity. It is thrilling in Brazil to see local church members prepared for and performing the work of the church, rather than relying on the “professionals.” This includes all aspects of the work, and especially the preaching.

This emphasis on educating the laity is not intended to underrate the ordained ministers. Rather, it is meant to face the reality of the situation. This need for trained people was especially impressed upon me when, as a new missionary, I was assigned fifteen congregations and thirty preaching points for which I would be the sole pastor.

One of the most impressive things that has happened in the TEE movement in Brazil is the cooperation of various denominations. The formation of AETTE included forty-three evangelical theological institutions from Presbyterian, Baptist, Mennonite, Assemblies of God, Nazarene, Methodist, Lutheran, and other denominations. These various denominational institutions were able to agree on a declaration of faith, one that is truly evangelical. There was even agreement about what courses should be included in the curriculum. Most of the self-instructional texts produced under AETTE supervision meet the needs of all the groups participating. AETTE has also opened the door to many contacts between denominations, and a warm personal fellowship has grown up among those who participate.

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The TEE movement in Brazil was largely composed of missionaries at first, but soon the number of Brazilians participating increased. Often a Brazilian was sent to AETTE meetings as the official delegate of an institution heavily staffed by missionaries. AETTE itself has made a conscious effort to “nationalize” the membership. Among its four current officers, two, the president and secretary, are Brazilians.

Most of the first generation of texts were written by missionaries. Now more than thirty Brazilians are doing post-graduate work (using extension methods) to prepare themselves to write programmed texts for theological education in Brazil.

One of the early predictions of the effect of TEE in Brazil was that the number of students enrolled in theological institutions would be reduced, since practically the same education would be available at the local church level. The opposite has happened. The number of students in institutions has increased, in part because the extension program has made the local churches aware of church vocations.

Sixty self-instructional texts are now available in Portuguese, and at least forty more are being prepared. In the future the number of titles is sure to increase markedly, as is the demand. An ever-expanding program of TEE can insure a trained ministry and theologically trained lay leaders in Brazil.

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