The initiative to establish Theological Education by Extension in Malawi was taken by the Board of the Chilema Lay Training Centre in September 1976. The need for a programme to provide sound Biblical training, beyond the usual Church School level, which would be available to all Christians in their own area was substantiated by a questionnaire sent out to all the Churches in Malawi. The need for Biblically informed lay people in all congregations, apart from the clergy, to give leadership in the mission of the Church, was clearly expressed. After further discussion and a review of materials obtained from South Africa and Botswana, the Rev. L. Peters, the Director of the Theological Education by Extension College (Southern Africa) was invited to come to Malawi and address the Board. At this meeting on 6th May 1977, it was agreed that a national committee which was independent of the Chilema Board be formed to launch a TEE Pilot scheme. The Board of Theological Education by Extension in Malawi (TEEM) was established on 25th January 1978.
Recalling TEEM’s Founding Vision in 1978
The Need for TEEM
The Churches in Malawi are faced with numerous challenges. TEEM can assist the churches to meet these challenges. It is not in competition with existing programmes but will be concerned with that area of need which presently is simply not being met. Malawi has a number of theological institutions for training its ordained ministry, but many churches are effectively barred from participation in these institutions by theological persuasion, restrictive attitudes and financial costs. Even those churches which have theological institutions are finding the cost of maintaining them almost prohibitive. It may be that in the future, with increased cost and withdrawal of donor support, a combination approach, in which the candidate would participate in TEEM for a number of years and finish his training at seminary, might relieve the financial burden and make theological training more effective and relevant. A diploma such as envisaged by TEEM could provide the opportunity for all churches to develop trained leadership, ordained and lay.
Malawi is largely a rural country, which lacks trained leadership in the country areas, since the better educated in all fields tend to migrate to the urban centres for employment. For example, the average educational level among the elders of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian is a primary school certificate granted after 8 years of schooling. A common complaint from elders is that they lack the support to enable them to fulfil their responsibility effectively. The elders are the people who do the majority of the pastoral work and preaching in the churches of the CCAP. Other churches also rely quite heavily upon lay leadership. While it is true that there are existing lay training programmes and institutions these often require a residential experience and are directed towards training people for specific tasks and also reach a limited number of people. It is true that a programme such as TEEM could never solve all the problems of the church nor can it replace the Christian’s demand for discipleship, but it can provide an effective instrument to the Christian to fulfil this discipleship. Therefore, because of rapid church growth, the small number of trained leaders and limited opportunities for receiving consistent and systematic biblical training, a TEE programme would seem appropriate.
The Ecumenical Dimension of TEEM
TEEM would also provide the opportunity for churches to work together ecumenically, so that the personnel and financial resources of all the churches could be pooled to accomplish the task of training and teaching. Malawi does have a history of ecumenical partnership in the Christian service Committee in which all the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches participate. The present Board of TEEM consists of the Churches of Christ, the three synods of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian and the four Anglican Dioceses.
Advantages of Theological Education by Extension
Through the TEE programme the student realizes that disciplined study of the Scripture is a necessary and regular part of his commitment to Christ. Thus, this approach is not seen as restricted to the better educated or ordained ministry, but is recognized as integral to the whole people of God.
The student studies in his own environment and therefore is able to understand more clearly the relationship between the Gospel and his world.
The student and tutor struggle together to understand and relate the Scripture to daily experience. Communication is more effective since it is achieved out of participation in a common task.