I have had several people asking me about what I study when they find out that I am a student, albeit part-time, in Seminari Theoloji Malaysia, which we affectionately call STM. So I thought it would be useful to talk about it here.
For starters, STM was founded on January 6th, 1979 with the aim to train pastors and church workers in the local context. In 1984, it was accredited with the Association of Theological Education in South East Asia (ATESEA) to grant degrees in Bachelor of Theology, Bachelor of Divinity and Master of Divinity. Ten years later in 1994, it was accepted as a participating school of the South East Asia Graduate School of Theology (SEAGST), recognising the degrees granted by the seminary to be internationally accepted.
Somewhere down the line (I think a little less than 10 years ago), STM realised that there is a need to provide avenues for the lay people who wanted to take a more serious study in theology but who cannot avail to it on a full time basis. With that, STM began their Theological Education by Extension (TEE) programme. It is offered in three languages: English, Chinese and Tamil. Courses are held in a modular format leading to Certificate of Christian Ministry, Graduate Diploma of Christian Ministry, Certificate of Christian Studies, Graduate Diploma of Christian Studies and the Master of Christian Studies.
Classes are held in the STM Campus, situated in Seremban; Trinity Methodist Church, Kuching; PJEFC, Petaling Jaya and Malaysian Care, Kuala Lumpur. If held in Seremban, each 3-credit module will take 4 days and if held in the other centers, it will take 2 weekends of Friday night, Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Assignments will be given out during the classes and students have 6 months counting from the last day of class to complete and submit them for grading.
STM arranges the modules annually according to both the needs and the availability of lecturers. The modules offered include:
My story and thoughts on TEE
I am speaking from the vantage point of someone who has been learning about God and the bible since I started to speak, read and write. There were Sunday School classes, bible studies and youth camps that I went to almost all my life. Those provided the foundation of my belief in God and in Jesus Christ.
But my life, in spiritual terms, suffered a set-back when I entered adulthood. I was quite lost for about 10 years, though I was still quite active in church. I went along in life in more or less apathy as far as my life in God is concerned. Yes, I still held on to the tenets of the faith but in praxis, I merely shrugged when I happened to think about them.
Then slowly I began to come back. The Holy Spirit I am sure was at work, and he slowly but surely drew me back into reviewing and questioning my thoughts and view about life. Later, I got to know Noel, who has since became to me a teacher and a mentor. It all started when he bought me Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ. It became for me a catalyst to search as much as my intellect and capabilities can hold about God and his word. I became very impressed with the book and the scholars whom Strobel has interviewed and featured in it. I made it a quest to seek out the authors and read them for myself.
The first book I read after Strobel's was JP Moreland's Scaling the Secular City. I must say that I bought it and read it because it was the first book of the scholars that I could find in the store! If I were to go back in time, most probably I would not have done it. Not because it was not good. It was because I could not imagine right now, how I could have managed to read that amazing but complex book. I guess maybe my mind was simpler then. And with that, I began my mission of "faith seeking understanding". I vowed that I will read at least one book a month so I can learn as much as I can about this God whom I believe. I wanted to understand what I believe and not believe. I needed to question my faith so I can strengthen it. That quest lasted for about 2 years and 20 over books. It all stopped when I began TEE.
Of course I did not stop reading. What I stopped was the quest of a-book-a-month. It was because when I started TEE in August 2003, it was hard work or at least I make it so. I discovered that I am a person that can be very single-minded when I choose to. When I am passionate about something, I go all the way, I take the extra mile. And TEE was that for me.
A lot of people when they talk to me about TEE, they talk about having to study again and at the age that they are now, they do not think they'd be able. What I tell them then that it is really very different. Having being through so much school and college, we have gone through the mill and know what it is like. But I felt that when we come down to seriously study God and his word, it takes a completely different perspective altogether. We are no longer studying to earn an A (although I still am! Those of you really know me well enough will agree.), we are no longer doing it because we have to, we are no longer doing assignments just to fill credit hours. We are doing it because we love our Lord and we want to know more about who he is, what he is saying to us and what we are to do with our lives. Yes, we can still do that without having to go to seminary, but if you really want to seriously do it, only the seminary will provide you the avenues of serious study, and worse if the church is not providing it. Same goes for if you seriously want to learn baking for example, you'd go to a baking school. Some years ago, I wanted to do it, baking, but decided to do it on my own. I had just met my cousin sister several months ago. I discovered she indeed went to a baking school and we started to compare notes. I can really tell what a world of difference we both were, what she knows and can do and what I don't know and can't do, but that's another story.
You can tell that I am very passionate about this and as such I may be wrong to say that this is for everyone, but if it can enhance our service for God, deepen our knowledge of God and strengthen our love for God, what then is stopping us? If we think we have already too many things to do, so does the person next to us and so do I. (Sometimes we do think we have it worse than the others, don't we? I do that sometimes.) What I am saying is something like TEE is a very good opportunity for us lay-people. Sure, we can say that we just can't give it all up and study theology full-time but now that TEE is available, isn't it the next best thing?