I often had this nagging thought in my head about discipleship when it came to Jesus and Paul. It actually echoed some schools of thought in how Paul's writings relate to Jesus' teachings and the gospels. Some in the world of theological academia put a wedge between Jesus and Paul as if to say that Jesus was about proclaiming God and Paul ended up proclaiming the proclaim-er. N.T. Wright deals adequately with this false construct, so I will not go into deconstructing that here.
However, in the past, I have often thought of Jesus as the discipler, and Paul as the church planter. In other words, it often appeared to me, at a glance, that Paul does not do or say much about discipling. I used to think that you go to Jesus and the gospels to learn about discipleship and the ways to be a better discipler. Then you go to Acts and Paul to retrieve lessons about church planting and evangelism.
Well, the fact is, Paul's writings and historical records in Acts are loaded with imagery, language and conceptual gear for discipleship. In fact, I would say that Paul could not have achieved what he had achieved if he had not had discipleship at the core of his paradigm and ministry.
If we understand discipleship primarily through the lens of imitation, then we have a starting point to comb through Paul's letters and see just how often discipleship makes a showing in his language and thought process. In fact, I decided to go through Paul's letters and make a list of all the times that he explicitly engages the issue of discipleship through the concept or language of imitation. So here is the list.
I Corinthians 4:1-6
I Corinthians 4:15-17
I Corinthians 11:1
II Corinthians 4
I Thessalonians 1:6-10
I Thessalonians 2:8-12
I Thessalonians 2:14-20
II Thessalonians 3:6-8
II Timothy 2:2
II Timothy 3:10-12
If we take only the above verses into account, it is a pretty thorough demonstration of how discipleship (imitation) features in Paul's ministry and discourse. It appears that discipleship (imitation) is a central theme that under girds his communication and practice. Paul, just like Jesus, used discipleship as a primary vehicle to do mission.
Now this list does not even cover the times when he implicitly brought this concept to bear in his writings. That is another discussion. The point I am getting at here is that discipleship was central to the most effective church planter we have record of, and yet we have to wonder how central discipleship is to our church planting strategies here in the West? Without getting on the soap box, I would say that discipleship is mostly an after thought at best, much less a core practice of church planting strategies. Dallas Willard says there are two questions you have to ask when it comes to discipleship:
1. Does your church have a process to make disciples?
2. Does this process work?
These are two critical questions for us to be asking ourselves, whether we are apostolic, prophetic, or any of the five vocations. Clearly discipleship was at the core of Jesus strategy for world transformation. It features in Paul's ministry with equal priority. So how do we measure up to Jesus....and Paul. If you are looking to edit discipleship out of the equation, or minimize it's role in the church planting process, you won't find much support from Paul.