CLAIM: Some Christian leaders disagree with personal discipleship, arguing that we are all disciples of Christ—not Christian leaders. To say that a human leader “discipled” us would be going against the spirit of this passage.
RESPONSE: Like all false teaching, this is a half-truth. While we ultimately follow Christ (Heb. 12:2), we partially follow human leaders, who “imitate” Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; Heb. 13:7). While God is sovereign, he delegates authority to human agents for the work of ministry. For instance, while all authority for discipleship ultimately belongs to Jesus (Mt. 28:18), he has delegated this authority to individual believers (Mt. 28:19-20). Jesus had disciples, and so did Paul (Acts 9:25; 14:21). Discipleship is also directly commanded in the NT (2 Tim. 2:2). In the same way, Jesus draws all men to himself (Jn. 12:32), but he delegates the work of evangelism to human agents, who speak for him (2 Cor. 5:19-20; Eph. 4:11). Certainly, God is the one who reveals himself to all believers, but he uses human teachers to do this, as well (Eph. 4:11).
In this passage, the subject in question is not discipleship; it’s division. Paul was concerned about the “quarrels” (v.11) in Corinth and that the church was “divided” (v.13). The problem was one of priority. While it is appropriate to follow Christian leaders who are beneath Christ, it is wrong to follow Christian leaders, as if they were above Christ. Later, Paul will say that God is the one causing the growth; however, he uses human agents to do this (1 Cor. 3:5-10). In fact, Paul encourages the use of discipleship when he urges the Corinthians to “be imitators of me” (1 Cor. 4:16), as their spiritual father (1 Cor. 4:15).