We need to realize that Jesus trained his apprentices for only 3 years. In comparison, the Apostle Paul engaged in the ministry of mentoring for more than 25 years (dating from his first missionary journey, when I believe he entered into his apostolic calling after perhaps 14 years of preparation). In his letter to the Corinthians written during his third missionary journey, Paul refers to himself as a “wise master builder” (I Cor. 3:10). I encourage mentors to learn much from his letters, given how much experience Paul had.
We need to realize that when Paul referred to himself in this way he had been planting Kingdom communities for over 10 years, within several different regions on two continents among a variety of cultures and people groups. He evangelized, discipled new believers, and trained and ordained elders in every church. He accomplished all of this as a member of apostolic teams, and many of his fellow apostles started as his apprentices. During this time, he had also learned many hard lessons about the difficulties of being on a team (Cf. Acts 15:37ff).
Paul appointed other church planters and left behind apprentices to complete works his team had begun (Cf. Acts 17:14). Some of these went off and functioned as new teams. Thus Paul had planted churches as well as reproduced teams. He truly was a master builder: he recruited and trained apprentices, worked with journeymen, and trained some of them to replace him.
Paul’s reproductive plan is probably most clearly seen in his third journey. It is here in Ephesus where he pens the letter to the Corinthians referring to himself as a master builder. It was in Ephesus where he used his church planting efforts to spin off new churches and teams that were effective at reaching all of Asia! (Acts 19:10). As he gathers his teams in Acts 20:4 we can see how large and diverse a group it had become! He was truly a reproductive mentor.
We can observe more of Paul’s mentoring methods by reading his letters to Titus and Timothy. I highly recommend that anyone who is going to mentor church planters should read these and do detailed studies of them.
Both Titus and Timothy seemed to be journeymen church planters at the time these letters were written, meaning they had reached a point of taking full apostolic responsibility for their work, though they were still receiving advice from Paul. It is interesting how parallel 1 Timothy is with Titus in spite of the fact that Titus is completing a work (Titus 1:5) whereas Timothy is restoring a troubled work. Both letters focus on developing their personal character, dangers to avoid for the individual church planter, as well as giving some guidance for the task at hand. Paul clearly knew his workers well and kept in mind character issues as well as competence ones. These letters capture the personal nature of Paul’s mentoring relationship with these two teammates, which also follows Jesus’ mentoring model closely.