Do you know that doctors can figure out what is wrong with you within the first few moments of meeting you? They ask a series of questions, write down a few notes, run a couple of tests, and then hand you the medications that you need. Bam, Bam, Bam… done. How do they do that? Well I found out from a medical student that doctors quickly assess and treat you through a method called S.O.A.P. – which stands for the following:

  • Subjective
  • Objective
  • Assessment
  • Plan of Action

It occurred to me that this is can be VERY helpful as I promote spiritual health in people. Think about it. You want the people that you disciple to become healthy spiritually. Yet why is it that modern-day discipleship relationships do not produce healthier people? Instead it looks like the following:

  1. Meet at a coffee house
  2. Discuss a popular Christian book
  3. Unpack issues regarding a significant other
  4. Give some advice
  5. Pray together
  6. Do it all over again… until one of you gives up.

Sure this process will build trust, but your friend is not on the road to spiritual health. There is no transformation! He/she can barely read a book or break off an unhealthy relationship! This is going nowhere! Why?? You have no plan, no goal, and no process for transformation. Disciples are to produce disciples that can produce more disciples. Healthy disciples replicate!

"Discipleship Notes" Photo Courtesy of Betina Daniel (c)

“Discipleship Notes” Photo Courtesy of Betina Daniel (c)

Let’s learn something from the good doctor. Start SOAP notes for each of your disciples. Do this and I promise you will develop world changers! I have done it for the past two years and it has made a significant difference! (Before starting this process, I assume that you have already established a level of trust with your disciple). Here is how I applied the SOAP method to discipleship:

Step #1: Subjective.

Doctors ask questions and you talk about your health.

Similarly, you should ask open-ended questions and allow your disciple to talk about her life. Pay close attention to what is being said so you can spot the key issues or development areas. Perhaps she is talking about her grades, her parents, and her new boyfriend, but as you listen carefully, the key issue she is struggling with is her identity.

Lovingly ask more questions and try not to become a trial lawyer. Eventually you will find areas that need development. Do not assume that there is always a “secret” that you need to find – sometimes, all she needs is encouragement to keep doing the right thing! Whatever the case, pay attention and keep good notes on what you hear and observe!

Step #2: Objective.

Doctors will run tests to see if your subjective answers match with their objective data.

In the same way, you must compare your disciple’s aforementioned subjective comments with objective data. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could just draw blood and pinpoint spiritual unhealthiness? Since we cannot draw blood, we must use tools (or run tests) to reveal truth. The best tool to use is the Bible.

This is probably the most difficult step in this method, because you will have to interject scripture that coincides with the subjective comments made in the previous step. One idea is to pack your backpack with four of your favorite parables and then pull out the sheet of paper that most closely corresponds to their life. I do this regularly.

Rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal truths hidden in these parables. Interact with scripture and it will shed light on areas of growth. God’s Word is a lamp for our journey! Use it often.

Step #3: Assessment.

Doctors will assess what to do next after gathering your test results.

Likewise, you will need to assess next steps with your disciple after you study scripture. This is crucial. You need to help her interpret reality. She needs to see how Jesus is calling her to take the next few steps. Typically you will get lots of pushback as you assess these next steps. This is normal.

In my life, when my doctor prescribes new medications or a change in my lifestyle, my initial reaction is to push back or negotiate. Good doctors will listen, but firmly return to the recommended course of action. You must do the same. If you keep her spiritual health as high priority, then you will not be satisfied until you see her take steps toward health. Assess together – it creates buy-in.

Step #4: Plan of Action.

Doctors write a prescription and create a plan of action for their patients.

For example, my doctor may say take these two pills and call me in three months. Eat an apple everyday (preferably not one that is found in a pie). Overall, stop being a “fatty”. Ok, maybe I’m sharing too much of my personal life… But notice the precision in these instructions. No room for gray. You do it or you don’t do it. I love that!

You must do the same thing! After having great conversation, don’t just pray and go home, but write out what will be done between now and the next time you meet! When you make the plan of action for your disciple, make sure to follow these simple guidelines:

  • Be clear
  • Be challenging but not impossible
  • Agree on a deadline or timeframe
  • Describe the “wins”

Here is an example of a plan of action:

“Find your favorite family picture. Look at it and write two paragraphs in your journal about why you love being a part of your family. Re-read the scripture we studied together and make one action to bless your family. When we meet next week, I want you to share your journal entry and your one action. I believe God will reshape your heart for your family overtime. I believe you will see why God did not make a mistake when putting you in this family. We are one step closer to seeing your entire family cross the line of faith…”

InterVarsity South Asian Student Leaders

“InterVarsity South Asian Student Leaders” Photo Courtesy of Betina Daniel (c)

The great thing about the SOAP method is that it picks up where you left off. You ask Subjective questions about the last Plan of Action. You can ask questions about how the plan went last week. Then you study scripture again. Assess together. Make a new plan and execute it. Overtime you will see your disciple grow, become healthier, and look more like Christ. It is extremely rewarding to witness gradual, incremental steps take place over the course of a year.

I hope this gives you a helpful mental model for your next discipleship appointment. Always enter a discipleship relationship with vision for spiritual health. Picture what it will look like for your new disciple to walk this earth as a world changer. Don’t stop until you see progress toward that vision! Start today!

Is this mental model helpful? Can you start using it with your discipleship relationships? Share about a time that you discipled someone. How did it go?