Stuart Estes – I promise Larry Barker did not pay me to write this story. As a matter of fact, none of the many men and women in the BMA of Arkansas or BMA of America who advocate for the use of SOAP (Scripture, Observations, Application, and Prayer) journaling paid me to write this story. Truth be told, I probably need to pay them.
I adopted journaling as one of my daily disciplines not long after I started working at ABS in 2019. I have also been sharing with the students and some of the ABS board members how it had really helped me to consume God’s Word with the end goal of responding in prayer to the conviction and leading of the Holy Spirit. Those students and board members knew I wasn’t blowing smoke because they had seen some changes in me that were obvious works of the Holy Spirit.
So, we tried something new last semester at ABS. I approached the students at the ministry with an idea about starting two journaling groups — one for young men and one for young women. I had some takers on the idea, so we started the two groups the week after classes started in August 2020.
At our first session, we took some time to talk through the meaning of the acronym SOAP. We then committed to one another to work our way through the gospel of Mark, one chapter per week, across the full semester. We also agreed to complete no fewer than three journal entries per chapter, and to be open and honest when we met on a weekly basis to share with one another straight from our journals.
What followed that first session was nothing short of miraculous.
My wife, Hanna and I have been in some form of youth ministry since we married in 2014. So I do have some experience to back up what I’m about to claim — I have never seen young adults learn to personally respond to God’s Word in such a transformative way as what I witnessed in these journaling groups last semester.
I had spent a year with most of these students who were involved in the groups, and I could attest to them being solid, young believers. They knew the Lord, but over the course of the semester, I saw them start to relate to the Lord. Every week, these students would come ready to share from their journals, and I kept my mouth shut most of the time. As they read and journaled about Jesus’ life and ministry and His disciples in Mark, the Holy Spirit led them to promises to claim, commands to follow and convictions to which to respond.
Claim, follow and respond they did! Their personal, written prayers to the Lord — which they often shared aloud during our sessions — were deep and full of humility and honesty. Their whole approach to faith was shifting. They were no longer just in love with their Savior — they were listening and following their Lord. As a ministry leader, it was exhilarating, and it only fueled my flame to do the same.
The Lord did a good thing with these journaling groups at ABS, and I can’t help but think this approach is completely reproducible in many other contexts. Here are a few tips I have for those who would consider implementing journaling groups:
• Model faithfulness. If you are organizing the journaling groups, you owe it to the others in the groups to model the faithfulness to journal consistently. The great thing about these groups is that you don’t have to have all the answers, but you do have to be involved in the process of journaling yourself.
• “Facilitate” instead of “teach.” Leading a journaling group is more about facilitating and encouraging others to share from their journals than it is about showing how much you know about the Bible. You can, and should, share from your journal, but take steps to avoid commandeering the sessions.
• Build commitment to drive accountability. It’s probably a good idea to let others elect to be involved in a journaling group, then be careful to treat them as partners in the exercise, not as followers. Accountability to read and journal is best encouraged through mutual faithfulness, which requires that every member is an integral part of the group.
• Get on the same page. There is something spooky good about a bunch of believers responding to the same Scripture over the course of a week, so my recommendation would be to agree to read the same passages as a group to tap into that movement of the Spirit.
I know there are some who are apprehensive about journaling, but I’m joining the ranks of those who can attest to its power. Give it a shot. You have so much to gain.
— The Association of Baptist Students at the University of Arkansas is a ministry of the BMA of the Ozarks and churches like yours. If you’d like to learn more about the ministry or are interested in partnering with us through prayer or donation, check out our website at thehedgeuark.com. Follow our social media accounts on Facebook (Association of Baptist Students) and Instagram (@thehedge.uark). You can also sign up for our email newsletter by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.