Formative Experiences (the 5 building blocks and why they are important)

⌚︎  7 min. read
Have you ever had an experience that helped shape your life to some degree.
This may have happened in a moment, week, month, or over years.

I am sure your answer to this question is, "Yes".
Who you are has a lot to do with your lived experiences. These experiences help you construct your values, habits, and lifestyle

Maybe you went to Space Camp and discovered an interest and aptitude for science.
Or perhaps you were raised on or worked on a farm. Which may have developed values for hard work and responsibility.
Maybe you have been part of a group of people that has changed the trajectory of your life.

There are as many examples as there are people.
God uses these opportunities to mold us and shape you into who He has called you to be.

When considering these experiences the following questions rise to the surface:
- What are formative experiences?
- Why are they important?
- How can an understanding of formative experiences help in your life and the lives of those you lead(or parent)?

Formative Experiences

Formative Experiences are periods of time or opportunities that help shape your character, attitudes, or interests.

They are valuable because of their strong and lasting influence on your life.

These times provide a break from what is normal. This allows you discover new passions, values, and practices.
This is important because your day-to-day life tends to reinforce the status quo.

Formative experiences are helpful in your growth and development. You can take advantage of these experiences at any stage of life. Even as an adult (including more "seasoned" adults), you are still being formed and shaped by your experiences.

You have the power to seek out or create these opportunities.

What would it look like for you to seek out formative experiences for yourself? How could you multiply that impact by inviting others along with you?

You can use your influence to point people in these directions. Maybe there was an experience that was profound for you that you could recommend to others.

This perspective is helpful for discipleship (and for discipling your children). You can help position them in ways that will help them take steps towards living a life full of God.

This is why it is common for churches to encourage their youth to attend church camp or mission trips. Their hope is that the experiences will go a long way in shaping the values and character of the young people. In these environments God tends to shape young hearts in powerful ways.

Keep in mind, two people may share an opportunity and have different experiences. One person may be forever changed while the other may be remain largely indifferent.
(However, I don't see how anyone's life wouldn't be forever changed by Space Camp...)

But, there are some experiences that tend to have deep impact on most people.

These are opportunities such as mission trips, ministry opportunities, conferences, and being part of the body of Christ.

The "X" factor in these experience is that living God is at work in the lives of those present.

The more you can get yourself and others into God-saturated environments the better. He is the most impactful and formative force on the planet. He is constantly shaping us and helping us grow into who he made us to be.

So, what are the key ingredients to formational experiences?

Understanding the following building blocks can help you identify opportunities to step into. These may also help you craft formational experiences for others to enjoy.

Not all the building blocks are necessary to have a formative experience. You could have a high degree of impact from something with only one or two of the building blocks.

They exist to help you understand how to get the factors to work together to produce the most impact.

5 Building Blocks of Formative Experiences

For a period of time you:

1. Enter a new setting or context
Get away from what is familiar. Find a break from your normal context. For some period of time life as you know it is on hold. In this space, you are free to practice new rhythms and routines that lean into a different set of values.

In doing this, you hit the reset button for your mind. You are telling yourself that things aren't normal. When you adjust to the environment you establish a "new normal" for that context.

Then you get to bring the "new normal" back to collide with the "old normal". The areas where the "new normal" becomes part of your life is where you see life change. This is what you hope will happen!

This could be a third world nation, a part of town you aren’t used to, or even a friend's house for a small group or microchurch.

2. Learn something new
Formative experiences hinge on incorporating new information.

Sometimes your experience or what you see is the teacher (ex. seeing the living conditions of those you minister to on a mission trip).

Often what you learn comes through discipleship or a more formal teaching context.

Someone you trust may go along with you who will teach. Other times there are teachers you meet who earn your trust.

These people teach valuable lessons for that context. Good teaching helps to shape you to fit into that setting.

This teaching is often related to the culture and goals of the setting. In other words they teach, "this is how and why we do things this way." They teach you how to live in a way that is consistent with the values and the context.

3. Serve in new ways or do something new
This is where you apply what you learn. A teacher has primed you for the task at hand. You may still feel unprepared, but you go for it anyway.

You might minister to people in new ways or practice new spiritual disciplines.
Whatever the context calls for, this building block is about stepping out and doing it.

The newness will grow and stretch you. Your eyes open to what you can do.

Stepping into these experiences often means embracing some degree of discomfort.

Sometimes, instead of embracing discomfort, people will meet discomfort with resentment or resistance. Not surprisingly, this will likely ruin the experience for them(and for others too).

In moments of discomfort you may uncover an area of giftedness or passion.

Keep in mind, your attitude has a lot of power in this process. It could be your biggest asset or your biggest liability.

4. Go with people you know
You are made for community. You are not meant to be formed all by yourself.

You need people who are on the journey alongside you.

Your connection will deepen with those who enter the experience with you. As you navigate the setting and learn together your relationship will grow deeper.  
Formative experiences have a way of drawing you out. These times often facilitate deep and meaningful conversations and connections.

Those who share a journey with you can help keep you accountable. You may help each other incorporate the values and practices into your lives.

The more people that go with you the easier it is to carry the rhythms, practices, and culture back with you.

5. Form new relationships
Deep and meaningful relationships get forged as we are formed alongside others.
Perhaps you can recall the friendships that you made during a week at camp, on a mission trip, or at a small group.

These relationships can also help you incorporate the "new normal" into your life.

Those you meet know you as the person who lives into the new context and values. They help you remember the person that you want to be.

I still keep in touch with friends I made at my Summer Project with CRU. Summer Project was a 10-week summer experience in Ocean City, NJ. Over seventy college students lived in two huge houses near the beach. We were equipped and encouraged to share Jesus with people out on the boardwalk. When I talk to these friends I remember how I want to be intentional with sharing my faith. I am encouraged by thinking about their commitment. We were only together for a few months. But now, we share a lifelong connection from our time together that summer.


Everyone has formative experiences that have shaped them.But few seek out the opportunities for themselves. Many sit back and let the experiences find them.

What would it look like to have a personal formation or growth plan?

What would it mean for you to seek the Lord and ask Him what can help you take the next step in growing in character and in the values of His kingdom?

As you go, you will find experiences that are resonate deeply with your heart.
When you discover these special experiences, make a habit of regularly entering into those contexts. This allows you to consistently instill the values in yourself.

If it is backwoods camping trips, get one on the calendar as often as you can. If it is volunteering at the local Salvation Army, seize all the opportunities you can to serve. If it a church, microchurch, or small group, dive into community there.

Help yourself and help those you lead. Get formative experiences on your radar. Seek the Lord. Walk with Him. Let Him stretch, challenge, and transform you!

Here is a list of God-saturated experiences with the potential for life changing impact:
- Mission Trips (stateside & international)
- Church Camp
- Retreats
- Conferences
- Serving the poor & praying for the sick (In Zanesville, we go out weekly on Tuesday's at noon to pray for the sick and minister to those in the downtown/Putnam area. See Revival Mission event on the event calendar Click Here!)
- Small Group/Microchurch
- Discipleship Relationships
- Church Gatherings


What is a formative experience (big or small) that you can commit to?

Some of the most formative experiences that made me who I am today were recommended by a trusted friend who was further along in their walk with God. Who is someone you trust that could recommend a formative experience to you?

What is a formative experience you could suggest or provide for someone who lead or are close to (maybe one of your children)?

Who could you share this blog post with that could benefit from this understanding of formative experiences?

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