NWU Campus Ministry nurtures students' calls to servant leadership


Reported by Eduardo Bousson, ebousson@nebrwesleyan.edu
Nebraska Wesleyan University Campus Ministry

Project Summary

Did your project go as expected?
We are grateful for the support we have received from the Great Plains Conference to nurture a culture of call at Nebraska Wesleyan University. While the project did not go exactly as expected, we stayed true to the purpose of advancing mentoring and support services to students exploring their call.

As we rolled out our different initiatives, we needed to adapt according to the response we received from participants. For example, we wanted to hire a student to lead a peer group of students looking at a religious vocation, but we did not have enough interest to warrant that. Instead, we had a convener for the group who would send reminders to members of the group and in turn, they took turns leading the discussion. The outcome was much preferable because students then were able to discover their leadership skills as they led. In total, we had eight students who were part of this group with an average attendance of four per meeting. They met in the second part of the fall semester (8 meetings) and were going to meet in the second part of the spring semester but the schedule was disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We had a similar experience with designating students to lead the follow-up small groups for the Envision Event. There were 80 participants and one-tenth of them were interested in exploring their vocation deeper. Out of those, we formed one group that met for four weeks to dive deeper into vocational exploration. The center point of the discussion was Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist. We incorporated techniques for exploration out of Parker Palmer’s Center for Courage and Renewal.

With this grant, we also expanded one of our spiritual growth offerings to study leadership as a vocation to students who were not involved in Envision nor the religious vocation group. Through journaling, self-reflection, and biblical exploration, these students learned to discern their leadership vocation. This group met for ten weeks. Another offering we provided was exclusively for staff and faculty. For three weeks, we talked about vocation using Coelho’s The Alchemist as a starting point. This offering turned out to be a big success in terms of response and feedback. We are looking at creating opportunities like this once a semester.

Which of the 5 earmarks of Culture of Call did this project address? How?
  • Discernment events/experiences - Envision is the best example of this event. It is a version of a World Café dialogue focused on vocation. Even so, the small group experiences provided more genuine and in-depth conversations related to discernment.
  • Personal exploration - Most of the personal exploration occurred in the small group experiences where students, staff, and faculty were given prompts to journal related to their vocation. This practice is taken from the Center for Courage and Renewal process “Circles of Discernment.” It was through this journaling that participants were able to see clearer the guiding of the Holy Spirit (or “inner teacher” as the Quaker tradition names it).
  • Mentoring - Mentoring was at its best during the peer-to-peer group of discernment related to religious vocation. It was inspiring seeing the more advanced students sharing their experiences with those who were just beginning the process. It was particularly inspiring seeing the students who attended Exploration using the learnings of the experience to guide those who did not go.
  • Spiritual nurture - The Envision follow-up group is the one that comes to mind in this area. These students met together for four weeks to explore their vocation and hold each other accountable, inviting each other to conversation based on comments made on a previous session, helping each other connect the points of their vocational story. They would also share their faith as part of their story inviting in this way each other to integrate their spirituality in their vocational discernment.
  • Community expression of supporting individual calls
Will the project that you undertook be continued? How?
Yes. We will continue the Envision World Cafe event followed by dig deep small groups. We will also continue the vocational discernment group for religious vocation. We will also continue the book study for faculty and staff. In addition, we will pilot a discernment retreat in partnership wit the Center for Courage and Renewal around Discernment Circles. We are very excited about this!

How did this project cultivate a culture of call in your church or district?
This project has helped cement this culture. That said, there are parts of the university that are not involved that in the future we would like to connect with vocational discernment. There is still a lot of room to grow.

How were people impacted through the project?
One hundred and twenty-five individuals were impacted through the different offerings we were able to provide during the grant period. These included students, staff, and faculty. This is the first time in which all three groups have been involved in one way or another of some intentional vocational discernment. Participants were able to engage in this process at different levels according to their knowledge and involvement. Participants in the Envision event were able to get their “feet wet” in discernment. Those who participated in the follow-up small group were able to think more deeply about the journey of discernment. Students who participated in the Leadership and Religious discernment groups respectively have been more advanced in their discernment and are looking at the next steps. Lastly, the staff and faculty who participated were able to pause and think about the vocational direction in which they are heading. To have so many groups involved in this process at different levels undoubtedly affects our campus and reinforces the culture of calling that we set ourselves to build seven years ago. Currently, we are developing an institutional strategic plan which is being understood as a campus-wide vocational discernment process. People speak of the plan as to “what is it that we are called to be and do as a university in the next five years?” This mindset comes in part through our engagement in vocational discernment.

How did you tell the story of your project?
Our success this year is in part because we have been able to build on very successful events that we have continued through the years. Vocational exploration has become part of our culture. This year we were able to connect an institutional project with this culture of exploration. By speaking of our strategic plan as vocational exploration for the university as an institution, people were able to get behind it because they understood what vocational exploration is. The NWU community understands the importance of vocational exploration at any level offered. Faculty and staff know of Envision and expect it every spring. Students who are exploring a religious vocation know of the small group that meets for parts of two semesters. Now staff and faculty know of the book study and are asking which book we will be reading next semester.

What could you share about this project with others?
More than content, we focus on process. What is essential is that participants learn tools that they can use over and over as they continue to discern. Content is important but process is everything.


Culture of Call resources used
Envision vocational reflection questions
World Cafe dialogue