This article originally appeared in the Shakopee Valley News.

A few months ago there was a gathering of pastors and church staff from Shakopee and Scott County together with local governmental officials. I was very excited to attend this meeting and was curious to see where the discussion went. In my relatively short time as a pastor I had not yet had significant meetings with local government officials. It’s not surprising to me that other pastors and churches think often of the issues that bring the intersection of faith and politics into light. All joking aside, it is indeed important to talk about religion and politics. Why not talk about both at the same time? In so doing, I heard a statement that is the best advice for churches, and individuals within churches, that are considering how to be involved in their community.

We began our meeting with a few presentations from the county officials. They informed us on the status of various projects in the county and also gave their perspective on how they thought churches, pastors, and individual parishioners can get involved. In a similar way, city officials presented the same kind of material, but from a city perspective. The sum total of these presentations was clear: despite the fact that we live in a generally affluent area, there are many, many needs in our community.

How can we as people of faith get involved in our community, city, or county? Without falling prey to “mission creep” and losing focus of what our mission is as churches, we can observe and begin to meet needs that arise. Though we can’t do everything or please everyone, we can begin to make a difference. A number of good ideas were given by the government officials at this meeting: participate in FISH, Families Moving Forward, and other similar groups that are meeting physical needs for people that are hurting. Other specific opportunities were given: communicate well between groups, offer transportation, become a mentor for youth, or provide foster care. We also had a very good discussion on mental health issues. Churches can be a network of loving support for those struggling with mental health issues, or, as was noted at this meeting, for the family members of those struggling with mental health issues. These are all very good ideas. And I’m sure there are more. But do you want to finally hear what I heard as the best advice given that day? The government officials that day encouraged us as pastors and church leaders to encourage our people to get involved and become engaged in an area or areas that matter most to them. Do you have a heart for the community? What, specifically, tugs at your heart? Do some research and plug in to that area. Every contribution makes a difference.

We ended our time by praying for each other. That time of prayer was one of the most moving times of prayer I’ve witnessed. I hope it meant a lot to the government officials to know that pastors and other church leaders are praying for them. They are often faced with criticisms and a barrage of requests. Though I don’t know where each of these governmental officials stands when it comes to faith, I trust they were encouraged by this time of prayer and meeting together. I know I was. After this meeting I decided to personally get involved in an area that is dear to my heart. Dear friend, what is your next move?