The best reason we need to shift our focus: God cares about the people who live around us. What's on their hearts is on God's heart. And so it should be in ours.
Do you know what's on the hearts of your neighbors? Truly on their hearts. Are they worried about how to support their families? Stressed by caring for older parents? Struggling in relationships with loved ones? Passionate about education?
And this is key: are you guessing, or do you really know? Have you asked them?
You could ask your congregation what they think is on the hearts of their neighbors, but resist that temptation. Your results may come back skewed. We're on the inside looking out, our neighbors are on the outside looking in (if they're even looking inside of where we are in the church). We in the church need an outsider's opinion.
There are a number of ways to seek that opinion. Here's a few suggestions:
- Meet with the police chief, or some police officers in your community; what do they see as the main needs of the people they serve? What do they as officers care about? Is there any support the church could offer them?
- Sit down with some of the executive directors of your community's social service agencies and non-profits. What do they see happening in the lives of "the least of these"? Where could church members make the most difference?
- Talk to the principals of your local schools. What do kids and youth need most in your community? What's on the principals' wish lists for materials or services?
- Start frequenting your local shops and restaurants; get to know owners and workers and ask them what they've noticed in the community.
You could probably come up with more ideas. These information-gathering techniques needn't be formal or organized. Making it a priority to talk with people, asking them what's important to them, and then really listening to them, that's all that's needed. In fact, don't even get into problem solving mode with them; save that for another time.
Ask God to give you new eyes to see what he sees, and new ears to hear what he hears. Most of all, ask God to give you a new heart that opens wide to include the people who are on God's heart.