Editor's note: This column is part of a community column series planned for the Aiken Standard's Opinions page over the next several months to answer the following question: What can we do today to improve Aiken's future? 

I believe deeply that the people in Aiken, with few exceptions, have great intentions.

We all long for a peaceful, thriving city where violence evaporates and unity prevails. We crave living in a community where poverty, homelessness, suicide, abuse and unemployment have been eradicated and are a thing of our past. We want our community to be one with a dynamic economy, exceptional education system and culture that makes us as a "city on a hill," shining brightly for the world to see. Individually, we want our own households, families and personal lives to thrive.

We all long for a better, more utopian society.

However, between our desired destination and our current situation, one thing remains: A gap.

Some days, this gap can feel really wide, maybe even unbridgeable. Tragedy and fear can creep in making us feel like hope is lost, but today I want us to ask ourselves this question: “What will I do with this gap between what I long for and what I currently see?”

There are a few possible answers to this question.

For some, the answer might be increased programs, activities or resources. These are definitely valid solutions and should be thoroughly considered.

For others, the answer comes through social media. We can be quick to post our thoughts about what our community/others needs to improve, and while sometimes we share refreshing visions of hope for our future, we can be quick to cast blame (often with a political statement).

More than 244 million people in America use social media so it’s easy to see why this might be our most common outlet for response but, candidly, it is often our most poorly stewarded opportunity.

Another answer for some is to simply give up. This one, if I’m being honest, is both heartbreaking and completely understandable at the same time. It’s exhausting, if not properly sourced, to have high expectations but feel like you are continually let down. Therefore, many of us just quit.

An answer I’d like to propose, however, is simply this: That we live with an emboldened hope that fuels personal responsibility. In other words, we must look in the mirror and ask the question: “What am I doing today to improve Aiken’s future?” I’m realizing more and more. “We” can’t improve the future until “I” do.

Aiken is only a generation away from a shifted culture, and that generation is here and now. Each of us reading this editorial can immediately make a profound impact where our feet are planted. We can invoke hope and peace in our households. We can encourage uncommon unity in our neighborhoods. We can invite people different than us in color, status and influence into our homes. We can diversify the places where we shop, eat and mingle.

Instead of “somebody” doing it, what if each of us do?

Instead of choosing insulation to what we’re used to, what if we step into the uncomfortable arena of culture-shifting change?

With everything in me, I believe great personal stewardship by each of us can lead to holistic community blessing. So, Aiken, SC: let’s be the change we want to see and live with an emboldened hope that fuels personal responsibility… As a Christian and a pastor, I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ points to this. However, even without a gospel lens, I think all of us can agree that this is a worthy endeavor.

Reflection Questions:

• In what areas of my life do I create and promote unity?

• How frequently do I encourage others?

• How am I leading and loving in my home?

• What kind of legacy am I leaving?

• How do I invest my time?

Matt Steelman is the Aiken Campus Pastor for NewSpring Church. He is a basketball player and graduate of Wofford College. Matt moved to Aiken in 2015 to plant the NewSpring Church campus. Matt and his wife Nikki, a teacher at Clearwater Elementary School, have a 14-month-old son named Hampton.