Learning to manage the tension between privilege and responsibilty in Christian ministry

People who know me may have heard me talk about ‘polarity’ or ‘tension’ management. Really quickly, polarity management is about acknowledging that life and work are full of tensions that need to be managed.

Like breathing, where the two seemingly opposite actions of inhaling and exhaling are crucial for survival and need to be managed well,  tension management is necessary for healthy living.

It is important to note that polarity management uses AND, not BUT or OR.

Back to our breathing example, we need to both inhale AND exhale in order to be healthy. It’s not inhale OR exhale. We don’t have a choice as to which one we’d prefer. To only inhale or exhale will lead to our quick demise.

One of the polarities that I’ve been very mindful of these days is that of ‘privilege’ AND ‘responsibility’.

This work that I have done for close to 30 years now is a privilege, a gift that fills me up and brings me joy and fulfilment in my life. AND, the work is also a responsibility. The people I get to meet on a daily basis are so beat up, bruised, and abused that they often need someone to come alongside them in order to get through the day. Some are charged with the responsibility of being that person or that team of people to journey alongside folks who need someone to show them they are loved.

Sometimes in polarity management we can find ourselves more on one side of the tension than the other. For me, many times I find myself dwelling more on the privilege part of the work than on the responsibility. But other times I feel the weight of the work and find myself dwelling on the responsibility of it all. And, that’s where I’m finding myself these days. I am feeling heavy with the knowledge of the needs all around me.

- People are overdosing on street drugs, with the very deadly drug of Fentanyl hitting the streets and causing much grief.

- Our shelters are completely full, but there is very little political movement on making affordable housing available.

- Loneliness, abuse, marginalization, and abandonment are rampant.

- People are extremely politically divided, throwing ideological stones at one another while not even noticing people dying on the streets all around us.

I hear a lot of talk these days about ‘saving money for a rainy day’. How much rainier does it have to get? To me it feels like torrential rain every day and people are drowning all around us. This work that I believe I’ve been called to 'for such a time as this' is no joke.

It’s life and death stuff. And right now it all feels very heavy. People need and deserve the very best that we have to offer.

Nothing less.

So let’s try to manage this tension of privilege and responsibility as we strive to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this very broken world.

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About the author


ChristianWeek Columnist

Dion Oxford is the Mission Strategist for The Salvation Army's five homeless shelters in Toronto, called Housing and Homeless Supports torontohhs.org. Dion along with his wife, Erinn, and daughter, Cate, live in Toronto and are committed to journeying alongside people in the margins of society. He blogs at dionoxford.com