"Can we help set up? Please? Please?" A crew of fifth and sixth graders waved their hands enthusiastically up in the air. I sighed and nodded reluctantly. It was our most recent community potluck and the teenagers who usually help us set up chairs, tables, and cutlery were not there. Yet, the thought of these fifth and sixth graders helping out made me nervous. As we say in Chinese, "The more they help, the busier I get." In other words, I knew that if they helped, it could mean more work for me and my coworker PJ, supervising and making sure they did things properly (and hygienically!). It would be far easier for the leaders to just do it ourselves.
However, our staff had recently discussed occasions in our ministry "when helping hurts". There are many well-meaning things we do with and for our community that actually hurts those we serve, times when we rob them of the opportunity to do things for themselves and each other. One of the things we had decided to do to counter this is to give opportunities for the participants to take ownership. While there are big ways to take ownership, these kids wanting to help set up for potluck was one of the smaller yet not insignificant ways that they could take ownership and give back to their community.
Off we went to work. PJ had them wipe down the tables and set the chairs and I had them put out the cutlery. To my surprise, they not only did it well but went above and beyond. They took great pride in arranging the cutlery perfectly so that it was not only organized but aesthetically pleasing!
Often as "adult leaders" we may feel it easier or even more fulfilling to do the work for these kids and teens. Yet, undoubtedly, a big part of our job is to help them see their unique giftings and their identity as image bearers of God, to see them as dignified individuals invited to participate in the work of their Creator, to serve and love the communities they have been placed in.