Tinkering around in Children’s Ministry

Our pastor used a true story about the great American automobile giant, Henry Ford, as a helpful sermon illustration.  Naturally, I thought of how it applies to Children’s Ministry as well as raising children in general.  Here’s the story…

There is a wonderful story of Henry Ford and Charlie Steinmetz. Steinmetz had one of the greatest minds in the field of electricity the world had known when Henry Ford was building his automobile empire. Steinmetz built the great generators for Henry Ford in his first plant in Dearborn, Michigan. One day those generators broke down and the plant came to a halt. They brought in ordinary mechanics and helpers who couldn’t get the generators going again. They were losing money. Then Ford called Steinmetz. The genius came, seemed to just tinker around for a few hours, and then threw the switch that put the great Ford plant back into operation. A few days later Henry Ford received a bill from Steinmetz for $10,000. Although Ford was a rich man, he returned the bill with a note, “Charlie, isn’t this bill a little high for a few hours of tinkering around on those motors?”

Steinmetz returned the bill to Ford. This time it read: “for tinkering around on the motors: $10.00 – for knowing where to tinker: $9,990, total: $10,000”. Henry Ford paid the bill.

Now, we need to distinguish between two definitions of the word “tinker.”  Today, we tend to use the phrase “tinker around” to mean something like the “attempt to repair or improve something in a casual or desultory way, often to no useful effect.”  This definition doesn’t make sense in the story, does it?  Steinmetz’s tinkering on those great generators was to a VERY useful effect, as he alone got them to work!  He knew how to tinker and where to tinker, which made him worth his weight in gold to Henry Ford.  Therefore, the older, now archaic definition of “to tinker” is in play here:  “The work of a person who makes mechanical repairs for a living.”  In this case, a tinker is a highly skilled person who knows how to fix things!

So, with these opposing definitions in mind, allow me to ask a few revealing questions relating to our work of ministering to children–whether in our church’s children’s ministry or as a parent:

  •  Are we just “tinkering around” with our children in the modern sense of the phrase–casually going through the motions, often with no real impact?  In other words, are we doing a lot of useless activities for and with our children that make us seem busy but with no lasting value?  Are we demonstrating very little skill or wisdom when it comes to the real problems of their hearts?
  • Or, do we  truly  desire to “fix” what is wrong in the hearts and minds of our children, but have no idea “where to tinker”?  Are we at a loss to know what our children’s greatest spiritual needs are, focusing on things that will not truly bring heart change?  Is the love for children there, but we need more wisdom when it comes to how to speak to their hearts?
  • Or, do we have the skill, knowledge, and wisdom like Charlie Steinmetz had, knowing what our children need the most in life today? And, do we discern the problems and skillfully offer Gospel-driven, Christ-centered solutions?  If this is the case, we offer great value to our own children and to the children of our church.

We certainly need Christian parents and Children’s Ministry workers and teachers to know exactly where to tinker with children, in the right sense of that word.  When Children’s Ministry settles for useless tinkering around, we will not see the fruit of the Spirit produced in the lives of our children.  It may look like we are hard at work, but end up being no better than the man who tinkers for hours on his car and it still won’t start.  Our ministry to children must be clearly focused on Biblical solutions to the problems of hearts and souls.

Ultimately, we all need the tinkering work of the Holy Spirit to repair our own sinful minds and hearts.  He alone can bring the dead generators of our hearts back to work again, breathing new life into us.  Thanks be to God that we can be the instruments in the hands of the Spirit to do effective ministry to the children in our lives!



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