Christ: Jesus Calls the Twelve

When Christ calls a person, he bids them come and die. Dietrich Bonhoeffer


The wonderful story of how Jesus calls the twelve disciples is one with which all of our children are likely familiar.

In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (whose birthday is today, by the way!) uses the story of Jesus’ call of the disciples to show how costly full obedience to Christ is. The disciples give up everything they have and (seemingly) without question follow Jesus as he gathers around himself twelve people for the term of his ministry (a term which, by the way, ends in their deaths). On this, Bonhoeffer writes: “Once again, Jesus calls those who follow him to share his passion. How can we convince the world by our preaching of the passion when we shrink from that passion in our own lives? On the cross Jesus fulfilled the law he himself established and thus graciously keeps his disciples in the fellowship of his suffering” (142).

The demands of Christ are steep for the disciples; their resolve to follow him in all things is admirable. What does Jesus require of us? What does it mean to follow God fully in this life? What does full obedience look like?

Hear the Story

Our story this week has several different sections: Matthew 4:18-22 (Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, James and John); Matthew 9:-13 (Jesus calls Matthew the tax collector); Matthew 10:1-4 (a list of the disciples). You may also read the story in one of our children’s Storybook Bibles. You may find this story under the title “Jesus calls his Disciples” in The Children’s Illustrated Bible (210-11); “Twelve Helpers” in Jesus Calling Bible Storybook (156-7); “Let’s Go!” in The Jesus Storybook Bible (208-14).

Respond to the Story

(1.) Fish and Fishing for People: Fish are an important symbol for Christianity almost from the beginning (they appear in many of our stories–Jesus shares a small child’s loaves and fishes, Jesus eats a fish to show his disciples that he has really resurrected, Jesus make a fish breakfast for the disciples by the sea of Tiberius). The imagery and lifestyle that came with fishing would have been of great significance for many of Jesus’ early followers. What does it mean when Jesus says that he will make the disciples “fishers of people”? Is this to be the disciple’s new vocation and livelihood?

a. Cut out and decorate paper fish. Each child can make individual fish OR several fish that can be used on a mobile OR many fish that can all be strung together as a long classroom banner.

(2.) The Shields and Symbols of the Apostles: We remember the apostles not only by the stories they told about Jesus, but also by looking at shields, which help tell the story of each apostle.  Use the shields to help you explore the stories of the various apostles and complete some of the activities below. Find a Description for each of the shields here. Older children may want to take turns describing the shields.  Many of them show how the disciples died.  Help the kids imagine ways that the disciples followed Jesus in life and death.

a. Paper Doll Disciples and their symbols: Find information about each of the Apostles here (page 8 on the .pdf). Make a paper people chain of twelve using these directions and this template. Older students may be able to cut out the people chain by themselves. Then, using the information you learned about the Apostles, illustrate them with symbols and defining features of their ministries.

b.  Clay Shields: Invite each child to select one of the shields of the disciples to recreate in 3-d using clay. The colorful tub of sculpey clay in the supply closet would be great for this. Place each of the final creations on a piece of paper marked with each child’s name and leave them for me to photograph. Children may take them home next week.

c. Gifts of the Disciples/Gifts from us (Adapted from an activity written by Wren in 2012): Invite children to create their own crest. One half is a symbol of something Jesus might ask them to give up to follow him. The other half is a symbol of a gift they could use to help others follow Jesus. Jesus asked the disciples to give up an important part of their lives to follow him. Ask the children if they have ever had to give up something because they are Christians.  On one half of your shield, paint a symbol of something you have given up (or would be willing to give up) for Jesus, if you were asked.

Jesus also used the gifts of his disciples to help him spread the good news of God’s kingdom.  [Eg., Matthew, the tax collector, would have been an educated person in order to be a tax collector. So he knew how to write. How did Matthew use that gift to tell others about Jesus? (He wrote the Gospel of Matthew.) What is a gift or skill that you have that Jesus might use, i.e., Do you make friends easily and could invite someone to church? Do you play soccer well enough to help teach someone else? While you are teaching them could you tell them about Jesus? On the other half of your shield, paint a symbol of a gift or skill you could use to help others learn about Jesus.

(4.) Games

a. Jesus Says (like Simon Says): Jesus called each of the disciples “follow me” and they did immediately. They left behind work that needed to be done and family members who may have relied on them, but the call of God was very strong. With your class play a version of Simon Says in which one person plays “Jesus” while the rest of the class follows Jesus commands. Discuss what it means for us to follow Jesus in our lives together.

b. Red Rover and Follow the Leader: Jesus gathers the disciples around him one or two at a time until he has the twelve who will faithfully follow him throughout his ministry. Play Red Rover, Red Rover (send [name] right over). Appoint one child to play Jesus and ask them to gather their disciples. It’s okay if there are not 12 children. Once all of the disciples are gathered, have your students “Follow Jesus” on a walk around the church (outside if it isn’t too cold or wet).

(5.) Songs for Young Children

a. “Fishers of Men” (tune and lyrics for multiple verses may be found on this video)

I will make you Fishers of Men,

Fishers of Men, Fishers of Men.

I will make you Fishers of Men,

If you follow me.

If you follow me.

If you follow me.

I will make you Fishers of Men,

If you follow me.

b. “Jesus Called Them One by One” (to the tune of “Jesus Loves Me”):

Verse 1:

Jesus called them one by one,

Peter, Andrew, James, and John

Next came Philip, Thomas too

Matthew and Bartholomew


Yes, Jesus called them, (x3)

He called them one by one.

Verse 2:

James, the one they called the less,

Simon also Thaddeus

Twelve apostles Judas made

Jesus was betrayed by him.

Close in Prayer and with a Feast


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