While preteens tend to do all they can to blend in, Jesus stood out every day by mingling with the unpopular, reinterpreting long-held understandings of God, and speaking from the heart.

It seems he was always surprising people by breaking social rules and loving people in unexpected ways.

Preteens, on the other hand, often want to fit in as much as possible. It’s as if an imaginary audience appears in their heads that guides and critiques their every move.

In order to teach preteens how to follow Jesus, we need to help them listen to God who loves them completely – rather than the voices that they encounter every day.

This lesson reminds students that sometimes following Jesus requires them to step outside of their comfort zone – but it’s totally worth it!

– Nick Diliberto, Preteen Ministry


Bible: Mark 2:13-17

Bottom line: Sometimes following Jesus requires us to step outside of our comfort zone.


Dry erase board or large poster paper


This game encourages kids to get a little uncomfortable while also having fun and encouraging one another.

Put your group into a circle with the adult leader in the middle.

Explain that in this “riff off”, the person in the middle of the circle will start humming or otherwise “singing” the melody of a song without using any words.

This must be a common song that most people would recognize!

The hummer simply vocalizes the appropriate notes, tempo, and pitch – either in a hum or a “da da da da”.

Everyone else tries to guess which song is being hummed.

Once someone picks up on which song it is, that person will jump into the middle of the circle while singing the actual words of the song; picking up where the original hummer is.

For example, if the singer has hummed the first seven notes of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, someone could jump into the circle while singing, “Little lamb, little lamb! Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow”.

The new singer should belt out at least a full line or two of the song for it to count.

If multiple people jumped into the circle at the same time, all of them should continue singing until all but one person forgets the words or stumbles.

If someone jumps into the circle while singing the wrong song, start the round over again.

Once the new singer has won the round, everyone should hoot, holler, and cheer!

Then, the original hummer returns to the outskirts with everyone else, and the new hummer hums a different song.

Play until everyone has had a turn inside the circle.

If a player wins a round but has already had a chance to be a hummer, that person should choose someone from the circle who hasn’t been the hummer yet.

This ensures that everyone gets a turn in the middle.

If your group has difficulty thinking of a song to hum, here are some options:

  • Row, Row, Row Your Boat
  • The Hokey Pokey
  • Songs from Disney movies
  • The Star-Spangled Banner
  • America the Beautiful
  • The Doxology
  • Away in a Manger


Ask: How did it feel to stand in the middle of that circle and start humming?

How did it feel to jump into the circle while singing?

Wait for answers.

Say: I don’t know about you, but I felt pretty uncomfortable in that game.

It’s scary to start belting out a melody in front of all your friends!

But there was a method to my madness!

That weird, uncomfortable feeling we all experienced was the exact way most of Jesus’ true followers feel a lot of the time.

Have students open their Bibles to Mark 2:13-17.

Say: Let’s break this story down a bit.

Get out a dry erase board or large poster paper to write on so that everyone can see.

We’re going to make a list of every uncomfortable thing that happens in this passage.

Have students re-read the story on their own and shout out examples, and write each one on the board. 

As they provide answers, point out the following behind-the-scenes details that they may not be aware of.

Verse 13: In the Bible, Jesus did a lot of teaching by bodies of water. Sometimes, the crowds were so big and boisterous that he had to get into a boat and sail far out so he had some space.

Whenever Jesus goes near water, something amazing happens – like calming storm, or walking on water, or appearing to his friends after the resurrection.

When Scripture tells us Jesus is next to water, we should pay close attention to what happens next.

Verse 14a: Tax collectors were absolutely despised in these days. For us, we would think of them the same way as a loan shark or a bully.

Nobody liked them, they weren’t invited to any parties, and they had few friends.

Often, tax collectors cheated people and took extra money for themselves, even from poor people who had almost nothing.

Verse 14b: Levi immediately got up and followed Jesus. That’s amazing!

How many times do your parents have to tell you to get your shoes on, clean your room, turn off the video game, get in the car?

Those are such small requests – but when Jesus asked Levi to leave behind his entire life, Levi didn’t hesitate. He followed.

Verse 15: Jesus went straight to Levi’s home to eat. In those days, entertaining someone in your home meant you were showing that person a huge honor. This was Levi’s way of respecting and worshiping Jesus. And sharing a meal together was a sacred act as well!

There are many examples in the Bible of God’s being present in a deep way when people eat (Abraham and Sarah entertaining the angels, the Israelites eating the Passover on the move, Mary washing Jesus’ feet at a meal, the Last Supper, etc.)

Verse 16: The Pharisees and legal experts were the equivalent of our star athletes and politicians today.

They cared deeply about keeping up appearances and pretended to be perfect all the time.

They were kind of like celebrities whose Instagram and Snapchat feeds only show them looking their absolute best, but inwardly their motives are not right.

Say: It was really great to hear all of you point out different things that happened in that passage of Scripture!

When Jesus asked Levi to follow him, Levi immediately got up and followed Jesus.

As a result of Levi’s willingness to follow Jesus, many others followed him too.

Jesus gives us the same call today – follow me.

He doesn’t always ask us to do what makes us comfortable, but He loves us and knows what is best for us.

When we chose to follow Jesus, we push away all the other voices around us and demonstrate that Jesus is the most important person in our life.

Today, let’s choose to follow Jesus, whether it makes us comfortable or not.

End your time together with a group prayer, giving everyone a chance to pray out loud or silently if they want to.

Tell them that this is a time to respond to God’s Word and let it soak down into their souls.

Then, speak words of blessing over your group.

Say each person’s name, one at a time, asking God to give that person the courage and love it takes to follow Jesus even in hard and uncomfortable ways.


  • Who can retell this story now, without looking at your Bible, in your words? Let’s hear it!
  • Why do you think Jesus called a tax collector to be one of his disciples?
  • Why do you think the writer of Mark made a big deal about what kids of people (sinners and tax collectors) ate with Jesus and Levi that day?
  • Why were the Pharisees and church leaders disgusted by Jesus’ dinner companions?
  • How do you think Jesus felt when he realized that people were criticizing him behind his back?
  • How is God asking you to “follow me” these days? Is there something uncomfortable you need to do, say, give up, or change in order to follow Jesus fully?
  • What does verse 17 mean to you?
  • Do you see yourself more like a Pharisee or a tax collector? Why?
  • Give an example from your life of a time that doing the right thing felt really uncomfortable.
  • How do you know when Jesus is saying “Follow me”, to you?
  • If you really followed Jesus, what parts of your life would change?

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