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The Parable of the Mustard seed

To encourage children to reflect upon the idea that one person, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can make a difference to the world.

by Gill Hartley

Suitable for Key Stage 2


To encourage children to reflect upon the idea that one person, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can make a difference to the world.

Preparation and materials

  • A Bible in a modern translation (or use the GNB version below)
  • An apple, a chopping board and a knife
  • Candle and quiet background music (optional)


  1. Cut the apple into quarters and show the children the pips inside. Ask them what the pips really are (i.e. seeds). If they were planted, what would they grow into? (i.e. an apple tree). Ask a child if s/he can demonstrate how tall an apple tree might grow. When s/he has made an attempt, emphasize the fact that an apple tree can grow considerably taller than a person.

  2. Tell the children that Jesus once asked the people listening to him to think about an even tinier seed which would grow into a big tree. Read Matthew 13:31-32 from your Bible or use this version:

    Jesus told them another parable: 'The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man takes a mustard seed and sows it in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it grows up, it is the biggest of all plants. It becomes a tree, so that birds come and make their nests in its branches.'

    Explain that we also have a saying: 'Tall oaks from little acorns grow.' Ask them what they think Jesus' story and our saying mean. Help them to see that the two share a similar meaning, i.e. that from small beginnings something big can happen.

  3. Illustrate the above point in the following ways. Ask the children how many of Jesus' followers (or Christians) they think there are in the world today. Guesses will vary widely. You can tell the children that over 4.5 million people belong to Christian churches in this country, and that if anyone is really keen to know how many there are in the whole world, they could try finding out as homework! There are, however, many millions of Christians in the world today, yet it all began with one person (Jesus) who was born in a very ordinary place (a stable), who grew up in an ordinary home, in an ordinary town. For 33 years no one really noticed him. Say that Jesus' life and the lives of many people down through history show us that from small beginnings something big can happen. One person can make a difference to the world, no matter how small and unimportant they might seem.

  4. List some of the seemingly unimportant people who have changed the world, e.g.:

    Joan of Arc
    Born nearly 700 years ago in Domremy in France. She had to look after her father's animals because she was a girl. But she led the way in driving the English enemy out of her native country of France.

    George Fox
    Born in 1624 in a village in Leicestershire. He was an apprentice to a shoemaker. He was the founder of the Quaker movement, a religious group committed to peace that has spread all over the world.

    Edward Jenner
    Born in 1749 in a village in Gloucestershire. He was an apprentice to a country surgeon. He discovered the vaccine for smallpox.

    Mary Jones
    Born in 1784 in a small village in Wales. She wanted a Bible in her own language of Welsh. This resulted in the formation in 1804 of the British and Foreign Bible Society, which has now translated the Bible into over a thousand languages.

    Florence Nightingale
    Born nearly 250 years ago, she went out to nurse soldiers in the Crimean War. She led the way in the establishment of schools of nursing and of the modern hospital system.

    Rudolph Diesel
    Born in 1858 in Paris. He left France because of war and settled in London with no money and no friends. He was the inventor of the diesel engine.

    Lech Walesa
    Born in Poland just after the Second World War, and worked in a shipyard. He founded the trade union Solidarity, won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1983, and became President of Poland.

    Martin Luther King
    An ordinary black American of the last century who came to lead the movement for peaceful change in America, helping to get equal rights for black people.

    There are many other examples that could be used in addition to the above. Add or delete names according to the life stories you are familiar with.

Time for reflection

Lead a guided reflection. You may like to light a candle for this, and/or play quiet background music, according to your usual practice.

Ask the children to close their eyes, or to focus on the candle. Use the following words:

Picture in your mind the night sky full of stars.
Think of how many stars there must be - too many to count!
Think of the huge number of people there are in the whole world - many more than the stars.

Think of the vast, wide world, and think of yourself.
What can you do to make a difference to the world?

Think of today.
What will you do to make a difference to the world around you?
Will you say a kind word to someone who is sad?
Will you help someone to do something difficult?
Will you take care of the earth's resources by recycling something?
Will you cheer up the people around you with your smile?
Will those you meet today find that the world is a brighter place because of you?

Dear God,
Though we are so small and the world is so big,
help us to make a difference to all whom we meet today.



'All over the world (Everybody's building)' (Come and Praise, 61)


Scriptures quoted from the Good News Bible published by The Bible Societies/HarperCollins Publishers Ltd UK © American Bible Society, 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992.

Publication date: March 2001   (Vol.3 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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