Interior view of empty church sanctuary with wooden pews and stained glass window behind podium

Years ago an Oregon Public Schools newsletter published a parable that reminded me of the body of Christ. In the story four animals tried to address the world’s problems by forming a school with a four-part curriculum—running, climbing, swimming, and flying.
The duck excelled at swimming. But sadly he made only average grades in flying, and he nearly flunked track. He was such a bad runner, in fact, that he had to cut back on swimming to devote himself to improving his running time. Because he worked so hard, his webbed feet developed blisters, making it more difficult for him to swim. Yet because he still passed the water-sports class, no one cared about his mediocre speed—except him.

The rabbit, on the other hand, started great as a runner. But he injured his legs trying so hard to swim. Flying wasn’t his forte either.

The squirrel excelled at running and climbing. And he did okay at flying, too—until his teacher insisted he had to start from the ground up instead of from the treetops down. He also flunked swimming. Because he overexerted himself, working so hard to swim and master from-the-ground flying, he eventually found he couldn’t even run or climb well.
And that eagle—“what a defiant nonconformist!” (according to his teachers). He started out as the star student in flying class, but then he received low marks for “doing it my way.”

The moral is simple. Each creature has its own set of skills in which it will naturally excel, unless of course it has to fit a certain mold.

And what’s true of forest creatures is true of Jesus’ followers. God never intended for us all to be identical. Though we worship the same Lord, each person has different capabilities—by design. The apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians, “There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:5–7).

God has placed each of us in His family and has given each one unique gifting. Why? So that all will benefit, and so that ultimately God is glorified. Our differences please Him completely, and they should please us too.

Early in my ministry I fell into a trap. After hearing from and studying under some of the “greats” in churches and at seminary, I tried to be like them. Think like. Sound like. Talk like. Even look like! For more than ten years in ministry I—a rabbit—tried to tread water. I was a frustrated composite, like that weird clay-footed beast in Daniel 2. What little originality or creativity I had was consumed in that false role. One day my wife asked, “Why not just be you?” And through her wisdom I discovered that was the only way to fly—uh, run.

Do you enjoy your spiritual species? Do you treasure the varying gifts and ministry passions of those around you at home? At church? Service takes many forms. So embrace the differences! There’s plenty of room in the forest.

About the Contributors

Charles R. Swindoll

Charles R. Swindoll has devoted his life to the accurate, practical teaching and application of God’s Word and His grace. A pastor at heart, Chuck has served as the founder and senior pastor-teacher of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas. His leadership as president and now Chancellor Emeritus of Dallas Theological Seminary has helped prepare and equip a new generation for ministry. Chuck and his wife Cynthia, have four grown children, ten grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.