Come in and go out?


What is a practising Christian?  We know the usual answers.  One who goes to church on Sunday; pays in to the collection; who may attend a bible or prayer meeting during the week; gets involved with the mission of the church, whether by baking, singing, looking after the children’s faith development or heading up the finance committee.  We most often assess the nature of the disciple by the level of their participation in church functions.

I am the gate.
Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly
. (Jn 10)

Jesus did not talk about the Church.  His focus was on the Kingdom or Reign of God.  In this passage in John’s gospel he describes himself as the Gate.  This image is related to that of the Good Shepherd which follows soon after.  He is the gate of the sheepfold. What kind of gate is he?  He keeps safe those who enter, he nurtures life to the full and the sheep can come in and go out.  We are familiar with the invitation to come in, but less so with the freedom to go out.  In my tradition we expect people once in to stay put.  Going out isn’t an option.  Jesus is talking here as if the gate swings both ways.

I had a conversation with a priest recently where he expressed frustration with people who don’t come most Sundays and then expect the priest to be available on a bank holiday weekend for a baptism.  It’s understandable. We have all heard complaints from church people about those who come at Christmas or for weddings and funerals and are never seen the rest of the year.

What if these sisters and brothers were not seen as blameworthy in this regard?  What if this approach were seen as equally ‘practising.’  What if practising their freedom to come and go were seen as holy in itself?  What if Christ himself is the gate through which they pass, finding pasture and fullness of life as they can in the circumstances of their own particular lives?  What if Christ doesn’t call everyone to committed attendance but these irregular attenders are the birds who come and shelter in the branches of the Kingdom tree, only to fly off and live most of their lives elsewhere?

Let’s go easy.  Some of us are nourished by loving the Church and working for God’s Kingdom or Reign within its walls or by going out from its doors to serve the world.  Good for us. What if we are called to a radical  hospitality to those who, at Christ’s invitation and through his very being, come and go?  What if they have something to teach us about discipleship but we have never really listened?







Author: realmofsparks

Anne Francis is a Pastoral/Practical theologian and spiritual care practitioner. She has a Pastoral Supervision practice and is author of 'Called: Women in Ministry in Ireland.'

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: