Ofsted and Lent

It is my firm belief that every church in the country should experience an OFSTED inspection!

For those of you who don’t know what OFSTED means, then you can ask any schoolteachers you know and they will inform you that it means the ‘Office For Standards in Education,’ a school inspection. And when you mention that rather extraordinary word ‘OFSTED’ watch the teachers closely, and you will see their facial expression change dramatically.

As the face distorts beyond recognition and you see the colour draining away, you will be able to get a much clearer picture in your mind of what the experience is all about.

It is quite an ordeal coming under such scrutiny, and it is definitely not to be recommended for the tender soul or the faint hearted.

It lasts for five agonisingly long days. It is with a pounding heart and mind racing wildly you enter school, in a daze probably not having had much more than four hours sleep each night during the weeks of real preparation leading up to inspection, and you find that you are asking yourself:-

“Is this my voice I’m hearing, talking to the children?”....”Can this really be happening?”..... “Is this a dream?”

Soon your nerves settle down and you realise that it’s not too bad ; most inspectors are user friendly, pleasant to talk too, inconspicuous and quite approachable.

But they are everywhere, they’re almost crawling out of the woodwork , whichever way you turn they’re there and there’s no respite, not even in the ladies powder room.

Two colleagues of mine, the week before last, when we were having our OFSTED inspection, found themselves in an embarrassing situation in there. They were just about to have a good moan about the way the week was going when a very correct and proper voice chirped up,

“ I feel that I must warn you both, that you have an inspector in the next cubicle!”

That’s what I mean about them being user friendly, because I think that was very thoughtful of her to warn them that she was there.

OFSTED takes account of everyone, not just teachers............

Headmasters, auxiliaries, caretakers, parents, cooks , the children, in fact anyone who contributes to the life of the school, all come under the microscope for examination and believe me nothing escapes the notice of the inspectors.

Now I wouldn’t like to give you the impression that it was an unpleasant experience, because I know a certain person here today has still got her OFSTED to come, I would just like to reassure her that there is a point to it all.

If a school responds to the constructive criticism laid down for them during the week, and faces up to the key issues which need to be addressed then obviously there will be enormous benefits to the school.

The motto of OFSTED is a good one, one perhaps we could take on board, and that is ............... ‘Improvement through inspection’

Is this not what we ought to be hoping Lent will become for us? A time of improvement, through inspection, not just for ourselves as individuals, but as a body of people who contribute to the life of St Luke’s church in this area in which we live.

Lent has long been thought of as a pre-Easter retreat: a prolonged period of time when Christians could ‘tone up’ spiritually, not unlike the intensive training an athlete undergoes before an important race. Lent has always been taken seriously since the beginning of the early church, as it culminated in the most important day of the year for them - Easter Day; our day of Resurrection hope ,of new life of great hope and expectancy, a breakthrough! On this day they celebrated the amazing fact that Jesus conquered death and rose from the tomb. On this day they welcomed new Christian converts into full fellowship with them, and on this day they welcomed back people who had once believed in God but whose faith had grown dim and whose love had grown cold, and throughout Lent , these people would prepare for Easter by becoming familiar with the basic teaching essential to an understanding of Christianity. They would be encouraged to repent of past failures and be shown how to live life God’s way.

Committed Christians did not escape the rigours of the Lenten season. They too took it seriously and used it as a time to inspect their lifestyle, to turn their backs on sin that so easily creeps into our lives. It was a time to re-dedicate their lives to God.

God does not come crashing in making great demands upon us during Lent, he does not sit in judgement over us, condemning us. Perhaps He is more ‘user-friendly than we think, more accessible. He is everywhere , in every situation yet inconspicuous, but surely He must long for our improvement.

We can parallel our forty days of Lent, with the story of the Exodus, in which we too are gradually being rescued from the darkness of our lives(i.e. Egypt) and being prepared in the wilderness for Easter and the resurrection( in other words -the Promised Land) for in the life of Moses, we see a foreshadowing of the life and role of Jesus. Moses also being God’s representative who mediates and passes God’s word on.

The Israelites had their OFSTED in the wilderness and received a very poor collective report, for there was very little consolidation, no modification of behaviour, and very poor use of time and resources.

They were tested and found wanting. They made very little progress and would probably have scored a low grade for attainment for they were disobedient and rebellious, and did not believe in God’s promises to them.Their expectations were not very high for they grumbled and moaned against God in their hardships. They failed to trust in the One who had provided for them and who had proved sufficient for every need in the past. They failed to achieve targets and they had low priorities because they were a stiff-necked, stubborn people who were far too proud and who easily forgot the wonders God had performed in their midst.Their personal development and organisational strategies were found to be inadequate as they were forever challenging the leadership of those whom God in His wisdom had set over them.

Their OFSTED lasted forty years not five days, yet their wanderings served to discipline and instruct them, to humble them, to test their hearts and improve their minds.

In Deuteronomy 10vv12-22 we find the five key areas they needed to address, in response to the question, “So now O Israel, what does the Lord require of you?” and they were these:-

a) to fear the Lord

b) to walk in His ways

c) to love Him

d) to serve Him with all the heart and soul

e) to observe His commandments.

These statutory requirements were essential to their growth and their well being.

We can also draw parallels in Lent, with another wilderness situation . The one presented to us in our gospel reading today. Jesus too had to undergo a time of testing, and was driven out into the desert by the Spirit not to punish him or expose his weaknesses, but rather that certain essential qualities might be displayed and be shown to be genuine.

Jesus’ response to the three temptations in the wilderness, demonstrated, without a doubt,that he possessed the essential qualities necessary for his future ministry.He was able to fulfil the statutory requirements, and lead us by his example.

They were very similar in a sense to those the Israelites needed to address:-

the surrendering of himself,

whether he trusted in God,

and whether he would choose to do God’s will...........

and he fulfilled the criteria perfectly.

He came through his OFSTED with flying colours.

Perhaps at this very moment we too find ourselves in a wilderness situation?

How will we measure up to our inspection this Lent?

Will it be a time of preparation, a time to reflect upon areas of real disobedience in our lives, or will the Lenten season be nothing more than the surrendering of a few bars of chocolate?

Will it prove to be a run up to the most glorious Easter resurrection for us as Christians, a spiritual breakthrough, a time of great advancement in our spiritual growth?

What are the key issues that we need to address for ourselves and for our church, which is at the very heart of a community with obvious needs?

We don’t have the benefits of a team of inspectors to do it for us, but we do have a God we can come close to in prayer and through meditating on His word. He is closer than we think, and He longs for us to be reconciled to Him and with one another, so that His purposes for His world can be fulfilled.