I worked as a management consultant for fifteen years before settling down with the company I am currently with. Like attorneys and used-car salesmen, consultants are subject to their fair share of derision and ridicule. I honestly couldn’t tell you why, since it is such a fine and upstanding profession, but I hear it all the time. An enthusiastic colleague will approach me in the hallway with a loud voice, coming a bit too close to my face, saying, “Hey, Brad! You were a consultant, right? Well, you know what they say about consultants?”
“No,” I say patiently, wondering if this could possibly lead to even a tiny shred of amusement.
My colleague continues. “Consultants are the ones who borrow your watch to tell you what time it is!”
Yes, ha ha. That is so funny. Especially the 50th time I’ve heard it.
Or, how about this clever twist on the light-bulb joke:
Q: How many consultants does it take to change a light bulb?
A: It depends – How large is your budget?
Now that one really is funny.
Some have even gone so far as to claim that consulting is the oldest profession in the world, pointing to the serpent in the Garden of Eden as the first consultant. “Come on, Eve! Take a bite,” says Eve’s crafty advisor. “Trust me, it’s best practice. That apple will make you really, really smart. And pretty, too!”
You can go ahead and make all the consulting jokes that you want. The truth is, being a management consultant rocked. It was stimulating, challenging, and you got to see the direct results of your work. I liked the way you could walk into a business situation without any preconceived ideas of what was what, get a lay of the land, and then generate a solution which usually made a great deal of sense to everyone in the room. Then after the brilliant implementation was complete, you shake hands, pack up your PowerPoint presentations, collect your fee and move on to the next job. It was very rewarding.
I recently developed an even greater admiration for the profession when I discovered that Jesus himself had a brief stint as a management consultant. That’s right, Jesus was a business consultant. You can read it for yourself, right there in the Gospel of John, chapter 21. At this point in the gospel story Jesus had already risen from the dead, but he was a little spotty on making public appearances. The disciples hadn’t seen him in a while, and I am sure they were getting antsy, unsure of what they were supposed to do next. Maybe they were bored, too. One day Peter looks out at the lake and says, “I’m going fishing.” Just like that, like he couldn’t take one more minute of waiting around for nothing to happen. A few of the other disciples jumped on board. “Good idea, Peter. I’m with you.”
So off they went into Peter’s boat, back to their old fishing jobs that they knew so well. And who knows? Maybe they were even hoping to make a couple of bucks while they were at it, in an attempt to do something productive instead just sitting around all day in that stuffy Upper Room.
They ended up fishing all night long without getting any results. Not only had Jesus stood them up for the past few weeks, but they couldn’t even do their old job right. Nothing seemed to be going their way. Those fishermen were probably not in the best of spirits by the time the sun began to rise that morning. Next thing you know, Jesus shows up on the scene. He’s walking along the beach in a oh-it’s-no-big-deal-I-am-risen-from-the-dead-and-I-think-today-maybe-I’ll-just-make-a-fire-and-cook-breakfast-for-my friends kind of casual way. The disciples didn’t really noticed him.
Jesus calls out to the boat from the shore, “Hey guys, have you caught anything?” And they shout back, “No!” Then Jesus goes into consulting mode and offers some business advice to his client: “Throw your net down on the other side, and you will catch some fish.”
Well. I am a little surprised that none of those hearty fishermen had thought of that idea before. They had been working all night, after all, and I am pretty sure there were some seasoned professionals in the crew. But that’s how it is when you are a consultant. You always see the thing that is so obvious, yet no one else has noticed because they are so darn close to it.
Upon hearing this very basic suggestion on how to do their jobs better, the men shrug their shoulders. “Ok, what the hay,” they mumble, and down goes the net, across to the other side of the boat. And, Surprise! The net immediately fills up with fish, becoming so heavy that they can’t even heave it up onto the boat. “Who was that mysterious consultant on the shore?” One of them probably asked. “We should hire him on a regular basis.” Then it suddenly dawns on John. He lets the net slip from his hands as he slowly turns towards the shore. He takes a closer look at that consultant on the beach. He is frozen for a second and the breath goes out of him. “It is the Lord!” he whispers. Then his face lights up. “It’s Jesus!” He shouts to the others. “It’s him! Jesus came back to see us!”
Hearing this, Peter plunges into the water, splashing and flailing back to shore so that he can be the first one to reach Jesus while the others lug in their awesome haul. As the disciples make their way back to the shore, they smell something good and notice that Jesus has a nice toasty fire going with a couple loaves of bread and some fish on the stove. Then they all share a very nice reunion brunch.
I think of how often that story plays out in our careers. We all have gone through periods where we are beating our heads against the wall trying to make ends meet, doing our best to hit goal or meet projections, and nothing is happening. And maybe you haven’t seen Jesus in a while, either. You are frustrated, sweating, cursing, despondent and exhausted, wondering where Jesus went and why he hasn’t shown up lately to help you out. “Why does he not understand my situation!” you think to yourself.
Then Jesus breezes in and says, “Hi! Watcha doin’?” It seemed like he wasn’t paying much attention to you, but maybe it was the other way around. The truth is that Jesus knows much, much more about your little situation than you give him credit for. He usually has a plan, too, but for some reason he doesn’t think we always need to know about it. But this is what I do know: Jesus cares deeply about the details of our business lives, as much as he cares about any other aspect of our lives. He knows how hard we work, how important our jobs are, and how discouraging and bleak our circumstances can be at times. And although he may not necessarily create a magical path to success for our every endeavor, he certainly is active, moving and breathing in and among our very existence, flowing through all of our creative efforts.
We should not hesitate for one second to ask Jesus to help us with our jobs, because he obviously wants to be involved. Sometimes he may even surprise us with a big catch, followed by a lovely brunch to celebrate.
Or, he may send in a consultant