Boy-Man Meets Jimmy Carter on the #4 Train

Leadership is broken because leaders are unbroken

I heard him before I saw him–the Boy-Man hustling to get on the #4 train.

The Yankee game had just ended, and Kyle and I were headed to Times Square so he could buy the newest Metallica CD at the Virgin Record store.

I couldn’t help but hear the Boy-Man as he and his buddy rushed for the train with us because he used the kind of language Boys use in a crowd when they want you to think they’re Men. The two Boy-Men ended up standing next to me, but I didn’t pay any notice to them when we first pulled out of the 161st Street station because my attention was attracted to a couple sitting in front of me. They were probably in their fifties and obviously in love in a quiet, gentle, understated way. He had thinning, wavy hair and a mustache, and was wearing a traditional blue blazer with a classy blue checked shirt that I really liked. She was dark-haired and dressed in black and smiled shyly at me when she saw I had noticed them. He had his arm around her shoulder and at one point she reached up and patted his hand as they exchanged a few words just for them. There didn’t seem to be any Boy-Man in him at all.

While I was enjoying this quiet reverie amidst the noisy clickety-clack of the #4 train, the Boy-Man swung into action. Literally. He began to do pull-ups on the overhead bar there for passengers to hold on to. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Boy-Man had a hunky build and could really deliver pull-ups. Next, his buddy tried to match him, but couldn’t do quite as well. So Boy-Man cheered him on, shouting, “You can do it! You can do it!” like they were working out at 24 Hour Fitness.

This exhibition continued for several minutes and then Boy-Man turned and spoke to me. “Jimmy Carter,” he said. “What?” I replied. “You look like Jimmy Carter,” he responded. “Now that’s a new one,” I declared, “but I did eat a lot of peanuts at the game today.” Just about that time the gentle lovers got off the train. He smiled and quietly said something to Boy-Man, perhaps a word of encouragement, I’m not sure, but he was gracious and pleasant and I liked him even more.

Since standing is not my favorite activity, I exercised my senior rights and sat down in the recently vacated seats, much to the disappointment of Boy-Man and his buddy. They wanted those seats. C’est la vie! But then Boy-Man did something very surprising. He spotted a young woman standing a short distance away and he actually escorted her to the empty seat next to me. It was like he was an usher at a wedding. Amazing! Boy-Man was a gentleman. He must have a mother who taught him good manners.

But Boy-Man and Buddy weren’t through with me. Buddy challenged me. “How many pull-ups can you do? Bet you a dollar you can’t do any.”

How I wished at that moment I could have stepped into my personal phone booth and come out wearing a red cape with LFI emblazoned on my chest. Then I would have done100 pull-ups. Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh! Take that, Boy-Man! And Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! Take that Buddy! Super LFI doing pull-ups on the #4 train.

But alas, there is no phone booth, and no red cape, and no LFI emblazoned on my chest, and no pull-up, and no whooshes. I just offered them the dollar up front, but they were kind enough not to take me up on the deal.

Just then Boy-Man hit me with another surprise. He held out his hand and said, “I’m Dave.” Huh! Boy-Man not only has a mother who taught him manners; he must also have a father who has taught him how to meet people. Amazing! “Hello, Dave,” I answered, “I’m Bill Lawrence.”

“And this is Travis,” Boy-Man said, introducing his buddy.

“Bill Lawrence, Travis, pleased to meet you.”

“Travis is in from LA,” he said.

“Well, my son who is standing behind you is also in from LA,” I answered. They turned and looked, but they were too far away to meet Kyle.

Next, Boy-Man Dave began to tell me about their weekend adventures.

“We’ve been to a wedding and a brunch and then to the Yankees game.”

That was confusing-there wasn’t enough time in the day to do all that.

“What time was the wedding?” I asked, interrupting him.

“O, the wedding was last night and the reception didn’t finish until five this morning. We didn’t sleep all night. Then we had the brunch and I saw my old man.”

My old man–familiar words; words I used when I was a Boy trying to be tough enough to be a Man. All of this to impress me. I wonder why.

“What are you going to do now?” I asked Boy-Man Dave.

“I don’t know. Go to my girlfriend’s for dinner until she kicks me out I guess.”

Just then we came to Buddy Travis’ station, and he got off. “Call me,” Boy-Man Dave hollered to him as he moved out with the crowd. After that he stepped into the space in front of the car doors next to me and became quiet-he morphed into an anonymous subway rider, no showing off at all, just another guy on the #4 train… Our stop was next, so I got up. On the way off the train, I shook his hand and told him “Say hello to Jimmy the next time you see him.”

As I walked through the 34th Street station I had a deep sense of regret in my heart. I liked Boy-Man Dave! He was a pain at first, but I ended up liking him. How much I would have loved to build a relationship with him so I could know him and care for him and tell him about the One who became a Boy so he could become a Man. What a delight it would be to share my pilgrimage with him and help him find the tough trail to being real.

Then I thought, What made Boy-Man Dave reach out to me? Why would a 20-year old guy want to connect with a man old enough to be his grandfather? Could it be that he saw the Boy-Man in me? Could he sense that I was an old subway strap hanger from way back in my Philadelphia days, caddying at Ashbourne Country Club with a summer sun streak in my hair, flipping fifty-cent pieces, playing the role to show that the Boy was really a Man, talking tough, and boasting about my all-night adventures? I wonder.

But aren’t we all Boy-Men? Aren’t we all showing off, doing pull-ups on the hang-on bar of life? Isn’t that what the numbers are all about? My numbers–the size of my church, the number of people who come to hear me speak, the number of people that I influence that impresses you. And your numbers–the size of your bonus, the size of the deals you close, the size of your office, the importance of your title, the name plate on your car, your zip code. It seems to me that this is what brokenness is all about. It’s all about God breaking the Boy in us so He can transform us into the Men He wants us to be.

By the way, I know there are Girl-Women, but I don’t have anything to say about that. That’s way above my pay grade. I do know this Boy-Man thing is the problem women have with men. They marry someone who looks like a Man and discover he’s still a Boy. That’s what pornography and sexual conquests are all about. That’s what control and physical abuse are all about. That’s what being a workaholic is all about. That’s what alcohol and chemical dependency are all about.

What comes to mind when you think about being a Boy-Man? I asked this question of a group of men and got some very honest answers-things they wanted to forget but can’t because they faced the fruit of being Boy-Men just about every day. Yet there is hope and an encouraging word for us Boy-Men—the word grace. Grace for Boy-Man Dave and grace for us. Let grace heal you from the Boy things you have done and transform you into the Man God created you to be.

Isn’t it interesting what you think about when Boy-Man meets Jimmy Carter on the #4 train?

Questions to ponder:
What does the boy-man look like in you? How has God led you through brokenness to shed the boy/girl and become His man/woman? What other ways can you measure yourself apart from the numbers? How does God want you to measure yourself?

(from "Boy-Man Meets Jimmy Carter on the #4 Train" @

Bill Lawrence is the President of Leader Formation International, Senior Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Ministries and Adjunct Professor of DMin Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary where he served full-time for twenty-four years (1981-2005). During this time he also was the Executive Director of the Center for Christian Leadership for twelve years.