My hometown of Cincinnati is (in)famous for a number of reasons, not least its name. Hardly anyone can spell it, and few people, including most lifetime residents, have any idea what it means.
Cincinnati is named after an ancient Roman war hero who lived from 519–430BC, about the same time as the biblical characters Nehemiah and Esther. Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was a politically conservative aristocrat whose views landed him on hard times. His son, Caeso, fell into a series of controversies within the Roman Senate that eventually led to exile. To pay his son’s bail and prevent his execution, Cincinnatus liquidated almost all of his own assets. Destitute, he retreated to his only remaining holdings and eked out a living as a rural farmer. Several years later, however, Cincinnatus’s fortunes turned yet again. An invading army had trapped the Roman army in the hills; should they be defeated, the city would be sacked and occupied by the enemy. In a panic, the Senate voted to elect the still much-respected Cincinnatus “Master of the People” for six months, a title that gave him unilateral authority to rule the country and wage war under martial law. The delegation sent to announce this good news discovered Cincinnatus dressed in his work clothes, pushing a plow in the field. Dismayed by their dire report, Cincinnatus agreed to lead the resistance and immediately organized a successful counterattack, personally leading the Roman infantry and subduing Rome’s enemies within two weeks. While all this is impressive in its own right, Cincinnatus is not remembered for his tactical skill or his bravery in battle, but rather for something he did after the war was over. Fifteen days after being elected supreme dictator, and the day after victory was secured, Cincinnatus resigned and returned to his farm. And perhaps most incredibly of all, he did exactly the same thing a second time twenty years later. During a military uprising, Cincinnatus was again granted absolute power to quell the rebellion, again resolved the crisis, and again immediately resigned and went back to the plow. If Cincinnatus’ case is unusual—how many people would give up a throne twice in a lifetime?—it exemplifies a passion that cannot be distracted by power, money, or fame. Cincinnatus loved his country and was driven by a vision for its future. His passion to see Rome live and thrive overcame his natural human desire for personal security and advancement. Real passion, passion for a cause, is not about protecting your own interests. Passion throws everything else aside to reach a goal, no matter the cost. We may not be able to explain why we care so much. We just do, and because we do we’ll set aside short-term comfort in hopes of a greater reward. In the case of the church, true godly passion is not interested in, or invested toward, personal success. It’s about Christ and his Kingdom, and it comes to us from God through the power of his Spirit in our lives. God makes us care whether we want to or not, and He empowers us to act outside of and beyond our own interests. And if we fail to act, he’ll raise up others who will.
Passion—the capacity of human beings to work for causes that don’t immediately advance their own interests, to love and care profoundly, and to give more than we could ever hope to receive in return—is the engine of the church.
Tom Thatcher | Elemental Churches Adapted from the Elemental Churches Inventory Field Guide, part of the new comprehensive leadership development pathway to church effectiveness and health: the revolutionary Elemental Pathway.