ALPHARETTA, Ga. – When Clint Clifton was tragically killed in January of this year in an aircraft accident, he left behind a legacy of faithfulness as a pastor, a church planter and, most importantly, a husband and father. Many testified, in the days and weeks after his death, to his fervent desire to see the gospel go forth.
Clifton served as senior director of resource and research strategy at the North American Mission Board (NAMB) at the time he died, a role he filled due to his passion to support and develop the next generation of mission-focused leaders in the church.
Clifton’s son, Noah, described this aspect of his dad’s legacy during his father’s memorial service.
“My dad would repeat the words of Ephesians 4:12 often. ‘Equip the saints for the work of the ministry for building up the body of Christ,’” Noah said. “He took this verse as his own personal mission. He figured out a formula that churches make disciples, and disciples make churches. This is why my dad spent so much of his time training and equipping new leaders so that more churches can be planted. My dad would always say that when a church gets planted into a community, it is like a disciple-making factory has been planted into that community.”
One of Clifton’s final projects was a short book written to help church leaders do exactly that—make disciples who make churches. The book, How to Start a Residency: Turning Members into Missional Leaders, affords Clifton another opportunity to pass his wisdom along to pastors and church leaders as a free resource through NewChurches.com, a site he helped steward.
“Clint believed that everyday pastors were the sleeping giant for training the next generation of church planters and that church-based residencies were the best opportunity for seeing a genuine multiplying movement in the future,” said Colby Garman, lead pastor of Pillar Church of Dumfries, Virginia, which was founded by Clifton in 2005 and became one of Outreach Magazine’s top 100 reproducing churches in the United States.
“He didn’t just put the ideas in a book but lived them out day after day in our work together,” Garman continued. “In this final book that he left for us, you can find the building blocks that provided the foundation for his extraordinary impact. They are simple, reproducible and ready for you to carry on the work wherever God has placed you.”
One of the striking elements about the book is its cover—a drawing of a single-engine aircraft flying through the clouds. Given how Clifton died when the plane he was piloting crashed in north Georgia, his colleagues at NAMB considered changing the cover but hesitated and asked his family for input since it was something Clifton had created personally.
“Clint designed the cover himself. He loved it; he was proud of it,” said his wife, Jennifer. “If you could have seen how his face lit up when he finally finished the cover design, how excited he was, you would have also left it like he designed it. It is how the kids and I can honor all his hard work and passion for church planters.”
Jennifer said of her late husband that he only had two hobbies, church planting and flying, and that Clifton wove the two together in How to Start a Residency. Beyond bringing the two together in his book, he used flying to fuel his passion for church planting.
“In his last few months, most of his flying time was to see his church planters. Flying provided him more time on the ground with his planters rather than wasting time driving in his truck,” Jennifer said. “All he ever desired to do was to spend as much time as possible encouraging, loving and supporting those out planting churches.”
Clifton’s son Noah was one of those church planters Clifton loved and encouraged as Noah participated in his father’s last residency cohort. Before Noah was a church planting resident, though, he was Clint Clifton’s son above all.
“The weird balancing act of dad and pastor was something my dad made very simple for himself. He was just my dad,” Noah said. “He trusted God and his fellow elders at our church to pastor me, and he focused on raising me.”
While Noah said he had a front row seat to his father’s ministry and learned much from watching his dad, Clifton was a father first.
“The most impactful thing my dad did was to be a faithful Christian who loves Jesus and wanted to bring glory to God by making disciples who make disciples,” he said. “The impact of watching him do that is infinite for me and many others around the world.”
Dozens of pastors, church planters and other leaders will leave similar legacies because Clint Clifton poured his life into and discipled them, and his final book will enable his wisdom to continue doing so.
“I challenge every pastor and church leader to read and heed it,” wrote Trevin Wax, NAMB’s vice president of resources and research who worked directly with Clifton. “There’s nothing stopping you from starting a residency and pouring into the lives of future leaders. And you’ll find no finer example of how to do it than that of Clint Clifton.”
Published May 16, 2023