I knew I was going to like working with Clint Clifton.
The first time we met, I could see that behind his unassuming demeanor was a brilliant mind and good-natured spirit. A longtime employee at the North American Mission Board, Clint not only planted churches but planted churches that have since planted more churches. A church-planting grandfather, so to speak, and he was just 43 years old.
Clint moved onto my team as senior director of resource and research strategy in the late summer of 2021. In the months that followed, he became a pillar (truly) of a newly-formed research and resources team as we relaunched NewChurches.com and the New Churches podcast, and as we developed multiple projects designed to strengthen pastors and planters.
Clint was driven yet easygoing, polite yet forthright, constantly candid with his feedback and opinion, yet always motivated by a desire for excellence. He built on his many years of experience working closely with pastors and planters in order to hone his instinct for how best to serve them in the trenches of ministry. He was entrepreneurial. He was passionate. He was flexible. Always quick to change course when something wasn’t working, willing to support the mission no matter who got the credit, and ready to take responsibility if he ever dropped the ball (in spite of his brilliant strategic mind, or maybe because of it, he knew he wasn’t best at keeping track of all the details!).
There wasn’t a hint of showiness with Clint Clifton. There was no facade. He was who he was. Settled and comfortable in knowing what his gifts and passions were and how best to deploy them. He confided in me when he felt certain aspects of his job were stretching him, and yet he loved new opportunities and developing new skills. He’d say, “This is harder than I thought it would be” and at the same time, “Don’t make it easier. I want to grow and get better.”
Clint usually opened our meetings in prayer by saying “Jesus, we love you,” as if to make sure, no matter what was going on or what challenges our team was facing, it was love for Jesus that motivates all the activity and planning. And it was love for Jesus that propelled Clint into multiple avenues of action—fostering and adopting, loving his wife and five kids, networking with church leaders, and showing hospitality to people in need.
Working with Clint gave me a front-row seat to someone constantly listening and learning from pastors and planters—and then pouring wisdom back into them through mentoring, podcasting, speaking, and writing. Just last week, our team was together in Alpharetta fellowshipping, praying, planning, and strategizing. I got to see him in action on Wednesday, as he poured into leaders in training. One was his oldest son, Noah.
On Wednesday night, we enjoyed Tex Mex while talking about the future and laughing about some of our past experiences (both of us were veterans of Cracker Barrel). Thursday was full of meetings—brainstorming in the morning, and then in the afternoon laying out key components of a strategy for resourcing pastors. We walked out of headquarters together that afternoon and parted ways in the parking lot.
The next day, I had to break the news to each member of our team, that Clint didn’t make it home. First shock, then sadness. And so now, I’m pushing back the tears to say something fitting for a great colleague who became a good friend. And I ache for his wife, Jennifer, and their children, and for his church family, all devastated by this unfathomable loss of a good man in the prime of life.
It makes sense that Clint’s church (Pillar Church of Dumfries, VA) has set up a memorial fund that will assist in future church planting. There was no cause closer to his heart. The man was a genius, with an encyclopedic knowledge of church dynamics and a palpable passion for seeing the kingdom extended through the multiplication of healthy churches. Continuing that work is the best way to honor his legacy.
As I reflect on my friendship with Clint Clifton and the joy and expertise he brought to our team, I feel a mix of grief and gratitude. Grief at losing him suddenly, but gratitude for God crossing our paths and giving me the privilege of working alongside this man. But most of all, there’s the tearful thanksgiving in knowing that, even if it wasn’t in the way we expected Thursday evening, he did make it Home.
Until we meet again, my friend… “Jesus, we love you.”