By CLINT FOSTER
For the past nine years, Head Athletic Trainer Cliff Payne has been a staple at Mineral Wells High School. But the sports medicine expert simply called “Doc” by his friends is ready to make a foray into a new career path, shifting from healing the bodies of students athletes to nurturing the souls of Mineral Wells.
After being called by God, Payne took a major step toward a career in full-time ministry this month and was officially ordained as a Baptist minister on Jan. 12.
“God knew before I was even born that this is what he had planned for me,” Payne said in his office at Ram Stadium with a Bible in his hand. “God calls it a ‘noble work,’ being called into the ministry. Of course, He tells us being a Christian is not easy. You have to go through suffering and fight through temptations. But the neat thing – and one of my favorite verses in the Bible – is in Jeremiah 29:11 and it says, ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ That’s the main thing, because I know this is all part of His plan.”
Payne has no doubt that God always intended for him to enter the ministry field, but his path to that career choice was not always a straight-forward one. He said it all began before he even realized it while his family was living in Red Oak for his first job out of college.
Although he had been saved at the age of 14, Payne said he strayed from his walk with Christ during college and when he married his wife, Darla, his spiritual life was not where it needed to be.
Payne got fired from his job at a sports medicine clinic after asking for a raise and became very angry and resentful, blaming everyone but himself, in his words. But that Sunday at church he learned a lesson about contentment that turned his life around. Payne went a year without a job, living on $900 a month, but he said they never fell behind on any payments and God always provided.
“We’ve learned to trust God and whatever happens, we just turn it over to Him,” Payne said. “He tells us not to worry, to just lay it at His feet and He’ll take care of it. That doesn’t mean you won’t go through trails, but He’ll take care of it. God is a sovereign God and He’s in control of everything. “
The family spent the next few years moving from place to place: to Las Colinas and then Abilene. Payne would lose jobs by no fault of his own, but keep the faith and God would open new doors for him. He continued to listen closely to the council of pastors and mentors at each church his family attended
Finally, he felt led to return to his first job out of college in high school athletic training and applied to schools in Uvalde, Fort Stockton and, of course, Mineral Wells. After interviews at the first two schools, Payne and his wife didn’t believe either felt right.
So, on the way home from Fort Stockton, Payne asked God to forgive him for being selfish and prayed that Mineral Wells would call about a job. Lo and behold, when he got home someone from Mineral Wells High School had left a message, not five minutes after Payne had said the prayer on the road. He knew at once that God was moving his family to Mineral Wells.
Once in Mineral Wells, Payne and his family started atending Indian Creek Baptist Church, where Payne said he really started to feel pulled toward the ministry.
“People always say ‘You’re called to the ministry.’ Well, I look at it a little different,” he said. “We’re all called to be saints and be set apart from the world; to be different from the world. It was the desire of God that he placed on my heart to go into the ministry. And that’s kind of how I look at it.
That desire started getting real strong at Indian Creek.”
Payne said one of his biggest mentors at Indian Creek was the minister of music. So, when it came time to move his family to their current church home at Northside Baptist, Payne became a worship pastor, playing guitar and singing with his family in front of the entire congregation every Sunday. It’s a job he said he never imagined he could do in the past, as he was always a very shy and almost anti-social person.
But now, with his wife of 20 years and his three kids all involved in the praise band, Payne said it is an answer to prayer.
“If you’d known me 15 years ago, you’d have never thought that I could do that,” he said. “Even my mom said people wouldn’t believe that I could stand up in front of people with a guitar and sing. I have to pray every time before I get up there, because I can’t do it by myself. I can’t do anything without Christ. That’s something I’ve really come to know. Without Him, I’m nothing.”
Payne soon found a new mentor at Northside in Pastor Paul Harris. Payne said Harris helped feed his desire for ministry, as they discussed his spiritual journey going all the way back to his days in Red Oak.
But the tipping point came when Payne went with a youth group to Worship University – a ministry leadership camp for students now simply called “Lead Camp” – last summer.
“One night we were there having praise and worship time and Pastor Nathan said that if anybody felt like they were being called into the ministry, to come forward,” Payne said. “I’ve never had a feeling like that any time in my life. God literally broke me. I sat there and hesitated, and hesitated and he said ‘I feel like there’s an adult here that’s being called into the ministry.’ Well, I never did go down. I just kind of sat back.
“But after it was over, I caught Pastor Nathan outside and I said, ‘Nathan, that person was me.’ He said, ‘I know. God laid it on my heart to say that, because I knew that there was an adult here being called full-time into the ministry.’ So, I spent a lot of time with him, we prayed about it.
“When I came back up here from the camp, I visited with our pastor, Paul Harris, and I told him what had happened. He told me, ‘Well, I knew sooner or later it was going to happen.’ From then on, it’s just been a neat experience.
“God says in Romans 9:28 “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God and those who are called according to His purpose.” I look at this verse, and everything – all the churches and all the mentors that I’ve had – has all worked together. Each time we’ve been at a different church, God has taken me to the next level He wants me to go. I truly believe that’s why I’m here in Mineral Wells.”
Payne said that, although he is now ordained, he has not officially decided to leave athletic training just yet. He is trusting God for guidance and simply said “It’s not up to me, it’s up to God,” adding that he will stay at MWHS “until God moves me.”
Perhaps the main reason Payne is in no rush to leave is that, for him, athletic training has grown into just as much of a ministry as working at any church.
“Being here as an athletic trainer, I’ve also looked at this as my ministry,” he said. “There are so many kids here that have had hard lives. I want to be here for them to comfort them, to help them out during the hard times. I’m not here just to treat their injuries. I’m here to treat their spiritual needs also.”
Payne said his primary focus through this process is to not boast at what he has accomplished, but rather “boast in the Lord” and give Him the glory, quoting Corinthians 10:17. He said it was God who made this whole journey possible and it is Him who deserves all the praise.
“God knew the people I needed to be with; He knew what would be best for me to get me to that level He wants me to be at,” he said. “And the neat thing about it is, He’s not done with me yet. He’ll never be done with me until I see Him, face-to-face. And I pray on that day, He’ll tell me ‘Job well done, my good and faithful servant.’”