Dr. Clayton King
Written by Andrew J. Beckner
Clayton King wants to admit something
It’s a Monday afternoon, and he’s sitting in his kitchen, looking totally relaxed. Never mind that in 12 hours he’ll be 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, headed toward the Holy Land.
“I’ve got a bad habit,” he says.
It’s curious hearing confession from a man who was first called to be a preacher at the age of 14. (He’s 50 now.) Still, what he’s owning up to isn’t a sin—even if it makes some of us cringe. So, here it comes:
“If I’m taking a domestic flight, I pack literally about 10 minutes before I walk out the door.”
Today he’s giving himself a little more margin: he’ll start packing about an hour and a half before heading to the airport.
For Clayton King, though, gearing up for an international journey is old hat. He’s been to 54 countries; the upcoming trip will be his 12th to Israel. And each time the goal is the same: to preach the Gospel and make disciples.
“I mean, I’ve got the rest of the day.” He offers a what’s-the-big-deal? shrug of his broad shoulders. “I’ve done most of my work. I’ve already been to the gym. Went to the post office, paid some bills. I’ve got all my clothes washed and folded. They’re just not in the suitcase. Hey, that’s half the battle right there.”
Behind him, Sharie King is bounding around the house, in and out of the room. If you think she’s frantic, you’d be wrong; she’s nonplussed with it all. After all, they’ve known each other for 26 years (and married for 24.) They have two sons: Jacob, 20, and Joseph, 17. Sharie knows the drill. She’s a preacher’s wife, through and through.
More than that, Clayton and Sharie King are a team.
“Evangelism, I think, feels so much like our focus, and it is. That’s a lot of what Clayton ends up doing and preaching when he travels,” Sharie King says. “But if you really look at our ministry, one of our biggest goals is to make sure that we’re teaching what people need to learn.”
‘Anderson University offered us office space on campus and a role as a ministry partner and a place as a member of this community. By every measurable metric we have increased our impact since we moved to Anderson University, and so much of that is because of our shared convictions and culture. Our relationship with AU is a mission fit and a culture fit.
– Clayton King, Ph.D
Clayton King Ministries, Co-Founder and President
And what they learn from Clayton and Sharie King is Jesus. Why he came. What he did. Who he is. That, in a nutshell, is the purpose of Clayton King Ministries (CKM.)
The history of that purpose? Well, that’s another story.
And a long one, as it turns out.
Maybe it started in 1995.
That’s the year Clayton King Ministries became a 501(c)3 nonprofit. But it really grew into a global ministry in 2014, when Clayton King moved its headquarters to Anderson University. It’s here on AU’s campus, every year, that CKM hosts Crossroads Summer Camp, six weeks of immersive evangelism and discipleship for thousands of young people. Last summer alone, around 6,200 campers attended.
But that’s starting the story in the middle. You have to go back a bit to get the full picture. You have to go back to the beginning of Clayton King’s life—at least for now.
‘The partnership of CKM and AU is most definitely a ‘God thing’ that He is using to build and shape God’s kingdom. Clayton and Sharie and their family have become family to us. We love them and are thrilled they are a part of AU and we are a part of CKM. We encourage and help one another, and it’s exciting. We believe in one another and we delight in every life touched in the name of Christ through our partnership.
– Evans P. Whitaker, Ph.D
President & Professor of Management,
Leadership & Organizations
It’s a story he tells often, and with pride. His biological mother was just a teenager when she discovered she was pregnant. Her choice was the first gift Clayton King received: life. She chose to give birth, and King was raised by his adoptive family in Fountain Inn, South Carolina.
The celebrated author Joseph Campbell would have called it an example of The Orphan Archetype. Campbell’s idea is a dramatic one, played out in popular fiction over and over again. Bruce Wayne. Harry Potter. Luke Skywalker. Campbell theorized—and pop history bears him out—that in each origin story there comes a moment when the adopted child learns that the couple who raised him are not his biological parents. That epiphany is a catalyst for the character’s journey.
But that’s not Clayton King’s story.
“I don’t remember a moment when I ‘discovered’ that I was adopted. I just always knew it, and it was always very special to me,” he says.
It was special because of his parents, Jane and Joe King. Explaining his parentage, and how he became a member of the King family, was simple: it was God’s will.
“They would always connect it to salvation. They would say, ‘We adopted you, but one day you’ll be adopted in Jesus’ family.’ They never sprung (my adoption) on me. How it happened is a long story, but the real short version is that I always knew, and they always made it a special thing.”
Their words were prophetic. He was adopted into the family of Christ when he was 14 years old. “I was kneeling at an altar at a little church in Greer (South Carolina). That was the night I became a Christian, there at that altar praying the sinner’s prayer, and I felt a strong, unmistakable call to preach the gospel,” Clayton King says. “It is very uncommon. Most people in the ministry don’t have that kind of experience. But that was my experience. And, since the eighth grade, I’ve never really pursued anything else besides it.
“So, at 14 years old, when I surrendered to the ministry, I think that’s probably what set the trajectory of Crossroads Summer Camp and Clayton King Ministries.”
That was 36 years ago. But that’s not how the story began, either.
A quick detour from our tale: you should know there would be no story without Sharie King. There would be no Clayton King Ministries.
She is his confidante, partner and wife. And while he couldn’t have known how his life would unfold, Clayton King knew he wanted Sharie to be a part of it. They met on a college campus, of course.
“I was preaching at UNC-Chapel Hill at a big college event. There were about 3,500 college students there. And before the event started, I saw her in the crowd,” Clayton King says. “She was just a few rows away from me. It felt like a bolt of lightning struck my head and my heart at the same time. And I knew at the moment—I’m not embellishing, and I’ve not changed this story once over the years—that was my wife. I didn’t even know her name.
“But I met her that night after the service was over. She told me she was an outdoor rec major. So, I hired her to be our rock-climbing instructor for our second Crossroads Summer Camp. We fell in love that summer.”
Since her days helping teach kids how to scramble up the side of mountains, Sharie King has become integral to Clayton King Ministries and the work being done from its office on Anderson University’s campus. Rock climbing has given way to camps, marriage conferences and, yes, trips to places like Israel.
“What we do is discipleship oriented. For example, we have coaching networks for pastors and youth leaders, and all of it is geared toward discipleship,” Sharie King says. Crossroads Summer Camp is perhaps the best example. “One of the main focuses is to make sure that the staff coming in gets really good teaching, and we pour into them in intentional ways while they’re working with us.”
Clayton King started Clayton King Ministries from his dorm room at Gardner-Webb University.
As it grew over the next five years, Clayton King, still living in North Carolina, became a teaching pastor at a small church plant–NewSpring Community Church. Its first service was January 16, 2000, at the Sullivan Building on the campus of Anderson University. (Today, NewSpring is, of course, one of the largest congregations in the South.)
Three years later, Dr. Evans P. Whitaker—himself a graduate of Gardner-Webb University—became AU’s 12th president. The two men knew each other “vaguely,” Clayton King recalls.
“Every time Clayton spoke at AU, it struck me how much he and Clayton King Ministries (CKM) were so consistent with the culture and Christian educational mission of our campus. The two organizations were so in sync, that I felt the two of us would be brought together in mutually beneficial and complimentary ministry. I kept telling Clayton after each visit that while I didn’t want to pressure him to move the ministry, if there was ever a time when he felt that God was leading CKM to make a move, Anderson University would welcome them with open arms. (Of course, silently I was hoping and praying that God would move him!) The partnership of CKM and AU is most definitely a ‘God thing,’ that He is using to build and shape God’s kingdom. Clayton and Sharie and their family have become family to us. We love them and are thrilled they are a part of AU and we are a part of CKM. We encourage and help one another, and it’s exciting. We believe in one another and we delight in every life touched in the name of Christ through our partnership,” President Whitaker said.
The acquaintances became fast friends. “Around 2010, President Whitaker extended an invitation for me to pray about moving our ministry to Anderson. I would come to campus to preach from time to time, and he would always come over and say hello and remind me of the open invitation.”
The move took place, officially, on August 1, 2014. In all, 12 people took the journey from Boiling Springs, North Carolina, to Anderson, South Carolina. CKM staff members sold their houses and were living in residence halls at AU—all while Crossroads Summer Camp was ongoing.
“It was a crazy time, lots of no sleep during that last week of camp. The day we came down here pretty much everyone was homeless, or all of their stuff was in boxes,” Sharie King says. “It was a combination of fear and excitement. We kind of felt like the Israelites, you know? We’ve crossed the Red Sea and we’re on this great adventure. We don’t have anything predictable. We’re just sort of waiting for God to drop manna from heaven. And he did,” Clayton King says. “It was the best decision we ever made as a ministry.”
Ministry isn’t just a calling for Clayton and Sharie King. It’s in their blood.
Now we’ve finally reached the beginning of the story. It starts in 1494 in the small village of Stinchcombe in Gloucestershire, England. That’s where Clayton King Ministries began. It’s where William Tyndale—a leader in the Protestant Reformation and the man who translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English—was born. Branded a heretic, Tyndale was put to death by representatives of the Holy Roman Empire. He was just 42-years old. Genealogical records that far removed can be spotty, so we can’t be sure of the full extent of Tyndale’s descendants. But two of them are Clayton and Sharie King.
‘What we do is discipleship oriented. For example, we have coaching networks for pastors and youth leaders, and all of it is geared toward discipleship. Crossroads Summer Camp is perhaps the best example. One of the main focuses is to make sure that the staff coming in gets really good teaching, and we pour into them in intentional ways while they’re working with us.
– Sharie King
Clayton King Ministries, Co-Founder and Speaker
“We didn’t even realize it until I took a DNA test. So, we have a spiritual legacy that dates back to the 1400s,” Clayton King says. “We both love the Bible. Sharie absolutely loves to study it and teach it. I love to read it and preach it. We love to talk about it together. There’s not a day that goes by in our home when the two of us aren’t talking about the Bible. Literally not a day. So, we think about our spiritual heritage, and this thing God led us to discover in our 40s, that we’re both descended from the man that literally gave his life to make the Word of God available to people in their common language.”
“God honors the prayers of generations, of the people who have gone before you. I don’t know how he does that,” Sharie King says. “Somehow, I’m in this lineage of people who love God. When I was in eighth grade, I took a class called Christian heritage, and we had to read about martyrs and stories of people who are faithful to God and gave their lives to God. Reading those stories about people who conquered fears that are so much greater than I go through means I can have this faith. It’s the sort of connection and it’s mysterious and it awakens something in you and you’re alive.
Together, AU and Clayton King Ministries are stirring the echoes of Christian forefathers—and it has borne fruit. All told, more than 100,000 students have attended summer camps and winter conferences at Clayton King Ministries. More than 1,000 men and women have served on staff. Together, Clayton and Sharie King have ministered in 60 countries. They’ve written 21 books between the two of them. They’ve both worked with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and appeared on the BGEA radio network. In fact, Clayton King was recently given a primetime preaching slot—every Sunday at 6 p.m.—on the BGEA-owned The Light FM (locally available at 106.9 FM and everywhere online.) And Clayton King was awarded a doctorate of humanities by Anderson University, where he serves as a distinguished professor of evangelism.
“Anderson University offered us office space on campus and a role as a ministry partner and a place as a member of this community,” Clayton King says. “By every measurable metric we have increased our impact since we moved to Anderson University, and so much of that is because of our shared convictions and culture. Our relationship with AU is a mission fit and a culture fit,” Clayton King says.
That relationship has helped bring new students to Anderson University. Each fall, a number of students who first heard of AU through their attendance at Crossroads or a CKM event enroll as AU freshmen. What’s more, CKM has hired a number of AU students to serve as Crossroads camp staff and as ministry interns.
It’s all more than Clayton King expected.
“I never wanted to be a preacher. I never wanted to be in ministry. I wanted to play professional football and be a hunting guide in Alaska and farm and ride four-wheelers. That’s really all: hunting, fishing, riding and taking care of a little farm,” he says. “But my grandmother always used to tell me, ‘You draw a crowd, people naturally follow you and you have a loud voice.’ She used to say, ‘You’re either going to be a politician or a preacher.’”
She was right, of course.