On December 10, 2016, Aaron Warner was ordained in the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ) and installed as the minister of the Reformed Church of Palmerston North. Rev. Warner was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is a 2015 graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary.
About 100 people attended the ordination and installation, which took place at 1:30 on a warm Saturday afternoon during New Zealand’s summer. Rev. Albert Couperus, a recently-ordained Mid-America graduate, led the service.
“Albert was a classmate with me at the Seminary and spent all three years convincing me to come to New Zealand,” said Rev. Warner.
Another Mid-America graduate, Rev. Andre Holtslag (who supervised Aaron’s vicariate at the Reformed Church of Dovedale in Christchurch), preached from 2 Timothy 1:1-14. He focused on the essence of ministry revealed in five remembrances: prayer, fellowship, discipleship, preaching, and Jesus Christ.
Just as verse 3 notes Paul’s constant prayer for Timothy, the minister and congregation are called to pray continually for each other. Paul’s longing to see Timothy, expressed in verse 4, reflects the joy of fellowship believers can experience. Verse 5 relates Timothy’s godly upbringing and indicates the necessity to disciple others. In verse 6, Paul reminds Timothy to “kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (NASB). That gift was the calling to preach the Word. Rev. Holtslag encouraged Aaron to spend time in the Word so that he would be ready to preach it. He drew the final point from 2 Timothy 2:8, when Paul urged Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ.” A minister must always remember Christ in his personal life and in his preaching.
Rev. Michael Flinn, a retired minister and elder at Palmerston North, led the ordination section of the service. His son, Daniel Flinn, led a concluding portion of the service. He welcomed to the podium elders from several visiting churches, who brought greetings from their congregations and expressed wishes for God’s blessings. He also read letters from many other congregations without representatives present.
The Flinns have a Mid-America connection as Daniel planned to begin studies there in the fall of 2017, and his brother, Josh, graduated in 2016. Josh also persuaded Aaron to consider ministry in New Zealand, particularly at Palmerston North (which in on the North Island), and is now serving his vicariate at the Reformed Church of Nelson (on the South Island).
Aaron’s journey to ministry in New Zealand, which encompassed far more than moving his family to another country, began many years ago. He explains that God used Rev. Arthur Besteman, his former pastor in Michigan, “in a substantial way” in his life, and he made his public profession at a young age.
Having little desire for further education after high school, Aaron entered an electrician apprenticeship. Two years later, he shadowed a missionary in Toronto for a weekend and began to feel called to the mission field. But the prospect of completing both undergraduate and graduate degrees was daunting.
“I decided instead to invest myself in the church and other programs. I went on several short-term mission trips, led junior high youth group, and did a mentorship program for men dealing with substance abuse,” he said. “I had hoped these things would satisfy the hunger I had for working in ministry without all the schooling.”
Still, he continued to feel the tug toward more formal ministry and its prerequisite education. During a mission trip to Trinidad, a minister heard one of Aaron’s lectures to young people and suggested he consider ministry.
“He did not know that this had been already heavy on my heart,” Aaron said. After his return, he spoke to his own minister, who encouraged him to pursue the internal call he was feeling. He began university classes with a view toward attending seminary.
On that same trip to Trinidad, Aaron had become acquainted with Audra, a fellow team member who shared his passion for missions and interest in other cultures. The two were married in 2008 and blessed with their first child a year later.
Being a non-traditional student and caring for a family was not easy, but Aaron graduated from Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and a minor in philosophy. His plan to attend seminary, however, was put on hold.
When the Warners approached their church council for assistance, the elders expressed concern about their college debt and their anticipated second child. The council asked them to take off a year or more to try to pay down their debt.
“At first, it was difficult for us,” Aaron said, “but we soon realized the wisdom of our elders.”
Over the next two years, Aaron worked at an automatic car wash, drying cars. He took an online class from Mid-America to determine his ability to handle seminary level course work. It went well. He began full-time studies in 2012 and graduated in 2015.
The couple’s third child was born while Aaron was in seminary, and their fourth child was born in New Zealand, while Aaron served his vicariate at Dovedale. (The RCNZ requires its ministers to serve a year-long internship as a vicar in an established congregation under the supervision of an ordained minister and elders.)
When Aaron entered seminary, he and Audra had a goal of doing mission work. “New Zealand was not even a thought in our minds until I met Albert,” he said. “He helped us understand the need for pastors in New Zealand.”
By the time the Warner family arrived in Christchurch, seven out of the 20 churches had no full-time pastor. Some had been without a minister for several years. If ministers preparing to retire were not replaced, the federation could face empty pulpits in half its churches. Two of the three existing church plants had no minister.
Although Aaron and Audra realized they would miss family and friends in the United States and regretted living so far from their children’s grandparents, they came to believe that their struggles were well worth enduring to help God’s people in New Zealand.
After completing his vicariate, Aaron sustained his preliminary examination on July 8, 2016, making him eligible for call within the RCNZ. Two churches extended calls to him prior to the ten-week deadline. He accepted the call to Palmerston North on September 22, and passed a final examination on November 4 & 5.
His ordination on December 10 concluded his eleven-year seminary odyssey and marked the beginning of the formal ministry toward which the Spirit had nudged him so many years ago.
As the Warners adjust to cultural, geographical, and federational differences, they find Kiwis friendly and God faithful.
Aaron shared his personal goals. “In these first years, I hope to increase in my prayer life,” he said. “I hope to be shaped more by God’s word, so as to be a better shepherd to my family (both immediate and church). I hope and pray that God would strengthen me to the immense task that He and the church have called me to.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10-12 of the March 1, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.