Garza, Warkentin share calling to MB pastoring

Tabor grads and now pastors Aaron Garza and Brent Warkentin chat about college
Aaron Garza, left, (g’14) and Brent Warkentin, right, (g’85) serve Mennonite Brethren congregations. Garza was named lead pastor at Bethesda Church in Huron, S.D., in 2022. Warkentin is closing in on two decades at Ridgepoint Church in Wichita, Kan.

Aaron Garza (g’14) and Brent Warkentin (g’85) came to Tabor College to see a calling flourish.

Garza, a San Antonio, Texas native, received a soccer scholarship and knew he wanted to explore ministry. Warkentin was living in Indonesia with his family and his first day at Tabor was the first time he had stepped foot on campus. He aspired to become a third-generation Mennonite Brethren pastor.

Warkentin is now in his 39th year in pastoral ministry and nearing 20 years at Ridgepoint Church (formerly First Mennonite Brethren) in Wichita, Kan. Garza officially took over as lead pastor at Bethesda Church in Huron, S.D., in 2022.

Beginning at Tabor College

For both, the opportunity to serve alongside Tabor peers and dive deep into the word of God served as the foundation of their careers.

Warkentin recalls sitting in the classroom of Dr. Clarence Hiebert, hearing discussions on the Sermon on the Mount, and seeing the Bible ‘come to life.’

“Clarence taught many of my classes for both majors,” Warkentin said. “He was quite influential. Students would go over to their house and they were terrific working with international students. I loved his pastoral style in bringing the Bible alive and his love for missions.”

For Garza, Dr. Del Gray and Dr. Doug Miller helped give him the tools to develop the anchors of his faith.

“Tabor gave me a filter for how to think,” Garza said. “There is a clear difference between what the Bible says and what my interpretation of the Bible says.”

During his time as a student at Tabor and while pursuing his M.Div. and Th.M., at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Garza participated in three internships at Mountain View Church in Fresno, Calif.

It led to his first full-time position in ministry, becoming the young adult pastor at one of its campuses.

“I taught in some capacity every week,” Garza said. “I had a group of up to 50 young adults that we met with. It’s where I learned to put sermons together and did the work of a lead pastor minus preaching on Sunday mornings.”

Thriving in community

As 23-year-olds and recent graduates, Warkentin remembered the time he and his wife spent working alongside and in the home of Pastor Ken and Lillian Gardner in Garden City. While in seminary in the late 1980s, the Warkentins forged a strong relationship with then-president Jim Holm.

Warkentin’s vision for the Mennonite Brethren church was further crafted as he served as an intern under Pastor Erwin Klaassen at Ebenfeld Mennonite Brethren Church near Hillsboro.

“The people I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by have mentored me and kept me grounded in ministry,” Warkentin said. “From my time as a student to my first job at Garden Valley Church in Garden City, in seminary, Buhler Mennonite Brethren, and now Ridgepoint, people pouring into my life has always been important, and that’s the type of community we see come alive in the Bible.”

Aaron Garza and Brent Warkentin in the H.W. Lohrenz Administration Building
Garza and Warkentin stand in the hallway on the third floor of the H.W. Lohrenz Administration Building – an area of campus that both knew well as Bible majors.

Both of their families have played critical roles in developing their leadership and careers as pastors. After his senior year at Tabor, Garza married his wife, Justine (Langer g’14), and they now have two children, August and Samuel. Warkentin and his wife Joan (Steinle g’85) have two daughters, Janet (Warkentin) Calvert, married to Thomas, and Stacey (Warkentin g’14) Neufeld, married to Ryan (g’16).

Warkentin’s grandfather, Elmo, pastored 11 churches and planted 7 in his lifetime. His father, Dale, pastored four congregations. That includes First Mennonite Brethren, allowing both father and son to be named lead pastors at the Wichita church.

Nearing two years in Huron, Garza said his wife’s support has been paramount in serving the congregation.

“She has told me, ‘Don’t forget about that person sitting in the back of the room,’” Garza said. “’ Don’t forget that person who feels like the outcast.’ She has such a wonderful gift of mercy and discernment.”

Sustaining calling as pastor

With nearly four decades in ministry, Warkentin said Psalms 78:72 is a verse that embodies his calling as a pastor who serves the needs of his congregation.

“And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.”

“Longevity in ministry requires a spiritually healthy church family and a spiritually healthy pastor,” Warkentin said. “It’s about becoming a congregation and pastor who are humble, kind, committed to unity, and willing to do the hard work of being ‘the church.’

Without the sustenance of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, Garza said the bedrock of his calling is missing.

“Up until now in preaching and ministering to others, I’ve seen how I need both an open Bible and my hands folded in prayer so that God would first impress my heart before I can impact others,” Garza said. “Forty years from now, my prayer is that I would have never graduated from the basics of meditating on God’s Word day and night, and remembering my deep dependency on the Holy Spirit to do what I cannot on my own.”

While candidating at Bethesda, Garza said he’ll never forget the words of the interim pastor as he went to preach for the first time.

“Feed the sheep.”

“That’s where things shifted,” Garza said of the advice. “I want to be a shepherd at this place. The best thing I can shepherd them with is God’s word. Ministry reveals the best and worst of you. It never lets you remain as you were before.”

Partnering with Tabor College

As MB pastors and Tabor graduates, Garza and Warkentin said they are continually eager to see President David Janzen and his administration build upon relationships on campus and through the denomination.

Warkentin mentioned the partnership of Janzen and Dr. Wendell Loewen, special assistant to the president for constituent engagement.

“Wendell has poured his life into the next generation and understanding them. He comes with a deep reservoir of knowledge and connecting with the next generations,” Warkentin said. “David is very intelligent and has a brilliant mind and a kind heart. That breeds trust.”

In November, Dr. Janzen and his wife, Karen, traveled to Huron, S.D., to visit the youth group at Bethesda. They shared testimonies and spent the evening with the students.

Between that investment and scholarships like the Tabor 20, designed to support Mennonite Brethren students in their decision to come to Hillsboro, Garza endorses what’s ahead for the college.

“Dr. Janzen and I greatly value each other’s input,” Garza said. “He uses the term ‘unsere Schule’ and it’s true in its definition that Tabor is ‘our school’ as a church conference. I’m proud of the investment the college is making in wanting to see our students be a part of the college.”