Noeman Diaz, planter and pastor of Iglesia Vida in La Mesa, California, is one of the few unmarried church planters in the Send Network. Our Clint Clifton sat down with him to discuss the unique benefits and challenges of planting as a single man.
Clint Clifton: There aren’t many single church planters in my observation, but the ones that are out there are, in many respects, able to dedicate themselves to the work in a way that married church planters aren’t. With so much of the urban core being single, perhaps we should have a lot more single church planters than we do. Noeman, what has planting as a single person been like for you? How do you think it differs from the experience of somebody who’s married in church planting?
Noeman Diaz: There are so many positives to it. Prior to being in my current position, I was a school teacher in music and drama. I loved doing that job, but then the Lord called me to plant a church. I became bi-vocational, and I had no worry of needing to attend to my wife or having to think about my children and making sure I’m at home at a specific time. I was focusing only on is two things: my job and what God called me to.
Eventually, the Lord led me to resign from my position at that school. Of course, in leaving my job, I did take a pay cut, but I also had the opportunity to live with my parents. I did this purposely because I wanted to guard my own testimony. For reasons of accountability, as a single man, I’m able to just not worry about that aspect. It also allows me to save more money. I receive compensation from Send Network and a stipend from the church, but I don’t have as many obligations.
Clint: I can imagine there’s a lot of shade cast at guys who live with their parents.
Noeman: No, I haven’t received any of that at all. I might get teased by some of my boys, but those are my friends, that’s what they live for – to make fun of me!
Clint Clifton: Certainly you’ve heard that sentiment, though, like, “Get a job, make your own way in life,” that kind of thing. You were living out on your own, you had a job and, for the sake of the gospel, you took what could be considered a step back into your parents’ home. How did you process that decision?
Noeman: So I definitely had a very tough time making that decision. It had nothing to do with emotional impact in terms of, oh, taking a step back and living with your parents, but it had more to do with the fact that I loved my job and the freedom and money I had.
So all these different things made me think, “Man, I basically have a dream job where I love every single person that works here. Not a single person gives me grief. And I love God. And I feel like I’m being led to go to full-time ministry.” And then it was at a moment of prayer when I realized, “Well, so who do you love more? Do you love all the things that come with comfort and this job, or do you love your Creator?”
Obviously I had to go with the latter, because God led me toward this. Ever since I was 18, I felt the calling to be a pastor. I didn’t feel the calling to church plant for several years but, at the very least, I could say that making this decision was emotionally impactful in having to leave something I enjoyed and gave me comfort. At the same time though, I feel like it made me complacent, because by having this job and all the comfort that I did have, I was more leaning on my own strengths. The church was receiving my tithe as well. But after leaving my job, everything changed, because 100% of my dependence was put on God and I no longer relied on these things that made me comfortable.
I became more focused on what God was leading me to do to build His church with the people He had placed in my life. And I was able to dig deeper in a lot of different things: I was able to evaluate our processes, our systems. I was able to attend to many different counselings that were needed. Like, there was a family that reached out to us that had come from Texas due to a COVID situation. They were desperate. If I would have been bivocational, I wouldn’t have been able to attend to this family with the very specific needs they had.
So, I saw all the benefits of having resigned from my job, and I’m enjoying all the fruit that’s coming from it as well.
Clint: When you say the fruit that’s coming from it, how’s the church going and describe how long into it you are and what the church looks like now.
Noeman: Right now we are three years in. For the first two years I was bivocational, and then, of course, we had the COVID year. I officially became a full-time pastor in September 2021.
It was so challenging, being bivo and single. I admire all the brothers that do it, but after having resigned and being single, my schedule was so wide open that the first two weeks I was like, “Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have quit my job, because I have so much extra time.”
But mentor pastors and my Send Network coach gave me ideas as to how to allot my time properly. And now I feel like I’m busier than when I was a full-time teacher – but in the great sense of the word busy. Something I’ve always wanted to do was engage with the community more. As a result of being able to allot my own time, I’ve engaged with the La Mesa Police Department and the Chamber of Commerce. I’ve established relationships and almost feel like I have more friends now than I did when I was bivocational. So being single and being able to go into all these different places where I’m called to go, the opportunities and the doors that have opened have just been unbelievable.
I’m a guy that likes to pray big, think big. In fact, that’s one of our values as a church. I challenged our congregation, in my first year of being full-time pastor and with the opportunities that the Lord has given us, to feed 1,000 families before April. They all looked at me like I was crazy! I said, “I might be, but the Lord is going to make it happen. And we’re not going to pay a single penny.” This weekend we’re hosting that event. We’re feeding 1,000 families – and we have enough food probably for at least 2,000 families.
So the Lord has been good, and this is all a result of me having this time to myself and planning and doing all these different things. But I will acknowledge that, although I am single and I have all this time, I also am very clear about allotting time to rest. One of the downfalls of being single is that you just want to keep going, going and going. You see God’s end, then you see fruit from it – and sometimes you forget to rest.
Clint: I think that’s something faced by both single and married pastors and planters. So what’s happened at the church? You talked about some of the spiritual fruit, but has the church gotten established from a financial and growth standpoint. Do you feel like the church is stable?
Noeman: At this point, I would say no. We connected with NAMB kind of late in the game, in our second year of being a church plant. We started organically, just on our own but under the umbrella of the Southern Baptist Convention. Then in March 2020, I finished the assessment process and literally two weeks later, the whole world shut down.
So we were kind of in limbo. We started receiving NAMB support in July 2020, just as everything opened back up. Then we were able to do ministry and learn. So in terms of financial stability, we were pretty much self-sustainable, but a couple things set us back. We’re getting back on track, though, and I feel like we’re getting there at a pretty steady pace. I don’t want to say rapidly, because you don’t ever want anything to happen too quickly. But we’re definitely on track. And I am seeing the church becoming less dependent on myself, and I think that’s incredible.
Clint: Are you reaching mostly young, Hispanic families?
Noeman: It started that way, and then people from all different age groups and ethnicities started coming. We initially were Spanish, but people started coming to our church who didn’t know Spanish. They stuck around though and they’re the reason we became bilingual. Originally, we had two services: a Spanish service in person and an online English service. But our online people wanted to fellowship together, so we transitioned to doing one bilingual service.
Clint: Let’s talk about guys who are single who are thinking church planting’s off limits to them because they’re single. Talk to the guy who’s thinking like that. Maybe he is qualified, young, zealous, got some experience in church ministry, has a passion to plant a church, but just thinks that’s going to happen after he’s married and settled.
Noeman: I love that question. That was my mentality, 100%. I don’t think there’s a single man out there who doesn’t have those questions running through his head. The three things that popped into my mind were: I need to be older, because I was 24 at the time when I planted; I need to be married; and I need to have more experience. And this is all a result of the natural needs of people. People usually have the expectation that their pastor’s going to be a little bit older. Married, because of the simple aspect of marriage counseling and prospective marriage. And experience, somebody who has already gone through it all.
So these three things were lingering in my head before church planting. Then I had a conversation with a brother who’s a pastor currently in Chihuahua, Mexico, but he lived here in San Diego for some time. I told him that I really wanted to plant, but these things were holding me back. He told me, first, that we can use these things that we think we’re lacking as a method of leaning more into God. We seek God more so He gives us the wisdom, the ability, and at the end of the day if God called us to do something, then there’s absolutely nothing that should stop us.
He told me, second, that I had to lean into Scripture. I remember thinking nobody’s going to listen to me because I’m single, I’m young. But Jeremiah was reluctant to be a prophet to the nations, according to what the Lord was calling him to do. And the Lord essentially told him, “Don’t say that you’re young.” He said, “I have given you the authority to preach to all the nations.” As long as we lean into preaching gospel and Scripture, God will take care of the rest. And there are so many other examples: Jonah, the apostle Paul, Jesus himself – and he was the greatest example. He is gospel.
But then it comes to the idea of, OK, but now let’s get real practical. You want to really focus on forming a team that can help supplement your needs. So for example, my parents became the ones married couples came to for counseling.
Ecclesiastes 11 talks about how people constantly look at the skies, waiting for the rain to happen and questioning whether it’s the moment to plant. But we have to trust in the one in control of the heavens who will provide rain in the first place. All we have to do is do our job and let God take care of the rest. Trust in your team, empower your team, raise leaders and God will make His work happen in His city, through your church plant.
Clint: Are there any other advantages to planting single? Do you have an advantage in working with single folks?
Noeman: Yeah. Actually, that’s a big, big reason why I feel like the church is growing in the direction it is. I’m able to be there with single folk and disciple them. And sustainable growth is generational growth. So there are young, single people I might hang out with after church or whatever. And eventually they meet somebody, they start dating, they get married and then move on to the other ministries within the church.
The secular world doesn’t care if you’re single or not, because a lot of priests are single, and they don’t understand the difference. But in the community of sister churches and meeting potential partners, first, seek God for the right words, the right wisdom, that your tongue be straightened and don’t say anything foolish, because that’s happened to me in the past. And I also would say to just be confident and rely on Scripture, believe in God’s calling for your life. There’s a group of people around you who believe in your calling, so just move forward with confidence that Christ gives us in his name.
Clint: Is there anything you would say about about financial advantages?
Noeman: Yes. First, you can focus on saving toward whatever goals you have. So in my mind, I’m driven toward the future, knowing that I’m going to be married and that I’m headed into that direction. So what am I working on currently? Well, number one, I’m working out. I’m wanting to look good for whoever that lucky lady is – just kidding! And number two, I’m paying off all my debts as quickly as possible so that by the time I do get married, I’m debt free.
Number three, since I have some “disposable income,” I’m able to treat friends to lunch, and they look back and say, “Hey, he cares about me. And he didn’t even use church funds. He used personal funds.”
Clint: Have you thought about what it’s going to look like to date as pastor or what it would look like to date somebody in your church?
Noeman: Absolutely. I do not see myself dating anybody in the church I plant. Morally, I don’t feel comfortable with it. The Send Network provides opportunities to travel and meet so many different people and talk to so many wonderful women. I haven’t had that spark yet, but at the very least, I know I have sister churches I can visit and, who knows, in one of these visits I might meet her.
Clint: So you want to get married. How proactive are you about trying?
Noeman: In terms of me being proactive, no, not right now, because I have goals for myself that are more toward where I want the church to be. I want there to be at least some sort of sustainable momentum going in a forward direction before I consider meeting someone.
Clint: So you want to get through the chaotic first years of a church plant before introducing a wife and family into the equation?
Noeman: I see the benefit and the fruit of being married in the first two years of church planting. Right now, as a single man, I’m extremely committed. And I don’t think it would be fair for my wife, and for the church as well, for me all of a sudden to change everything to accommodate whatever needs there are. I want to be completely available for my wife at the moment that is presented.
And to be honest, I know that when couples go in and they decide to church plant, they already are full on game in this mentality. But I don’t know where my future wife’s mentality is going to be. I know that God’s going to take care of all those things, but at the very least I can do my part in preparing and being forward thinking, rather than just kind of complacent and letting things go through the motions.
Clint: Is there anything else you feel like you should say?
Noeman: One thing I can say is that I feel like as a pastor, I’m able to be very profound and very intentional when it comes to discipleship, because there have been moments where I’m with men who are just in need of a conversation, and it might be 2 a.m. And it’s one of those conversations where you’re hanging out with the boys type of thing.
But then that guy, you can see in their life how internally they’re struggling with sexual temptation. And as a single church planter, oftentimes that’s kind of the question, right? So is that guy morally right? Is that guy doing everything he can to remain sexually pure? And I would say that every church planter should look at Billy Graham’s “Modesto Manifesto” as a means to guide you in the direction of how God wants you to serve Him in a way that’s pure and that honors Him.
You will be faced by temptation and always just rely on the Lord to guard you from those things. If you do have those types of temptations, maybe wait on church planting for a little bit, but until then lock your phone, have somebody help you, have somebody to find accountability with. For me, accountability has been huge, just telling someone, “This is what I’ve been going through. This is what I struggle with emotionally, sexually on occasion.” For me, it’s mostly emotionally, because there are times where you will feel lonely and you think, “Man, I just wish I had somebody to lean on.” But then there’s those beautiful moments where you realize man, just like the apostle Paul said in Acts 20: “My life is given to Christ, and no matter what happens, I’ll be satisfied.” Just the full satisfaction of knowing Christ and being able to serve Him is plenty.
Clint: I feel like in some ways, the evangelical world, especially in church planting, has been set up to favor the married guy. I’ve been in church planting for 20 years. I’ve been a part of planting hundreds of churches. I was a city missionary for 10 years, and I’ve just been doing nothing else in my adult life. And I know two single church planters.
The fact that you’re owning it and saying, “No, this is not a second-best option because I couldn’t find a wife. This is a great option that I could leverage my singleness for the kingdom.” I think what you’re doing is great and the way you’re owning is great. And whether God gives you a wife in due time, either way he’ll be glorified.
Published May 9, 2022