Teale Gunter on Ministry, Processing Pain, & Choosing Intimacy Over Netflix
Teale Gunter, 34, is a photographer and the Director of Operations at Given Ministries. Originally from Southern California, she lives in Nashville, TN, with her husband Justin and their two boys. As a photographer, the confidence and joyfulness she carries instantly puts you at ease — I know, because she has taken literally hundreds of photos of me, including those from our wedding day. She is a powerhouse of freedom, the kind of person who can enter into any relationship or situation and from it release purpose, humor, and joy.
What does ministry look like for you?
Justin is passionate about ending sex trafficking throughout the world. Even before we got married, we began dreaming about Given Ministries — which is kind of a buffet of things that came from making contacts with other ministries and seeing how they needed help.
We decided it was more beneficial to come alongside people who were already doing stuff and bring them more financial backing and volunteers. It has been phenomenal. Currently we’re in Uganda, Costa Rica, and Northern Ireland, and we’ve got some others on the horizon.
Our main ministry here, in our home, is to help young people figure out what their passion is and how to go after it. The Lord has made our home a place of safety where people open up and somehow find passion through whatever we get to share together.
"People say, 'You can’t be around Justin and Teale without feeling motivated or feeling convicted about not being motivated.' We believe that God’s heart is for you to start running after what you were made to do and stop wallowing in things like, 'Am I qualified or not?' God made you qualified. Let’s figure out what you love to do and let’s do it."
That’s the exact impression I get from you. Even when we’re taking photographs, I feel more awesome, more free. I can tell you’re comfortable being yourself, and that helps me to be comfortable with myself.
Being yourself is the only way you give yourself permission to figure out what you're made to do. I dislike it when people say, “I want that person’s calling. I want it to look like that.” Well, it might look similar to that, but it’s not going to look identical to that because you’re totally different. If you try to run after that, you're probably going to feel always this comparison to those same people. But what if you're not called to that? What if you’re called to something even more radical that fits you way better that would make you a lot more joyful and fulfilled?
Was there a situation or season that gave you this passion for seeing people find their passions and really go after it? Did you ever struggle with who God made you to be?
Junior high was difficult for me and that’s actually when I came to the Lord. I remember being made fun of in public school, just for being myself, being silly, being a dork.
My mom and dad were separated, but I would go down to my dad’s every other weekend. I got saved at a church service with my dad. I remember starting to build a relationship with the Lord but not knowing the Holy Spirit. During that time I wasn’t comfortable being myself. I felt like no one really accepted me being silly Teale or goofy, full of life Teale. I remember two years of praying, “Lord, let me be myself and love myself. Lord, let me be a person that people love being around and feel encouraged by.”
When I started going to church every week and getting involved in the youth group, I became that friend that everyone wanted to be around. I was the girl all the guys wanted to date. Before that, I was a friend to people in high school, but I was a “Come pick us up, we’ve been drinking”-kind of friend.
"I was totally myself and I remember there was a freedom I’d never had before. I think that’s when I began to feel so full of love from the Lord and from those around me that I wanted to give."
I got involved in ministry and from about 18 years old on I mentored at least three to four girls all the time. That’s when I came to life: giving back to girls, teaching self respect-type classes, and studying all the time to teach bible studies with my junior high group. I had 30 girls under my care and it was amazing. I came to life. Ever since then, I get so much passion and joy from watching people come to life, figure out what they're made for, and do it.
What’s something you’ve been learning about identity as someone who has always been involved with ministry?
My strongest life languages are Mover, Shaper, and Doer. So I’m always motivating, always doing, always planning. One of my weaknesses is to slow down. That’s one thing the Lord has been teaching me, and He's taught me this a lot through my husband.
"Rest so important. Rest revives you to remember God can handle a lot of this without you, but He loves doing it with you. It allows you to feel the peace of knowing that you're not the one that’s actually making it happen, but he is using you to do it."
I admire you and Justin and the example of marriage you live. What’s your story and what did it teach you about intimacy?
When I met Justin, I was at a point in my life where I was frustrated with not being able to find a godly man that was passionate enough to go after the stuff I wanted to go after, as well with the boldness of what I wanted to go after.
There was a short period of time before I met Justin where I hung out with some men that didn’t love the Lord, but they were manly men -- I saw a drive in them that matched my drive to go after things, not live a mundane life, to make a change. It got old pretty quick when I realized I couldn’t relate on any kind of spiritual level with them. I felt convicted the whole time.
I remember saying, “Lord, I'm so sorry. It’s just been so hard because I haven’t seen anything. I've been pursued by men who love Jesus, but they’re just not bold men like you've called my heart to.”
There’s this amazing prophet who called me out at one of our college retreats. This was after my little spurt with just being attracted to bold men, whether they loved the Lord not and realizing that goes nowhere. He said, “You have been settling. Your husband is coming in eight months, so you should prepare your heart.”
That word brought my heart to life and allowed me to rest. I knew I didn’t have to do anything for that man to come in eight months, other then be with Jesus and get my heart prepared to be a wife that deserved this man who was coming for me.
I took that time to get really close to the Lord, rest, and not seek out the affection of men. I kept serving. And then Justin kind of took me by surprise. He was overseas. He didn’t come in the way that I had thought "powerful me" could make a man appear. Justin did it in a way that only the Lord could’ve made it happen. I had nothing to do with it.
It had to do with someone else talking about me in a foreign country, that caused him to say that he wanted to figure out what my name was and who I was and pursue me. That’s the Lord’s heart, to let you know that he loves you so much, that you sometimes will have nothing to do with him bringing him the most phenomenal gift your way.
It also has something to do wth my personality. Because I'm so bold, I thought I could make it happen. And God was like, “Nope, you’ll have nothing to do with this.” And since then Justin has never stopped pursuing me or giving me grace.
"The testimony I want to give to other women is this: God is so good that if you wait, if you pray, if you're persistent to say to the Lord “This is exactly what I want,” but also “Give me more than I want because, I actually don't know what I need until I get married,” God will bless you."
I feel like I’ve married a man that somehow, in mysterious ways, calls me closer to the Lord every day because of how sweet, kind, gracious, compassionate, and full of drive he is. I always thought I’d be the one leading the charge on ministry and stuff. It blows my mind how much Justin and I love to dream together.
Did you ever go through a difficult season of intimacy with the Lord?
There was a season where I was falsely prophesied over about a marriage. It really wiped out my heart for a little bit of time, because I had to hold secrets in my heart while also wanting embrace it because I got a prophetic word about it. But we didn’t tell anyone about it.
After two years of holding that prophetic word inside of me and keeping a relationship secret, I told the Lord, “I have to give it to you. I have to have covering over this. It can no longer be a secret.” I shared it with my dad and pastors, and it was kind of broken off of me.
"It was painful, because you plan your life around something you think the Lord said. It was painful for a very long time, having to reposition my whole idea of what my future looked like. Learning to trust that God is in control and that being out in the open about something was way more profitable. That was the darkest part of my testimony: trying to walk through something on my own and knowing that I needed covering badly."
Once it happened, it felt like a huge loss. But then the Lord restored that pain incredibly with Justin — by using prophecy. Where I had been falsely prophesied over, I was rightly prophesied over. The Lord knows what to use sometimes to heal our heart, to use what hurt us to restore us.
What did it look like to live in that time day to day with the Lord while you were experiencing that pain and disappointment?
It was so painful. It wasn't just painful in my heart. It was painful physically.
I had no where to run but to God. I was so frustrated that talking with a human being about it didn’t help. A lot of time they couldn’t relate, because everyone’s story is so specific and different. I remember clinging to the Word, clinging to ministry, knowing that the more I gave of what God had given me, the more he would fill me up.
My intimacy with the Lord grew a lot in that time of reestablishing who I was apart from that prophecy and what God had spoken about who I am. Not asking, “What am I going to do next, who am I going to marry?” but simply “Who am I to you? Fill me up again.”
I remember long times of reading my bible, learning how to soak, and learning how to trust that he's placed authority over me, because I was frustrated with people in authority over me for how things were handled.
I got really close to God in that time because of how much pain I was in. The pain came from not understanding. I was so confused, and having affection for the person didn’t help. But where I was asking the Lord to just take the feelings and emotions away and bring more vision or a different prophetic word, all God wanted was intimacy from me. He just wanted me to trust that no matter what, I hadn’t messed up his plan.
"I think in pain we grow really close to God, if we choose to. We can choose to go another way if we want. But when theres nothing else to do, he’s the safest place. Always."
Would you say photography is a ministry for you?
It’s definitely a ministry for us. I started wedding photography after I started shooting on the missions field. When I came home from the missions field, I realized I need an occupation and people were loving the photos I took and I thought maybe I could do wedding photography.
When I shot my first wedding I remember thinking, “I love this!” Why? Because it’s a ceremony before the Lord. It’s someone’s most important day. It’s one of the most important days that someone needs love, affection, encouragement, and a listening ear. And I thought, that’s me! I can do this. I fell in love with the availability to one’s heart on a wedding day, because it is such an important day. And if you’re a Christian, the Holy Spirit will always be there. If I can help that happen, thats life to me.
For Justin and I, it’s a ministry that we do kind of naturally. It’s just part of who we are and what we do. When we show up at a wedding, we immediately know we’re bringing Holy Spirit, whether they know God or not. We get to pray for people and it’s amazing to watch people who’ve never been prayed over go, “Oh my gosh, what was that?”
Is there anything you could pass on one thing to other women to encourage or to help them in the area of intimacy?
Intimacy for me is always a choice. I’m not naturally an intimate person. I’d rather go get something done with Justin than be intimate with him, which is the opposite for him. It's the same with my relationship with the Lord.
"I’d rather go do something radical with Jesus than actually sit down and just listen to him. But that’s not his heart — he’d rather spend tons of time just sitting with me then going and doing something. They’re both important to him, but my heart is the most important thing to him."
Instead of me editing and watching a Netflix show, it’s me thinking through in my head, “How am I going to further my development closer to the things I want to do with the Lord, while I'm sitting here editing?” I’m going to put a podcast on, even if I’d rather watch a funny cop show.
It’s amazing how fast the Lord honors me — because within 30 seconds, I’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit. I realize God blesses me when I choose him over my mindless entertainment or whatever it is. Maybe it’s waking up in the morning and putting worship music on instead of cartoons for my kids.
When I sit down at night and I’m tired, I don’t talk myself out of reading my bible because I’ll just fall asleep. I turn on my app that has bible videos, because it’ll keep my attention. I’m still spending time with the Lord and learning his word. I was a bible major, so at times it’s easy to say, “I’ve read that, I don’t need to read it again.” But that’s ridiculous, because there’s new life every time you read it.
Those are simple things that lead me into intimacy, when I can choose not to. Intimacy always look like a choice. I realize the more I do it, the more I crave it. My schedule turns more into "desire" than just "schedule."
I set alarms on my phone. Carol Arnott has a pager she wears on her hip. It vibrates every ten minutes and she worships for 20 to 30 seconds. That inspires me so much, because it speaks to my personality of scheduling and repetition. It just becomes second nature to her, she doesn't have to wait for the pager to go off. She's just always worshipping. That’s why that woman hears from the Lord so much. She's so close to him, she’s always recognizing him.
My encouragement would be: if it’s difficult for you to find time to be intimate with the Lord and just hear him, make it part of your schedule. We prioritize and schedule other stuff, why don't we just schedule recognizing him?
It sounds like rather than trying to look like anyone else, you’re accepting how God made you and using that to connect with him.
You have to look at the way you do life and figure out how you can put those strengths that the Lord has given you towards building intimacy with him.
"If it’s important to me, then I will make time for it. If I ever get frustrated about not hearing from him or feeling stagnant, it’s probably my fault. If I spent time in his presence, I would be filled again. I would be full of life and joy and excitement for whatever it was he had for me."
As moms, I don't think we realize our kids watch us as much as they do. They get a good example when a husband and wife love each other a lot and spend intimate time together. When mommy and daddy love each other, it can show even to toddlers that they are loved, and protected. It teaches a value for intimacy and shows what it looks like. That rolls over into their relationship with Christ, too.
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More of Given Ministries here.
If you're wondering what being a Mover, Shaper, or Doer means, learn more about Life Languages here.