Scott Savage

empowering you with new perspective

When The Healer Is Wounded: An Interview with Tim Guptill

“Today pastors are generally more open about their struggles than previous generations, but we still sense there is a threshold that is not to be crossed. People want open, honest and real, but not too much. Generally churches want just enough so they feel safe with you, but not so much that it spoils the expectations they have of you.”

-Matt Boswell, 10 Things Pastors Hate to Admit

What happens when the person who is supposed to be a shepherd and guide to healing for others is sick and in desperate need of healing himself?

This is the story of my friend, Tim Guptill.

Tim Guptill Interview Wounded Healer

Tim’s Story

In 2016, Tim’s church in New Brunswick, Canada did a series on fear and anxiety.

Each of the 4 weeks, a different pastor at the church shared their own journey in that area. (Sidenote: There’s a stigma which infects church attendees across the country. Matt Boswell mentions it in the quote above. The stigma goes something like this: “Surely, a pastor wouldn’t battle the same things I battle.” These pastors were doing their part to break the stigma.)

Tim’s got up one of those Sundays and told his story.

“On my Sunday, I talked about different times when I thought I was dying. One time I was drowning, another time was when I felt like I was having a heart attack and was rushed to the emergency room. I had set up the punchline where people were waiting to hear what happened. I told them ‘it wasn’t a heart attack; it was a panic attack.’ People saw me differently after that day. They realized I was human, with similar struggles to their own.

This is part three of a four-part series of articles about subjects which deserve greater attention in our culture. Part one was about burnout, part two was about anxiety. Today’s post is about asking for help. If you’d like to receive part four and future articles to empower you with a new perspective, please enter your email below.

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Battling Anxiety as a Pastor

Tim and I chatted recently about his battle with anxiety and the impact it has had on his health, family and work as a pastor.

 “Up until late 2016, I hadn’t hit the wall yet. I was still trying to beat it, managing it myself. I was doing this without counseling or medication. I made changes I could control. I identified my anxiety triggers, doing my best to neutralize or eliminate them. But it didn’t solve things.”

Tim has been battling anxiety since college. But in 2013, he stepped into the lead pastor role at a new church, following a beloved, long-tenured senior pastor. In an 18-month period, he buried his father and his brother. Lots of factors contributed to the growing sense of anxiety and panic in his life.

wounded healer man holding his chest heart attack

 

Sliding Off a Cliff

During our conversation, Tim told me about how things came to a head in the fall of 2016.

Last September and October, it felt like I was sliding off a cliff. Nothing I was doing was helping. I called my doctor; he recommended therapy and medication. I started seeing a Christian counselor, which was super helpful and clarifying. He prescribed the right medication to adjust the chemical imbalances on my brain. I began recognizing I wasn’t strong enough to fix this on my own.

But as great as that outcome was, it came after Tim made a big decision. As he felt like he was slipping off a cliff, he realized he couldn’t keep going as a pastor.

“On a Thursday, I called my wife and we went to my district superintendent. I told him, ‘I don’t think I’m gonna make it through the weekend.’ That night, he went to my board and I began a 3-month leave of absence. Immediately, I unplugged from the church. By the time I got to my counselor, I was ready. I wasn’t a wreck – I wanted help. I told him I would do whatever he wanted me to do – I’m listening. Within six weeks, I felt like a new person. I wasn’t entirely out of the woods. But I felt better than I had in years.”

 

This Struggle Is Not Unique to Me

It was during this time Tim began seeing a counselor and taking medication. I asked Tim if he was comfortable with all of this being shared online, especially since the attendees of his church might find it.

He replied,

“I want to be public about this. I want them to be encouraged that there is help. You know, Bill Hybels shared about his struggle with fear during his talk at The Summit recently. This struggle is not unique to me.”

 

An Unfortunate Ending

Tim was really honest with me. One of the things we discussed was how his response to his mental health negatively impacted his ability to lead.

“Before the leave of absence, when I was sliding off the cliff, I was feeling like my body wasn’t going to let me pastor this church. I thought to myself, ‘I’m not capable of pastoring it.’ I felt like the role was killing me. I thought I was going to have a stroke or a full breakdown. In stepping away, I thought, ‘if I get healthy, I’ll be better than ever, stronger than ever. I’ll get clear.’

But because I had forced it and operated over 4 years battling anxiety, without getting any help, it affected my leadership to the point where those closest to me had lost confidence in me to lead. They saw me struggling to carrying the load of the church. I wasn’t taking full responsibility inherent in my role. Unfortunately, they saw someone who wasn’t well.”

At the beginning of 2017, Tim stepped away from his role as lead pastor of his church. We talked about his feelings about the end of his season in that role within that church.

“I’m at peace with my decision to step away. We’re (Tim and his wife) as open as we’ve ever been to a new call from the Lord.”

 

What Did Tim Learn From All This?

I asked Tim what he learned from his experience, fighting for his mental health.

The first thing we talked about was supporting people as we would anyone who was sick.

If I had a bout with cancer, I would expect people to be really supportive. Mental illness is no different. I had a sickness in my head. I had to take time to straighten it out. It’s a good reminder to people we need to be careful of stigmas, stereotyping people and judging them by how they were performing when they were sick. When people are sick, they couldn’t perform at their best. I think we need to be prepared to journey with people long-term and support them.”

 

The Mental Health Conversation

The second thing he talked about was how the conversation is changing around mental health, even in the church. (Tim pastored in New Brunswick, Canada.)

“You know, 20-25 years ago, people weren’t talking about anxiety and panic attacks. No one was talking about it as something that needed medical attention or counseling. No one knew how to treat it or talk about it. But that is changing. When I shared my story of my panic attack, before everything fell apart, I had a line of people after each service coming up to me and sharing aboiut their stories. I didn’t feel judged at all after sharing.”

(Side note: I was surprised by this. I told Tim I had known some pastors who wouldn’t be that vulnerable for fear of losing respect in their people’s eyes. He replied, “In Canada, people have no time for pretense. Pretense just reeks. If we have mega-pastors in Canada, they’re not rock stars. They’re not ripped. They’re really average, normal people.”

 

Regret

The third thing he talked about was regret. Tim said his biggest regret was waiting to reach out for help.

Don’t wait. Get help now. I was proud. If you’re struggling, humble yourself before the Lord. Wait upon the Lord. Don’t resist the urge to admit you’re sick. This is a pride issue for us. We think we’re stronger than we really are. Reach out for help. If you do this, later on, you’ll be able to help others.

I waited way too long. I remember Perry Noble sharing about his first battle with burnout. He said, “I waited too long to get help.” If I have a regret, that’s it. I was prideful. I was reluctant to take medication. I watched people around me misuse and abuse medication. I tried to resist medication as long as I possibly could. Why else would you try so hard for so long to fix it yourself? It has to come back to pride, stubbornness.

Tim and I did have a brief conversation about the differing views on the value of medication when treating mental illness. Tim had a positive experience. He told me, “the side effects of the meds were brutal for about a month. But it was worth it.”

 

Where is Tim Now?

These days, Tim is selling Volvos while he waits on his next ministry assignment. As he said, he and his wife are very open to a new call from God. We talked about how he’s doing today, a couple months removed from leaving the church and six months after that fateful visit to his superintendent.

“I understand the battle of anxiety a lot more. I know my triggers and root causes. I can ask myself the right questions which evaluate why I’m feeling this way. I can ask myself, ‘Why am I feeling this way? What is causing this thinking – this spike in adrenaline, this anxiety?’ There are so many factors. Chemicals, ways I’m wired, environment. I can’t control all the things which cause stress. But I’m in a much better spot than I was 6 months ago. And I feel equipped to pursue health in this season.

I’m so proud of Tim for sharing his story here today.

Funny side note – Tim and I have actually never met in person. Our connection began in 2016 when he was a guest on one of my favorite podcasts. We connected over Twitter and chatted over Skype, as I was navigating a difficult season in my church. He was a big encourager as I transitioned from Phoenix to Prescott, Arizona and became a Lead Pastor for the first time. We lost touch in the fall of 2016 (Tim’s attention was elsewhere, for good reason). We reconnected in early 2017 and I interviewed Tim earlier this month.

 

My Observations from Tim’s Story

As I compiled my notes from our conversation into a coherent form for you to read, a few observations stuck out to me. Before I share how you can get in touch with Tim, I want to share them with you.

1. Mental illness gets treated very differently than other illnesses.

Tim’s comparison to cancer got me thinking. I’ve treated people battling mental illness differently than those fighting cancer. If I’m honest, I’ve judged them as being more in control than someone with cancer. And I’ve been wrong. I think it’s a lot more complicated (or maybe just more unknown) to support someone fighting for their mental health, but it’s not any less important.

2. Pride prohibits us from taking steps towards healing.

We are so good at deceiving ourselves. We suggest other explanations when it’s really just plain old pride! I’ve been putting off seeing someone to explore my battle with anxiety last fall and some other challenges I’ve been facing lately. And I think my procrastination is rooted in pride too. Thanks Tim! (I think)

3. People long to follow someone who owns their weaknesses and is transparent about them.

Tim had the same experience sharing his story regarding anxiety that I did when I told my story at my church last fall. In one service, I had to pause for unexpected applause. Craig Groeschel, a well-known author and pastor, regularly says, “People would rather follow a leader who is always real than one who is always right.” Craig’s right. We’re afraid to share our weaknesses, but without sharing them, others won’t trust us.

4. I wonder if we’ll look back and regret didn’t ask for help sooner.

Tim’s comment about wishing he didn’t ask for help was fascinating. I think his regret (he didn’t say this to me) is connected to his wondering of “what if…?” Would he still be pastoring that church? How would his family, marriage, relationships be different? Regret in the present can often be traced back to fear in the past. Fear kept us from seizing an opportunity which we now regret missing out on today. I wonder what each of us will regret not doing sooner.

I believe God isn’t done with Tim. He is a wounded healer, who now has even more to offer a church as a leader and shepherd than he did before this struggle. I’m grateful for his willigness to share here today!

Do You Have Any Questions for Tim?

If you want to get in touch with him, you can follow him on Twitter. Tim knows this post is going live today and I’ll try and alert him to new activity if you’d like to share a comment or question below.

Thanks for sharing with us, Tim. We are praying for your continued pursuit of health and healing!

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About Scott Savage

Thanks for reading! My name is Scott and I'm a writer and pastor. I live in Prescott, Arizona with my wife, Danalyn, (a lawyer) and our three kids, including a set of twins. You can follow me on Twitter (@scottsavagelive).

49 Replies

  1. Stan Cedarleaf

    Great article, Scott. I’m so glad that articles like this are being published.

    The link to Matt Boswell’s blog shows real insight and reality to the struggles pastors experience.

    https://pastormatt.tv/2014/04/09/10-things-pastors-hate-to-admit-publicly/

    We, as part of a congregation so desperately need to be a support team to the leadership and not just “sit in the pews” and “soak it in”.

    The writer of Hebrews even “commands” us to do that… “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” Hebrews 13:17

    1. Thanks for reading Stan. You’re an encourager!

  2. Lydia Watts

    This article is very encouraging. I battled anxiety for 10 years thinking that I could resolve it on my own. That somehow I was in weak for taking medication. My husband encouraged me to try it out and with the Lord’s guidance, I am much better. It is good to know that even pastors struggle with anxiety. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Grateful for the healing and freedom you found, Lydia! Thanks for sharing and reading.

  3. Gerry fleet

    Love and prayin everyday for you time and your family..Here in maces bay..

  4. Sharon

    Very much enjoyed ! I have great respect and love for Tim Guptill who use to be my pastor as well. Mental illness is the only disease we want to do by ourselves….the stigma needs to go and I believe we are beginning to get a better perspective on it.So glad he has taken the steps he has …he has broken the silence ! May others been encouraged to do the same as a result of his testimony !

    1. Thanks Sharon! I believe the stigma is going away, in large part because of courageous men and women like Tim who are sharing their stories.

  5. Laurel

    Thank you for the article , I have so much respect for Pastor Tim . It’s very difficult to put yourself out there . You have struggled and God has brought you thru as a better and stronger leader and better able to shepherd people . Praying for a new call to ministry. God bless.

    1. I heartily agree Laurel! Tim’s future is bright. Thanks for your encouragement.

  6. Excellent article. I am very familiar with Pastor Tim. Our family attended the church where he pastored but years before. I was home for a visit and heard him preach -very good service.
    So thankful that this story has been shared as many men (especially in the church) are hesitant to share their mental health journey. Thank you Pastor Tim for being so vulnerable. I know many of my friends were so blessed by your ministry.

    1. Thanks for encouraging Tim, Elaine! I know he’s checking in on this post when he can.

  7. Sheli

    I am so glad to know that Pastor Tim was open about this. I feel there is still such a stigma around mental health. I was recently in an er and forgot to mention my anxiety and depression until the nurse asked why i was taking certain medications. Even though I have given talks on my condition, I don’t always consider it or treat it like a valid illness!! Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Thanks for your honesty Sheli! Praying for continued healing and freedom for you.

  8. Lindy Nice

    Tim is a man who loves God and is a man of great courage. Thank you Tim for being obedient and choosing to become vulnerable. Your journey is and will continue to help people you know and those you will never meet. God will show you the way He wants you to continue to take.

    1. Lindy – You must have read the emails I sent Tim leading up to publishing this article! I heartily agree!

  9. Kim

    Great article, Scott! And I think very brave of Tim to share his experience. About twelve years ago, I went through a similar experience, so many exterior situations out of my control triggered my anxiety when I thought I was having a heart attack. Fortunately, I had a wise family doctor who prescribed me medication which I took for five years and I felt I could get through the stresses, (my doctor warned me that not everybody can) With some counselling and my understanding of the symptoms, I got off the meds. I occasionally have anxiety but knowing the signs I can control it. This experience helped me help others through sharing my story with friends. And I’m sure Pastor Tims experience he too will help many others. That I have great hope in. Thank you to you both!

    1. Kim, grateful for that wise doctor and for the healing you found! We have the same hope for this article! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Stephen Budd

    God has, and will continue to use this for the good. Loads of respect for you pastor Tim.

  11. Diane Saunders

    Thank you Tim for your honest and open dialogue that affects so many people in ministry. I’ll be praying for you and your family as you continue to heal. I’ll be excited to see how God uses you in the new season of your life. I have tremendous respect!

    1. Agreed Diane! Tim is one of my heroes!

  12. Samantha Pellerine

    Thank you Pastor Tim. I surely am missing you at church and your sermons, but I know God has a plan for you. I hope you continue to heal and you and your family continue to draw your strength from our Lord and the people who love you (that includes me 🙂 ) I will continue to pray for your continued healing. Again, thanks for everything you do and have done especially for the support and prayers for our family (the Wylie’s). I am truly grateful that I was baptized by you and I will be entirely grateful for your support in my own health situation. You are loved! God bless you and your entire family!

    1. Thanks for sharing Samantha! I’ll make sure Tim seeing your comment.

  13. Lara

    My family & I started attending the Wesleyan right before they started the anxiety series, which I was deeply interested in, due to struggling with it, or rather being overcome by it. When I heard Pastor Tim’s message he refers to, I did respect him more, & felt compassion for him, because I find Christian circles are the hardest & have the worst stigmas when it comes to anxiety, depression & the likes. I have been in churches where they rebuke you for anything you say that may not be happy clappy. Eg. If you admit you’re depressed, they’ll rebuke you & say, “Don’t speak that over yourself!” or “Don’t claim that!” Honestly, catch me on the wrong day & say that, I might want to punch you for being so insensitive AND ignorant, since that is not Biblical. The Bible calls us to be burden bearers, and to mourn with those mourn, & rejoice with those who rejoice. Because I’ve been steeped in my own anxiety & depression, due to hormonal changes as I age, I have struggled to even be social & even find the effort & desire to follow Christ, & so I never got to know Pastor Tim very well. We talked a few times, but nothing deep. Just “hello” type thing. Tim’s story is a good example of why it’s so very important to pray for your pastors & their families AND not to shame people for their struggles. We forget the soul & spirit are two very different things, and the soul is still fallen & maimed & a mess, but the spirit man is brand new. Besides that, some mental illnesses are physical things that then manifest themselves emotionally. You can’t put a price on prayer, but Jesus did not promise us sunshine & roses all of the time, & this fallen world guarantees sicknesses. You can pray & read the Word & still have your soul be downcast. We tell believers to “just go pray” and that will fix everything. How about YOU pray with them. Ask God to give them guidance & what they need to do to come through this. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula, which is why we need God’s guidance. Anyway, one thing I don’t agree with Tim on is how people in Canada aren’t judgmental about that kinda thing. No, they are: He was just in a church where they don’t feel that way about it, but had he revealed this in some other churches I’ve belonged to, they wouldn’t have reacted with such grace & understanding. If anyone doubts it should happen to believers, go read the Bible, and the stories of the saints, and their struggles. Even Paul despairing “even unto death”. Yes, so he would rely upon God, not self, and when we do that, God’s going to get us through somehow. Sorry this is so long. I could seriously write a book with all I have to say concerning this topic, but I’ll spare you.

    1. Thanks for sharing your heart Lara! Appreciated hearing your story and experience.

  14. Derek

    It was such a pleasure having you pastor our church. You baptized our 2 girls and we miss your presence immensely. You brought so much life to our church and all I can say is we wish you were still with us. God bless you pastor Tim in your future endeavours.

    1. Thanks for reading Derek and encouraging Tim!

  15. Cassey

    I really appreciate Pastor Tim sharing so much with us. Anxiety is not easy to battle and the stigma seems to lean to shame instead of what it should be – which is to bring it to light as an illness, not something to be shamed.

  16. Bill

    This article on Tim and his struggles is an honest breath of fresh soothing air in a stuffed up world of people pretending to be operating on all cylinders. Mental illness in all its many forms can cause tremendous havoc in or families, our workplace and in our churches! It can often be that Elephant in the room, everyone sees it smells it and hears it however no one wants to talk about it because it’s often seen as being weak. Like so many other problems It’s humanity and the result of a sinful, fallen world, plain and simple. Recognizing it as a problem is a first step in finding healing, support, reconciliation and recovery for this issue. Thank you so much for sharing your story Tim it’s a courageous thing to admit our human frailties but we all have them!

  17. Chris

    Stigma about mental or emotional wellness is an ongoing challenge in our world today and unfortunately it is magnified in church circles. Makes me think of the Bryan Duncan song, “We all need” that talks about people waging private wars with problems due to stigma and condemnation of the community…issues get forced underground where they can worsen, rather than brought into safe places where they can heal.

    Have known Tim for decades, and he is someone special.

    1. Thanks for sharing Chris. When things go underground, they come out sideways and in toxic ways. I’ve known Tim for a short time, but I have found him to be an incredible man.

  18. Andrea

    I knew Pastor Tim many years ago and he was one of my favorite pastors at a large church in N. B. I attended.
    My husband (then boyfriend) was new to attending church and he found Tim very approachable and relatable because of how kind and sincere he is.
    I think Tim is an amazing person and pastor and I think speaking out about his experiences with anxiety just makes him even more relatable to us all.
    Thanks Pastor Tim! Good for you for making some difficult decisions for the better for you and your family and to ultimately serve God with your most potential.
    P.S. We know a great church looking for a lead Pastor in the Maritimes if you’re interested ;).

    1. Thanks Andrea! People do connect with us through our weaknesses, right?

  19. Thanks for your honesty Tim. Mental Illness is so real. Glad you are dealing with it now. Better late than never. You are a true man of God.

    1. Agreed Kathy! Thanks for your encouragement.

  20. Marlene McGrady

    Thanks for sharing this article and to Tim for his vulnerability. As a professional counselor who has worked with people inside and out of the church and now missionaries, I’m thrilled to see this kind of discussion. We often wait until the anxiety/anger/depression controls us because we can’t control it anymore. It’s like any illness, the sooner it’s treated, the better! Read the Psalms, David was a mess with these things at times!
    PS. When I have counseled christians, they tend to have a better success rate due to their relationship with Christ, but it often takes longer because of their resistance to seek help in a timely manner! Blessings!

    1. Thank you for your work, Marlene! And if this can help anyone you’re working with, please share it! I know Tim has been blessed by the affirmation he’s gotten since this post went live. He prayed other people would get the help they need because of his story.

  21. Janice Young

    Thank you again for a wonderful article on a very relevant subject in this stress filled world. I appreciate and respect your transparency and bravery. I very recently read an article regarding a popular prescription drug often given to psychiatric patients. It was rather alarming and I would be remiss to not share it with you for future reference. Here is the web address: http://suzycohen.com/articles/benzodiazepines-dangers-lies/ I hope it will be of benefit at some point. Thanks again.

  22. Thanks for reading and for sharing the resource, Janice!

  23. I’m thankful for Tim’s friendship and his ministry… known him for some 15 years or so and admire him, including this season of leadership transparency and guidance to the rest of us. I shared this article in our Wesleyan Pastors Facebook group (with nearly 2,000 pastors who are members). Also pushed them toward our confidential, toll-free pastoral care number for all Wesleyan clergy and their families in North America… as sometimes pastors (and their families) don’t know WHO to reach out to for help, in a confidential way as they often understandably desire.

    Thanks for giving voice to Tim’s experience.

    1. David – Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing this article with that FB group. Tim’s courage is inspiring and I’m grateful he was willing to share boldly. God is using Tim’s story and I pray He continues to do so.

  24. Emily Savage Agostini

    Pastor Tim… Love your heart! So appreciate that you are willing to tell your story and help to end the stigma! Every struggle is real when it’s you going through it. We prayed for you and your precious family while you were on leave and continue to pray for the next lead. No matter where you go or what you do, I know you will be blessing people and I can only pray that you will not on be blessed but also feel blessed! Thank you for getting the help you needed and deserved for you and your family.
    Thank you Scott for believing in Tim and his story. What a great online ministry…!

  25. Pam Goncalves

    Thank you so much for sharing. You are spot on about why mental illness and cancer should be treated differently. Which makes me wonder why Pastor Tim is waiting for his next ministry assignment. Why can he not go back to the Moncton Wesleyan. I appreciate a pastor who is honest about their struggles, they are human. Hugs to you from someone you reached out to at Starbucks.

    1. These look so festive on your porch! The hot glue should make it easy to pull the felt off, so you can replace it with a placemat for the next season – and next time check out the Dollar Tree – they also carry these felt plseamatc!

  26. Betty Beatty-Powers

    Tim was our beloved Pastor. We LOVE him and have so much respect and admiration for him in the fact that he has told his story. God has great things in store for Tim and Gayla…their future is as bright as the promises of God….which never fail.

  27. Evelyn Morales

    I knew pastor Tim when I used to go to
    Dieppe. My sister goes every sunday to his church. I used to watch him in wesleyan church website when I was outside of Canadá. He was a God’s blessing to me. I have so much admiration for Pastor Tim. I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression and I understand him. Thanks pastor Tim for to be honest and real!!! Blessing!!!

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