Six years ago, Brent McDougal was looking for a job as a pastor when he heard about Cliff Temple Baptist Church’s association with a nonprofit in Oak Cliff that serves those who struggle with mental illnesses. Intrigued, McDougal began learning more about Cliff Temple’s relationship with The Well Community, discovering that not only does the church host weekly events and provide office space for The Well, but also encourages members of its congregation to participate in hands-on ministry through volunteer opportunities. McDougal knew this church, which extends compassion to one of the most marginalized groups in society, was the church for him.
As the senior pastor at Cliff Temple he has had many experiences with members of The Well, and for a time served on The Well’s board of directors. Once a quarter, he preaches at Thursday Night Life, a weekly event where members of The Well participate in an evening of worship, good food and fellowship. In addition, several Well members attend Cliff Temple, and McDougal works hard to make his congregation a community that supports those who struggle with mental illness.
We sat down with McDougal to chat with him about why he and his congregation support The Well. The Q & A has been edited for clarity.
Why do you support a ministry that helps those dealing with mentally illnesses?
The Well Community was born out of a question asked by Joel Pulis, who was one of our pastors: “What are the needs around here?” There were a lot of people living in boarding homes within about a mile from the church. There was a sense that these people were being taken advantage of, and this group of people who struggled with mental illness lacked community. They’d been asked to leave churches and felt like their family had abandoned them. That’s why The Well happened at Cliff Temple—those who deal with mental illness lived really near the church.
How can churches support people with either severe mental illnesses or general mental health issues?
Don’t underestimate the power of community. Often, it’s community that someone with mental illness is lacking. People think they don’t have the expertise to help the mentally ill, but you can be a friend.
Second, don’t shy away from talking about mental illness. Every Sunday, something at Cliff Temple is mentioned about a mental health issue. Talking about depression or grief or just giving everyday language to that place of hurt helps people.
What kind of impact has The Well had on the community in Oak Cliff?
The biggest impact is that it makes a difference in the life of someone that Jesus would have extended compassion to if He were walking around. By volunteering with The Well, you get to be in that life of the kingdom while also making a real, tangible difference in someone’s life.
On a broader level, volunteers have the opportunity to make a difference in an area that is only going to get bigger and bigger in America. When I was in college, you didn’t talk about mental health issues. I don’t think people struggled with it as much as they do today—people feel more pressure, more disconnected and more anxious. Investments in ministries like The Well really strike at the root of some of the ways in which people are hurting.
Is there anything else you want people to know about The Well?
The Well needs your help. The needs are so much greater than the resources that are available.
Think you might be interested in supporting The Well? Volunteering is a small commitment that has a great impact on the lives of those who deal with mental illness in Oak Cliff. We are always looking for new volunteers or church groups to help serve at Thursday Night Life or help with other events. And we always take donations! Don’t hesitate to call or email—we would love to answer your questions and find the best place for you to use your unique gifts.