Jimmy Scroggins rethinks his approach to ministry
Broken lives still need God’s redemptive power, but Gospel is ‘demonstrated’ differently
Apr 17, 2014
By JAMES A. SMITH SR.

BP photo

WEST PALM BEACH (BP)—For many residents, South Florida may very well seem like paradise on earth.

The year-round tropical climate draws both young and old seeking an idyllic lifestyle of warm temperatures, beautiful beaches and carefree living.

But the fallout of the moral revolution is all too obvious in the southeastern corridor of the Sunshine State. Broken by the false promises of sexual liberation and family redefinition, many people in West Palm Beach have less than blissful lives.

Jimmt Scroggins saw the devastating consequences of the moral revolution shortly after arriving five years ago as the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach.

A journey begun

Scroggins realized he was no longer in the Bible Belt when seven of eight couples who signed up for a marriage preparation class were already living together—some after multiple marriages, some with children from prior relationships in and out of wedlock— and most were not even Christians.

A native of Jacksonville, Scroggins’ more than 15 years of pastoral ministry experiences there and in Louisville, Ky., were meager preparation for what he found in South Florida.

Scroggins offered the marriage class to get to know his new congregation and so that he and his wife Kristin could model biblical marriage. They have been married since 1994 and are parents to six boys and two girls, ages 17 to 4.

“I realized things were going to have to be different here and that class began a journey for me, and therefore for our church, into trying to discover what it would be like if our community felt like we really had open doors to them,” Scroggins told Southern Seminary Magazine in an interview at his church facility in the heart of downtown West Palm Beach. (He is a two-time alumnus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and former dean of Boyce College, Southern’s undergraduate school.)

CYCLE OF DESTRUCTION Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, explains a graphical illustration of how departing from God’s design brings brokenness. SBTS photo by Emil Handke
The church’s sanctuary overlooks Lake Worth—part of the Intracoastal Waterway that separates the city from Palm Beach, the narrow, eastern-most strip of land next to the Atlantic Ocean populated by the very wealthy— where multimillion-dollar yachts are commonplace.

Located 75 miles north of Miami’s famous South Beach, the congregation has been a traditional, prominent Southern Baptist church for most of its venerable 112-year history. By the time Scroggins arrived in 2008, First Baptist had been without a senior pastor for five years, with the exception of one pastor who served briefly.

After five years under Scroggins’ leadership, the congregation—now existing in three locations, as well as two language-based satellites—is thriving again. But the multiethnic, socioeconomically diverse congregation—comprised of those on public assistance all the way to the incredibly affluent—has had to embrace its unique setting and challenges.

“This situation presents a tremendous opportunity for the Gospel of Jesus,” Scroggins said.

The opportunity, however, comes with major challenges. Some of which are the fallout of America’s moral revolution that has turned upside down societal understandings and expectations about the nature of the family, marriage and sexual activity.

A graphic to communicate

The inaugural marriage preparation class drove Scroggins to retool his ministry approach to communicate more clearly to people whose lives are not shaped by the Bible and instead have complicated, mixed-up family structures.

Scroggins developed an illustration to help the couples see why their lives were broken and how the Gospel is the means of recovering God’s design. The illustration has become a primary tool for Scroggins’ Gospel witnessing and teaching: God’s design (for marriage, family, sex, etc.) is violated by sin that results in brokenness. People attempt to ignore, rationalize or mitigate their brokenness until in repentance they see the Gospel as the way of recovery and the means to pursue God’s design for their lives.

Scroggins said the illustration hit home for most of the couples in the first class, even while some initially were angry with him for asserting the notion of sin and God’s standards.

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