WEST PALM BEACH (FBW)—Jimmy Scroggins thought for years that there would probably never be an opportunity to return to his home state of Florida.
But in July, Scroggins became the new senior pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach.
“We felt that this presents the kind of opportunity that God’s been making us for,” said Scroggins, who grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville and Arcadia, a small town in southwest Florida.
Prior to beginning his ministry at West Palm Beach, Scroggins spent 15 years in Louisville, Ky. During that time he completed his masters and PhD degrees at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, served as Dean of Boyce College and was on the pastoral staff of Highview Baptist Church.
“We love Southern Seminary. We love Highview Baptist Church,” said Scroggins. “But we’ve been praying…about what God was doing in our hearts and we kind of sensed that at some point God might transition us to a different role.”
Scroggins and his wife, Kristin, said the circumstances in West Palm Beach met each of the criteria that they had developed in their process of praying through possible transitions. Those criteria included a church in a metropolitan area near a Christian educational institution. Neighboring the church’s property in downtown West Palm Beach next to Lake Worth is Palm Beach Atlantic University, which was founded by the church in 1968.
“We wanted to be in a place where there was the potential to marshal massive resources to impact the world for the Gospel of Jesus,” Scroggins said. “We had already felt like God had shown us, if there was another step, what it would look like. And then, wow, here it was.”
Brian McPherson, an attorney, was chairman of the search committee at First Baptist in West Palm Beach which selected Scroggins for the role. His committee spent 19 months in the process of finding a new pastor.
“The way things worked out, the prayer the Lord answered and the Scripture He led us to—it was clear that this was the guy,” McPherson said. “The Lord had closed a lot of doors and opened a lot of doors to walk us to where we needed to be.”
McPherson noted the search committee discussed that Scroggins is relatively young, just 37. In the end, however, age was not a major factor in the decision.
“We were more interested in the man and what he had done and his qualifications and in him as a person—than his age,” McPherson said.
Scroggins believes his background in pastoral ministry and academia prepared him for this new role in south Florida.
“I always saw my teaching role at the seminary as an extension of what I was doing as a pastor, not the other way around,” Scroggins said.
“I see part of our role [as pastors] as not only to preach and to teach and to lead God’s people in the local church, but we’re [also] supposed to be actively seeking men and women who are willing to be called to ministry who are willing to be trained, so we can send out new generations of ministers for the churches of the world,” Scroggins said. “I still think that’s going to be an important aspect going forward of what we’re doing in ministry here.”
While at Southern Seminary, Scroggins developed a friendship with the president of the seminary, R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Other church leaders that Scroggins has looked upon as models for his ministry include Jerry Vines (pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville), Andy Stanley (pastor of Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta, Ga.), and Rick Warren (pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forrest, Calif.).
“I appreciate Tom Mullins at Christ Fellowship Church right here in Palm Beach County,” Scroggins said. “He started the church from nothing and he’s grown it into a multi-campus church that really is world impacting…. His church calls him, ‘the Coach.’ I think that’s a good model to follow in terms of how you’re training people and how you get people excited about what God’s doing.”
The mission field before Scroggins and his church is broad. With 1.3 million residents in Palm Beach County, Scroggins said that one million of them do not regularly attend church.
“There is an unending opportunity to reach people for Christ here,” Scroggins said.
One ministry of the church that brings professionals together from throughout West Palm Beach is a weekly lunch and biblical lesson called “PowerLunch.”
Doug and Jo Daisher, who are not members of First Baptist in West Palm Beach, have been coming to “PowerLunch” for about eight years.
“We enjoy his preaching at the PowerLunch very much,” said Doug Daisher, a retired businessman.
Daisher said he believes the Wednesday “PowerLunch” is effectively ministering to people in the business community of West Palm Beach.
With a vision for reaching people throughout Palm Beach County with the Gospel, Scroggins outlined the strengths and challenges facing his 107 year old church located in downtown West Palm Beach. Among the strengths he said are the church’s rich history, its central location, strong families and committed leaders.
“We have some really godly, prayerful, generous people—our deacons, our leadership team, our Bible study teachers. I’d be happy to put those guys and girls up against similar groups of people at any church in America,” Scroggins said. “I am very proud of who we are and the opportunities that are before us.”
Scroggins talked about some of the recent challenges the church has faced with a difficult pastoral transition and other events that brought about negative media coverage. He also said there are challenges that come with bringing about necessary change to an institution that has existed as long as First Baptist in West Palm Beach has.
Growing population centers in other parts of the county where it takes a 20- 40 minute drive for people to get to the West Palm Beach church location can also be a challenge.
“We are going to need to find ways to go to where the people are, instead of expecting them to always drive downtown to us,” Scroggins said.
“But overall, I believe that our future is bright,” Scroggins said. “I think some of the greatest, most impacting days in our church’s history will be in the future.”
Scroggins also sees his church continuing to benefit from the connection with other churches in the Southern Baptist Convention.
“I just think the Southern Baptist Convention represents the best stewardship opportunity for our church to make an impact,” Scroggins said. “That’s why I am very proud to be part of that network of churches. I want our people to be aware and engaged and involved and yet, I want to make sure we don’t lose sight of who we are as a local church right here in Palm Beach County.”
Scroggins and his wife Kristin have seven children and are expecting a baby in April of 2009. With five sons and two daughters, the Scroggins faced a significant transition with their relocation to Florida this year.
“This church has been so warm and really intentionally welcoming to my wife, to my children, and to me,” Scroggins said. “They have really gone way above and beyond in terms of reaching out to us and making sure we have everything we need.”
Steven Carrier, an engineer, has been a member of First Baptist since 1991. He said he feels that the church is now settled since Scroggins became the pastor.
“We love him,” Carrier said. “He is very down to earth. He is very family oriented. We appreciate the life applications that he’s going through right now. We feel like we’re all learning something.”
Scroggins said he is realistic about the challenges facing his church, but that he also is optimistic about the future.
“We have tremendous confidence that God is doing something through our lives with this and doing something in the church and in this place and in this community and we are thrilled to be a part of it,” Scroggins said.
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