Seeing God in the Ebbs and Flows

Imagine serving in the same role for 43 years. This is how long Pastor Tom Ruhlman has led the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Shoreline, Washington. His dedication speaks to his desire to stick through the ebbs and flows of ministry, but more than that, it speaks to his passion for his congregation to know and follow Jesus Christ. 

A Family of Pastors

Tom was born in Kirkland, Washington, a suburb east of Seattle. His family line could best be described in this fashion: pastors, pastors, and more pastors. Many of the Ruhlman family members have been called by God to be pastors, including his dad, a brother, a brother-in-law, and five aunts, all married to pastors. 

Yet, Tom was saved under the influence of his sister. He remembers, “She was 12 years old and led me to the Lord as a six-year boy. It was a very real experience for me, even at an early age.” Tom continued to grow in his faith through his formative years. 

 Tom and Becky Ruhlman

Tom graduated from the Master’s University (Los Angeles Baptist College at the time) in Santa Clarita, California, and then from the school's seminary (now relocated and known as Corban University School of Ministry in Oregon). During college, he met his wife, Becky. They married in 1973, and the Lord called them to a year-long youth ministry internship.

Their first pastorate took them to eastern Washington to serve the Wilson Creek community. The Ruhlmans faithfully led a small congregation of 50 people there for five years.

Doing the Work

Tabernacle Baptist Church in Shoreline, Washington, called Tom to be the congregation’s pastor in 1980. He remains in the same position today. It can be a complex area to serve, as Pastor Tom describes it as a graveyard for churches. He says, “We live in an area with many different cultural issues, but we must keep doing the work because we have the light of the Gospel.” The church started a youth camp in 1948 called Camp Gilead to reach the next generation. They aim to “offer an opportunity for young people to learn more about the Lord Jesus Christ and their relationship with Him.” 

Tom has always admired and partnered with The Gideons International. One year, he spoke at a Gideon event and remembers appreciating his time there. “I loved hearing the stories and sharing with this incredible group of Gideons and Auxiliary.” At the event, he spoke from Philippians 2:15‐16 (ESV), which reads, “That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” 

He remembers his father inviting Gideons to speak at their churches as a child. Tom keeps the invitation open for Gideons to share with his congregation today. When Pastor Tom sees the Gideon emblem, he thinks about the many Scriptures he has seen over the years. “It’s wonderful what this ministry does...there is value in what you do.” He describes one of his favorite parts of the Association’s history by saying, “It started with laymen and continues with laymen…all with a heart for Jesus, local churches, and local businesses.” 


The Ebbs and Flows

The key to fruitful ministry is understanding the ebbs and flows, which is something Tom learned from watching his father. “Ministry is wonderful. But you must stay in there through the ebbs (the bad) and flows (the good). I watched my dad love people, walk through terrible times, and stay with it.” 

He draws parallels from the Old Testament, where Jeremiah stayed with Gods people through thick and thin (Jeremiah 2:4, 40:6). In the New Testament, Jesus stayed with His disciples even after they failed miserably (John 21:15‐19). Paul stayed the course despite numerous whippings, beatings with rods, shipwrecks, and many other dangers (2 Corinthians 11:23‐33). 

And that is the value he sees in The Gideons International—a ministry with over 120 years of God’s grace and blessings. He knows ordinary men and women have persevered despite many ups and downs. He encourages Gideons and Auxiliary in the following way: 

“Stay with it. Why? Because Kingdom impact is worth it. If you only understand the flow, you won’t last—good times and challenging times exist. Can you handle the guy ripping out the pages of the Bible you just gave him while at the same time seeing God change lives? That’s the ebb and flow of ministry.” 

Tom continues learning the value of his life verse in Ephesians 4:32 (ESV) to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” As long as God has him and his family in Shoreline, Washington, he will continue to stay with it and minister to the generations of families he has watched grow up.

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