1. If senders are important in missions, why do missions conferences, books on missions, etc. rarely discuss the importance of senders?
I've observed that the focus is always on the people on the front lines. Not much attention is given to senders. One can be left with the impression that missionaries are the only people doing anything of value in God's kingdom.
I sometimes wonder whether more people might be involved in missions if they understood the value of senders. I learned the importance of senders as I started supporting missionaries, and I've also found that very little attention is given to building up the sending base.
2. Do you feel that the church sufficiently values callings to secular contexts? For background, I will mention that I hold a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and I feel that God has called me to electrical engineering.
While I was in graduate school, I wrestled with the question of what I was doing there. As I attended engineering conferences, I realized that my work could benefit people around the world. I concluded that God cared about my work and that doing the best work that I could was (and continues to be) my spiritual act of worship.
I am no longer doing the work that led me to conclude that God called me to electrical engineering, but I feel that wherever God will place me, I will worship Him my doing excellent work.
I recently discovered that one of my interests could be relevant to Bible translation. I do not believe that this is a call to become a missionary. Instead, I think that I could learn from the world of technology and see how cutting-edge technology can be used in a missionary context such as Bible translation. I think that if I followed what seems like the conventional wisdom of missions, I would never have figured this out.
I understand that I am leveling a lot of criticism toward the world of missions, and I apologize if I sound arrogant or impolite.
Thanks, Fred, for your observations.
You are talking about important issues and I appreciate your frankness, which I don't find either arrogant or impolite. My observations:
I agree with you. No contest.
Ralph Winter used to use the analogy of the strategy of fighting a war with that of organizing missions. Just as it takes about 100 people involved in production and support services for every soldier on the front lines, so it is with missions. But as you observe, this detail is not sufficiently emphasized by many.
My wife and I have tried to do what you have suggested, through our regular prayer bulletins, communication with our supporters, visiting our supporting churches, constantly being on the look out for those who might feel called to a supportive role, etc. These "supporters" (whom we call "partners") need to be found, taught, encouraged, and stimulated to be faithful both in prayer as well as sharing their resources.
We have some "partners" who have literally been with us for over 40 years. I think our relationship with them has built into their lives, as they have built into ours. This may be part of the reason that we have never had difficulty in maintaining our support level.
2. Secular contexts:
Fred, I think you have to be careful when you use a blanket statement like "the church." The community of faith is made up of many, many churches, composed of many, many pastors and people, with a great variety of orientations and emphases, as you well know.
I agree with you that some pastors present the idea that "serving God" has to have a "religious" componant, like sharing the Gospel, praying for someone, or leading a service. The division between the "sacred and the secular," the religious professional and the laymen, are not so clearly drawn in the New Testament as they are in many Christian groups. Worship and serving can take many forms, whether it is obviously a "religous act" or providing clean water for a community.
The Puritans talked about every Christian becoming "well established in his (or her) calling." This is the subject you are dealing with. A Puritan carpenter would carve "to the greater glory of God" in a hidden place on the well designed and crafted table he had made, offering it up as a service to the Lord. However, it would be expected, that the person who purchased the table might also be benefited by other acts of service and love, which hopefully could include an appropriate witness to the Gospel.
May the Lord continue to help you use your skills in electrical engineering for His glory, as you seek to serve Him where and how He leads you.