I notice street signs.
Yes, all motorists are supposed to “notice” the signs that direct the flow of traffic, warn of possible danger, and inform us about our location. But I notice them because I’m a communication geek.
Did you know that the United States Interstate Highway system has its own typographical font? It’s called “Highway Gothic,” and it was designed for legibility from a distance and at speed. It’s kept traffic flowing safely since 1945.
There’s even an international committee of graphic designers who worked with the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop universal symbols for signage on roads and in subways, ports, rail and bus stations, and airports. Their goal is to create symbols that will communicate the rules and routes of transportation to as many people as possible.
In the U.S., the “no” symbol is a red circle with a diagonal slash through it. In Europe, they don’t use slashes, just the red circle.
Each state is responsible for the wording of their signs, which can be quite a challenge. Longer messages mean more letters and larger signs, resulting in greater expense. Being terse can save money, but smaller signs are less visible and succinct language can be more easily misunderstood. Abbreviations and inconsistencies are not advised. The purpose of a road sign, after all, is to help drivers orient themselves along the way, navigate irregular conditions, and warn them of what they’ll face up ahead.
I’ve written much lately about mission being our identity in Christ. When we come to know Jesus, we do so by joining Him in His mission. All followers of Christ are therefore missionaries. But what does that mean?
It means that we are signs.
The Bible is clear that we are saved to do “good works.” Our default behavior in this world is to love our neighbors, do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. We do these things because righteousness is the effect of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. By allowing others to see our efforts, we point people to God. This is our role in God’s global mission.
Ultimately, I’m with missiologist David Bosch: as Jesus followers, our lives serve as signs– “previews” to the already-but-not-yet Kingdom of God. We give people a glimpse into what life can be like when people are forgiven of sin, made right with their creator, and sent out to make disciples of all nations. As Bosch often writes, “our mission is not more than this, but certainly nothing less.”
In order to be signs of this one, specific Kingdom, we must pay attention to how we communicate it. Like the road signs that direct traffic, we must be visible, recognizable and understandable to those we wish to direct. Works of peace, generosity, and justice require verbal proclamation of the gospel in order to point people to the One who saves.
This is a key missiological point: we do not bring the Kingdom of God to people. Neither do we bring people to the Kingdom. All we can be (and it is much!) are signs pointing people to the Savior, who brings the Kingdom to people. Our presence, be it at home or in a far-off place, is to point people to the Most High God.
We can be good, helpful, informative signs or dangerously vague signs; but as His people, we are God’s signs to the people around us.